FROM POLE POSITION TO VICTORY: ALPINE’S AMERICAN DREAM!
After speeding to the team’s first pole position of the season in qualifying, the N°36 Signatech-Alpine went on to dominate the LMP2 class in the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas.
Their fourth triumph of the 2016 campaign enabled Nicolas Lapierre, Stéphane Richelmi and Gustavo Menezes to further extend their advantage at the top of the championship standings.
The Alpine A460s were in sparkling form in qualifying, with home hero Gustavo Menezes and Nicolas Lapierre annexing the first pole position of the season for the N°36 Signatech-Alpine by almost a full second!
The green flag dropped at 5:00pm on Saturday under the stifling Texas sun, with an air temperature of more than 35°C. On the opening lap, the N°44 Manor snatched the initiative at the head of the LMP2 field, with the two Alpine A460s in hot pursuit. Roberto Merhi, Nicolas Lapierre and Nelson Panciatici proceeded to put on a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle worthy of a grand prix around the spectacular Circuit of the Americas until ten laps in, when the N°36 Signatech-Alpine reclaimed a lead that it would not subsequently relinquish.
After 45 minutes, Lapierre passed the reins to team-mate Stéphane Richelmi, who produced a double stint as day turned into night. Although it never dipped below 35°C, the temperature did cool off slightly as humidity levels reached almost 70 per cent. The 2nd part of his stint was complicated and fortunately a Full Course Yellow shortened his 2nd stint of 5 laps.
These conditions unsurprisingly took a physical toll on the drivers, with Panciatici being forced to abandon a planned double stint early on in the race. Suffering from dehydration, the Frenchman found himself having to hand over to Cheng before being taken to the circuit’s medical centre to recover.
Following Richelmi’s double stint, Menezes and Lapierre maintained an equally strong rhythm to establish an advantage of a full lap over their closest pursuers.
Menezes was afforded the honour of finishing the race on home turf, and as he completed his final stint, the Californian could scarcely contain his emotions as he crossed the finish line to win in front of family and friends.
The result enabled the N°36 Signatech-Alpine trio to stretch its lead in the championship table to 41 points.
Stéphane Richelmi: “Don’t ever let anybody try to tell you that motorsport isn’t physically demanding! I am really pleased that I was able to complete a double stint; that had always been our intention, but in light of the conditions, the team asked me if I was still willing to give it a go. I reassured them that I was, and it worked out well. When a ‘Full Course Yellow’ fell a few laps before my planned pit-stop, we brought the stop forward which allowed me to get out of the car a bit earlier. I don’t think I’ve ever suffered so much in a racing car, but it was worth the effort. To finish a lap ahead of our closest rival was really rewarding. We demonstrated what we are capable of, and that fills us all with a lot of confidence moving forward.”
The next race on the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) calendar will take place at Fuji in Japan on October 14-16.