Alpine Europa Cup: Margaux Verza secures first top-10 at Dijon
Margaux Verza enjoyed her best weekend to date in Alpine Europa Cup, with her first top-10 in qualifying, her first overall top-10 and two class podiums. After the Dijon round, Margaux now sits third in the Challenger class championship standings.
Margaux Verza enjoyed her best weekend to date in Alpine Elf Europa Cup, adding to her personal best qualifying in the series her first ever top 10 finish and two class podiums at Dijon-Prenois.
At her second year in the series, the young French driver has shown significant steps forward since the opening round in Nogaro, where she battled close to the top ten and had great battles in the midfield, in an overall notable improvement from her rookie season where she had focused on learning the machinery and the tracks.
Verza scored her first podium in the Challenger class at Magny Cours, in the only race contested at the second round. Unfortunately, a crash in testing before the Spa Francorchamps race meeting hampered her weekend: having missed the first practice, she effectively learned one of Europe's most challenging tracks in qualifying. A contact took her out in the early stages of race 1, but she could still salvage a top-15 in race 2 - despite an overall difficult weekend.
Dijon-Prenois - the home of the legendary battle between Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux at the 1979 French GP - would be the perfect opportunity for Margaux to bounce back.
The practice sessions on Friday were all about regaining confidence after the difficult previous round: "The start of the weekend was a bit complicated following the Spa crash, so it took me a while to regain full confidence in the car", Margaux explained.
"We worked hard with my coach and engineer on Friday to regain that confidence, and it paid off with our first top 10 in qualifying on Saturday morning!"
With a remarkable Q1, in fact, Verza was tenth fastest - in what was her best qualifying effort in the series to date - and second among the Challenger entries.
Pole sitter Lorens Lecertua held the top spot after the first lap of the 25-minute race, ahead of Romain Favre and Alexis Garcin; Favre attempted a pass on lap 2, but the Belgian driver fought back. Margaux Verza had a cautious start and dropped to P14 overall and third in class, behind Thibault Bossy and Adrien Catelin.
Garcin and Favre had a spectacular wheel-to-wheel battle for second place that lasted for a whole lap: Favre, though, held on and Garcin picked up damage to the rear bumper.
Verza battled around the 15th place with Sami Dhahri in the opening stages; she moved back up to P14 after Garcin had to park his Alpine A110 Cup on lap 12, while still battling for second. While Lecertua was initially able to open a gap by making the most out of the battles for the podium just behind him, Romain Favre gained a few tenths per lap and got within a second to the race leader.
Louis Maurice attempted a last minute pass on Romain Favre for second place and the two ended up making contact - as the latter went around and dropped down the order.
Margaux clocked good times in the second half of the race, consistently lapping in the low 1:27. While she was set to gain 13th place, she unfortunately had to pull into the pit lane due to an overheating engine with two laps to go, which left the unfortunate Frenchwoman with a retirement from race 1.
"We were very happy with this performance, but unfortunately we weren’t able to follow it up in the race because of a problem with the car overheating, but we were keen to show what we were capable of in the next two qualifying sessions and two races" - Marguax added, as Sunday provided to be a breakthrough moment in her season.
Just as cars were lining up on the grid, a rain shower forced the teams to reevaluate the tyre strategy: several drivers opted for wet weather tyres at the last minute, but as rain eased just before the formation lap, others decided to stay on slicks.
Lorens Lecertua had a superb start despite the extremely tricky conditions, followed by Geraci and Garcin - who also had a light contact on the opening lap. Louis Maurice, though, was over one second per lap faster and claimed the lead of the race on the second lap, demoting Lecertua - who was struggling on the mixed conditions. Maurice, though, received a penalty for having jumped the start. Jules Gougeon was navigating through the field with impressive speed but, once in third, he lost momentum and was passed by Romain Favre.
From P14 on the grid, Margaux Verza had a brilliant first lap and, by keeping it on track and out of troubles, she gained four spots to move into the top ten overall, holding third in the Challenger class. Holding on to tenth overall, she had to defend from Leo Jousset and Tim Meriaux. Soon after, the Safety Car was deployed, triggered by the #77 Alpine A110 Cup car of Alain Jacono stranded in the gravel. In another turn of events, the rain returned - now in a full downpour.
The race went back underway with 5 minutes to go - and Lecertua was back in the lead in the ever-changing conditions. Adrien Catelin, though, was the fastest driver in these conditions and took over the overall lead on lap 10, followed by Maurice and Jousset - as Lecertua dropped down the order.
Temporarily down to P13, Marguax Verza had great pace on the wet tyres and quickly moved up the field: she gained five positions in one lap - then passed Garcin for seventh in the final minute of the race.
With a stellar second part of the race, Verza finished seventh - thus claiming her best finish in the series and a second class podium, with second in the Challenger class.
Adrien Catelin took overall victory, followed by Leo Jousset and Louis Maurice - who kept the podium despite the penalty.
"I qualified P14 for Sunday’s two races, but the weather got in the way in race 2 at grid start, which shuffled the cards a bit. We decided to start on wet tyres, which turned out to be the right strategy as I was able to climb back up to seventh overall and second in the challenger category", summed up Verza, happy to pick up the rewards from her hard work in the past weeks.
With the cancelled second race at Magny Cours, drivers contested a third race at Dijon, on a sunny Sunday afternoon. From the front row of the grid, Lecertua kept the lead, but Louis Maurice dropped to fourth, overtaken by Geraci and Favre. 14th on the grid, Margaux Verza had a great start and gained a position on the first lap, before Leo Jousset fought back on the following lap. Romain Brun got by as well, but Verza kept third in the Challenger class.
A brilliant battle for third place overall saw Favre, Maurice and Meriaux trading positions, until a mistake for Maurice on lap 7 sent the #59 Alpine into the gravel; he was able to rejoin, albeit down in 12th position.
Lecertua enjoyed a good advantage to Geraci, almost five second up the road to the group of battling cars behind - with Alexis Garcin also having joined the party. The second half of the race was all about the battle for fifth place - with a six car train all separated by a few tenths of a second. Garcin came out on top of that fight, edging Gougeon and Dhahri in a race to the line.
It was a bit quieter race three for Verza, who had good pace throughout and bagged another top-15, keeping Fournier at bay and picking up another Challenger podium.
With three class podiums to her name, Margaux now sits third in the class championship standings, with 71 points - and just one point behind Thibaut Bossy in second.
"Two podiums during the weekend, a first top 10 in qualifying, a first top 10 in the race, I had a lot of fun during the weekend, so the objectives have all been achieved and there are even new, even higher objectives for the end of the season!" - said Verza, as the series enters its summer break and will return to the track in Barcelona, on 14-16 September.