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Belén García claims maiden podium in European Le Mans Series

“This podium is another milestone in my career and a new step in the right direction” - Two races into her European Le Mans Series journey, Belén García claimed her first podium in the series after a dramatic 4 Hours of Le Castellet which saw the DKR Engineering squad finishing second, three seconds short of a victory in LMP3.


Belén García, DKR Engineering Duqueine LMP3, European Le Mans Series, 2024 Le Castellet
Photo credits: DKR - Twenty-One Creation

Two races into her European Le Mans Series journey, Belén García claimed her first podium in the series after a dramatic 4 Hours of Le Castellet which saw the DKR Engineering squad finishing second, three seconds short of a victory.

After a top five on debut last month, the Catalan driver therefore adds a podium in the premier continental endurance series to her resumé: García has now stepped on the podium in three different LMP3 championships since her sportscar debut less than two years ago.


The successful round at Le Castellet was a mix of great pace from all drivers and strategy, as the Luxembourg-based team reacted and adapted quickly to the cautions, eventually putting the #4 Duqueine M30 - D08 LMP3 prototype in contention for the leading positions.


A top five on her home race at Circuit de Catalunya certainly represented a positive start of the season, as Belén and her teammates Wyatt Brichacek and Alexander Mattschull bounced back from a series of setbacks that included a fire on the #4 machine early in the weekend that had severely limited the driver's track time in preparation for the 4 Hours of Barcelona. Despite the challenges, the trio showed great potential and aimed for a more straightforward round in the South of France, which has often been one of Belén's favourite tracks: from a top-10 in the Spanish F4, her maiden podium in W Series to her first victory in LMP3 competitions in the Ultimate Cup, Circuit Paul Ricard has been a friendly ground for García.


"I think Circuit Paul Ricard is the track I have driven the most on, and I have fantastic memories from there”, Belén said. “I won my first LMP3 race there with Graff Racing in 2022 and finished on the podium in second place in the W Series race. It was more difficult last year, as I had a different teammate than the rest of the campaign. We struggled a bit before starting our points streak in the following race in Motorland. I look forward to regaining the feeling of driving there", she explained before the weekend.


Following the season opener, the 24-year-old meticulously analyzed data and detected the areas of improvement ahead of the second round of the season.

"We’ve had time to analyse everything that happened to improve and we’re now focused on these things to come back stronger at Paul Ricard," she added. Surely, the limited driving time had held her back - and building speed in practice would be the main objective.


Belén García, DKR Engineering Duqueine LMP3, European Le Mans Series, 2024 Le Castellet
Photo credits: DKR - Twenty-One Creation

Testing got underway on Thursday at Le Castellet and the trio logged laps, although the cold, damp conditions made for a tricky start of the week, with dry conditions forecasted for the rest of the event. It was nevertheless a productive test and García was in the top ten among the LMP3 drivers.


"Although the forecast was for sunshine for the rest of the weekend, getting mileage in wet conditions is always good,” Belén explained. “The times were also promising, and we were becoming more and more confident. However, we had a slightly strange feeling with the power steering in some corners and a lockup sent Alex into a spin in the last session."


Nevertheless, the team topped the timesheets in FP1 with a 1:49.545 that showed great promise - and Alexander Mattschull was also in the top five in the bronze-dedicated practice. Wyatt Brichacek was then the driver elected to contest the qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. The US American driver also had a spin early in the session but managed to improve on his final run and set the seventh fastest time in the LMP3 category, 8 tenths off pole-sitter Gael Julien (#15 RLR M Sport Ligier).


"We had the same issue with power steering and steering maps", Belén analyzed. “We changed some things overnight and headed into qualifying with high hopes, but Wyatt spun the same way as Alex in FP2. He still managed to finish in P7, only eight-tenths off the pole, which is quite good all in all."


With most of the LMP3 field covered by a second, though, the DKR Engineering had the chance to make up ground with a consistent run on Sunday - but they would have to do so only with two sets of new tyres instead of three, as one extra set went into the final qualifying run.


Belén García, DKR Engineering Duqueine LMP3, European Le Mans Series, 2024 Le Castellet
Photo credits: DKR - Twenty-One Creation

Just 3 weeks from the start of the 2024 European Le Mans Series, the crews of the 43 teams lined up on the grid of Circuit Paul Ricard for the start of the main race of the weekend.

