vd Garde bounces back at Le Mans
1 January 1901
Having withdrawn from Saturday's race before it had even started, World Series by Renault points leader Giedo van der Garde made amends with his fifth win of the season by taking the feature event at Le Mans.
In front of a healthy crowd - an estimated 170,000 spectators turned out over the weekend - the Dutch driver moved one step closer to securing the title, by seeing off the ever-present Ultimate Signature challenge of Fabio Carbone and Esteban Guerrieri.
Only 25 cars lined up on the start grid, with a clutch problem confining Robert Wickens' Carlin entry to the pits. Unlike van der Garde on Saturday, however, the Canadian was, thanks to his mechanics, able to join the race from there.
Polesitter Guerrieri did not get the start he wanted, as both van der Garde and team-mate Carbone both passed him on the first bend. The Argentine did manage to slot into third, however, with Mikhail Aleshin, in the second Carlin car, and race one winner Charles Pic lining up behind him. Further back, Siso Cunill ran into Marcos Martinez, forcing his own retirement, and sending his fellow Spaniard to the pits for repairs to he rear wing.
With metronomic consistency, van der Garde repeatedly set new fastest laps as he opened up a gap between himself and the chasing pack. After five laps, the P1 Motorsport driver had built a two-second lead over Carbone who, in turn, was well clear of Guerrieri. At the other end of the field, however, van der Garde's team-mate, Pippa Mann, pulled out, completing the retirements for the day with just six laps under her belt.
Sixth-placed Miguel Molina was the first man to change his tyres but, one by one, the others followed suit, Carbone and Pic stopping on lap eight, and van der Garde one lap later, promoting Guerrieri back to the front of the field. The Argentine then built up quite a head of steam before heading for the pits himself, hoping he had done enough to reclaim the lead for good by the time the dust settled.
Sadly for the man still combining WSbR and F3, it wasn't enough, and van der Garde once again found himself in first place, albeit with the two Ultimate Signature men - Carbone ahead of Guerrieri, right on his tail.
Behind them, fourth-placed Aleshin was running by himself, ahead of a hard-fought battle for fifth spot involving Molina, Pic, Salvador Duran and Marco Barba. Despite some frenetic tussling, however, the four involved remained in the same order until the end of the race.
There was a similar situation at the front, with no change in the order as the finish approached. Able to resist the challenge from behind, van der Garde duly completed his fifth win of the season to move one step closer to a title he has looked favourite to take since dominating the opening coupe of rounds. Despite not being quite as successful since, the Dutchman now leads Carbone by 53 points, and needs just nine more to take over from Alvaro Parente as champion.
"What happened to me yesterday was really frustrating but, today, everything worked perfectly," van der Garde admitted, "My only problem was controlling the car after the pit-stop. We had changed the front tyres and I was getting a lot of oversteer, but then everything was fine. It was a hard battle with the two Ultimate Signature drivers, but I can't wait for Estoril. My aim is to win the title there."
Carbone and Guerrieri duly completed the podium, coming home some eight seconds clear of a lonely Aleshin, but, despite harrying his team-mate, the Argentine admitted that he was not prepared to do anything stupid.
"First, my first pole position, now my first podium finish!" he enthused, "The start was important but, from then on, I kept a steady pace, and made up ground on Fabio and Giedo at the end. But I couldn't take any unnecessary risks.....
A double podium underlined Ultimate Signature's claim to be the team of the season, having only made the jump to the World Series at the end of 2007. With both Carbone and Guerrieri on form, a teams' title in its rookie season, a la Tech 1, may not be out of the question.
"Once more, we have proved that we have got a really good car," Carbone confirmed, "Giedo is even quicker than us, but we've still got two more races to claw back the deficit. The teams' title is still our goal."
Aleshin was six seconds clear of the battle for fifth at the end, followed across the line by Molina, Pic, Duran and Barba, while James Walker and Alexandre Marsoin completed the top ten, some recompense for the Briton after the puncture that cost him a likely podium on Saturday. Potential frontrunners Julien Jousse, Bertrand Baguette and Fairuz Fauzy finished down the order, in 15th, 16th and 19th respectively.