SUSPENSE-FILLED RACE ENDS WITH SECOND PLACE FOR ALPINE
A big crowd flocked to watch the entertaining race that marked the FIA World Endurance Championship’s first visit to Mexico City.
The N°36 Alpine of Lapierre / Richelmi / Menezes was in contention for the victory throughout the six-hour race before ultimately securing second place, less than two seconds short of the winning car.
The 6 Hours of Mexico, the first of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship’s (WEC) long-haul fixtures, lived up every bit to its promise, providing the large crowd of connoisseur spectators with a chance to discover the discipline’s elite at close quarters.
Friday’s cloudy qualifying saw the N°36 Signatech-Alpine confirm the progress it had shown during free practice when Menezes and Lapierre claimed second place on the LMP2 grid, despite a small error by the Frenchman.
The sky was overcast once more when Saturday’s race got under way at 1:30pm local time, with forecasters predicting showery weather for later in the afternoon.
Gustavo Menezes has to start the race after setting a better laptime than Lapierre in Qualifying. The Californian succeeded in steering clear of the early tangles to keep the N°36 car up with the leading pack, around 30 sec behind the leader.
After this opening stints, Stéphane Richelmi has to take the wheel for 2 hours. The Monaco driver soon appeared at the top of the LMP2 leaderboard and was in front at the race’s halfway point, although the gaps were still small at this stage.
As rain began to sweep over the Mexican circuit with around two hours and 20 minutes remaining, the team took this opportunity to call in Richelmi to be replaced by Lapierre.
Now on intermediate tyres, the N°36 Alpine A460 re-joined in second place, about 20 seconds short of the lead.
As a dry line started to appear, they fell back to third spot after being forced to comply with a drive-through penalty due to an earlier pit stop infringement. There was then more drama just 35 minutes from the chequered flag when a problem for the front-running G-Drive car handed second place to Nicolas Lapierre who suddenly found himself just 10 seconds adrift of the leading car (RGR).
As light rain began to fall again, the Alpine driver made a concerted effort and successfully narrowed the gap. Hampered by traffic and yellow flags, however, he failed to find a way past and had to settle for second place at the finish, just 1.985s short of the victory.
The outcome sees Signatech-Alpine maintain its lead in the provisional championship standings. It is now 30 points clear of its closest challenger, while Baxi DC Racing is ninth on 22 points.
Stéphane Richelmi: “We know we can’t win every race! We were running well until it started to rain which forced us to rethink our strategy. The drive-through penalty cost us valuable time, of course. I feel very positive, though, because our performance improved over the three days and that will be a big plus for the coming races. It was nice to see RGR win on home turf. They are getting closer in the championship standings but we still have a comfortable cushion.”
The next round of the 2016 FIA WEC will take teams to Austin, Texas, USA, for Gustavo Menezes’ home race on September 15-17.