Alexander Mattschull took the start for the #4 DKR Engineering Duqueine from seventh - and, on new tyres, he retained position, navigating through the chaotic first laps that saw several prototypes going around. The bronze-rated German driver picked up a position in the early stages and moved up to sixth, showing a really strong, top-three-worthy pace. He soon climbed to fifth after a good pass on COOL Racing's Miguel Cristovao, and settled on a competitive pace.


Mattschull ran fifth throughout the opening stint; while he didn't quite have enough speed to catch Eric Trouillet's Ultimate Ligier, he continued to keep the #17 COOL machine at bay.

After one hour of racing, Alexander Mattschull pitted for the first time from fifth in class and rejoined, gaining one position after the first round of pit stops.


Over the second hour, Mattschull kept the gap stable from the car ahead and the one behind. Towards the end of his second stint, he had a good battle with Team Virage's Julien Gerbi and defended with determination, although the #8 Ligier got past right at the end of the second hour.


On lap 62, Belén García took over the #4 DKR Duqueine with 1 hour and 55 minutes left on the clock, starting her second stint in ELMS on new tyres. Now sixth in class, the Catalan improved her times lap after lap and had a strong run despite having to manage traffic in a crucial part of the race.


Nevertheless, Belén was able to preserve tyre performance, handling the LMP2 traffic around her, while at the same time pushing forward. Settling on a competitive pace among mostly silver-rated drivers, García was also able to gain ground on the class leader - before the race took a dramatic turn with 22 minutes to go.


When the 88 InterEuropol LMP3 of Kai Askey came to a halt on the main straight, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed - which by regulation translated into a full Safety Car that bunched up the pack. While behind the safety car, the LMP3 class leader - the #12 WTM by Rinaldi Duqueine - grinded to a halt, promoting the #11 EuroInternational Ligier driven by Adam Ali to the class lead.


DKR Engineering opted to pit during the virtual safety car phase and shuffled the strategy, putting Wyatt Brichacek behind the wheel for the restart. The American moved up to fifth when the race leader retired, then started to chase the #17 COOL Racing.


Brichacek cleared Espirito Santo as the race entered its final hour, gaining fourth place.

After a few teams pitted in LMP3, Brichacek climbed into the class lead with 30 minutes to go - and his pace was impressive enough to set the fastest lap in class on lap 105, recording a 1:51.853 which allowed him to extend his lead to over 6 seconds to the #35 Ultimate Ligier.


Belén García, DKR Engineering Duqueine LMP3, European Le Mans Series, 2024 Le Castellet
Photo credits: DKR - Twenty-One Creation

The overall-leading Intereuropol LMP2 Oreca also came to a halt on the main straight - and the full course yellow was deployed. With perfect timing, Brichacek pitted just in time before the pit lane closed, and rejoined in P4 - having completed his fuel stops. Wyatt caught and overtook Matthieau Lahaye for net second with 9 minutes to go, and hunted down the race-leading #15 RLR M Sport Ligier, progressively reducing the 5 second deficit.


While his impressive run ended 3.7 seconds short of victory, it was a remarkable end to the team's weekend, as Brichacek, García and Mattschull scored their first podium of the season with a second place in class.

"Being regularly on the podium is among the goals this season, and we finish P2 in our second race”, Belén commented after the 4 Hours of Le Castellet. “It didn’t look like it would happen from qualifying onwards, but we made a tactical gamble."


Despite her stint being cut short, the strategy paid off: "It wasn’t ideal for me, but it was the best for the team, and that's what Endurance racing is all about", she continued. "I'm happy for everyone and for myself as well. It's a moral booster for the team, and we needed it after two difficult weekends."


Their reactivity, team work as well as pure pace proved that the trio has the potential to continue to aim for the top three - and possibly even more.

Surely, the result represents another important step in the career of Belén García, as she keeps making strides in endurance racing. She is only the second woman to step on the podium in a prototype class in ELMS.


“This podium is another milestone in my career and a new step in the right direction”, she concluded, dedicating this emotional success to her late grandfather, who passed away last month. Now up to fourth place in the team's championship standings, Belén will return behind the wheel of the #4 Duqueine LMP3 for the third round at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy, from 5-7 July.


Belén García, DKR Engineering Duqueine LMP3, European Le Mans Series, 2024 Le Castellet
Photo credits: DKR - Twenty-One Creation

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