19-year old Lilou Wadoux started her 2021 campaign in the Alpine Europa Cup with two podium finishes, as the French driver comes closer to her first victory in the series. At her first race with her new team, Gosia Rdest was eighth in both races.
We left the Alpine Elf Europa Cup at its 2020 final round in Portimao, with two very competitive ladies on the grid: Polish fastest woman and former W Series racer Gosia Rdest, who had made her return to GT cars after a stint in single seaters and had become ambassador for the newly-revamped French sports car brand Alpine; and young French up-coming talent Lilou Wadoux – who proven to belong to the top-end of the classify in her first year in the series after claiming a podium finish in the 2019 Clio Cup France.
The 2021 season of the Alpine-one make series started from the French venue of Circuit Paul Armagnac in Nogaro, as support of the FFSA GT4 championship and French F4 which contested the traditional Easter Trophy.
Both the ladies of the championship were back for their sophomore campaign: Lilou Wadoux made her return to Autosport GP with a brand new and striking livery to make her #44 Alpine A110 Cup immediately stand out from the field. Gosia Rdest also announced earlier this year to be back in Alpine Elf Europa Cup, as she will also combine a program in the WSMP Polish touring car championship in her Seat Leon challenger.
"It's my first time with Chazel [Technologie Course] team, even though we had the chance to check the car in Ledenon - but this is our first time together [in a race weekend], so pressure is there", said Rdest prior to the start of the season opener. "However, we are optimists, the track is nice, the weather is amazing, the car is also good with the updates, so we'll definitely have fun."
The Polish driver ranked P7 and P6 in the two free practice sessions, both led by 2020 series champion Jean-Baptiste Mela (Autosport GP). Wadoux immediately showed speed and was P3 and P2 – finishing 0.007 of a second behind her teammate in the second session.
But the top ten was tightly compact and the same outcome was seen in the first Qualifying, which was slightly delayed due to the early morning fog over the circuit.
Pole position went to Belgian racer Ugo De Wilde – in his first season of GT racing after competing in F3 machinery in the Formula Renault Eurocup in the past two years.
De Wilde preceded Laurent Hurgon and Lilou Wadoux – all separated by two tenths of a second – while Gosia Rdest was eighth and lined up alongside Louis Meric for the first race of the weekend, having being held up by traffic in the first qualifying.
At the first start of the season, the 19-car field got away cleanly into Turn 1: it was a great getaway for Rdest, who moved up to sixth place and seemed able to recover more positions during the first lap. On the other hand, Lilou Wadoux got stuck in the traffic jam of the first corner and dropped to fourth. The French lady and Mela went slightly off track and into the grass as they fought for position – the reigning champion rejoined the track right in front of Rdest, who had to take evasive action and dropped back to eighth.
Wadoux quickly caught up with Corentin Tierce, as the top-four tried to open a gap. Hurgon – who had taken over the lead into Turn 1 – had to face increasing pressure from De Wilde.
On lap 5, Wadoux overtook Tierce with an opportunistic move as her rival went deep into a braking zone. She continued to show great pace and went immediately chasing the leading duo.
Having dropped to seventh, Mela engaged in more fierce battles and managed to pass Simon Tirman for sixth with two minutes left on the clock. As he closed on the group of cars ahead, though, the yellow flag was out in the final sector for the accident of Stéphane Auriacombe at the pit entry.
Laurent Hurgon crossed the finish line and took Race 1 victory, followed by Ugo De Wilde and Lilou Wadoux – who secured her first podium finish in the series.
“I wasn't expecting it for the first race of the year, but things have been going pretty well since the start of the weekend" – commented Lilou after her remarkable result. She managed the race with maturity and kept the pressure on Tierce, forcing him to a mistake, always keeping the battle clean at the same time.
“It's been going pretty well since the start of the weekend. We're at the front, that's what we're aiming for, so I'm happy. A podium for me, from the first race of the year - we weren't expecting too much. I now hope to have an even better qualifying session than the first one. It would be good to start from the front row.”
In the #3 Bahco-sponsored car, Gosia Rdest was eighth at the finish line.
The second race was contested on Monday and saw Ugo De Wilde again taking off from pole position following the second qualifying session. Alongside him, it was indeed Lilou Wadoux in the #44 Patrick Roger Autosport GP Alpine, again in top form.
The drivers maintained the positions at the start, with exception of Thomas Dagoneau and Franck Labescat who made contact in the first lap, sending the latter into a spin.
Having started in ninth place, Gosia Rdest completed a great move on Manu Guigou on lap 5, advancing into P8.
Ahead, it was a two-way battle for the lead: De Wilde held on, but Wadoux always remained within the one second gap and, fastest lap after fastest lap, the French lady grew bigger in De Wilde's rear view mirrors as they opened a gap on third-placed Hurgon and the rest of the field. 2020 champion Jean-Baptiste Mela fought for the lowest step of the podium, but also had to defend from Louis Méric (Méric Compétition).
Positions settled after the hectic first laps of the race, while an entertaining battle for tenth, eleventh and twelfth position saw Auriacombe, Bourgois and Lombard frequently swap places.
Gosia Rdest held eighth place throughout and defended superbly from the return of Chazel Technologie Course teammate Guigou. In the final two laps, they battled hard for position, until Guigou made a mistake and spun – leaving Rdest with a safe margin to cross the line in P8 for the second time of the weekend.
After 17 laps of the 3.636 km Nogaro circuit, Ugo De Wilde clinched his first win in the series, followed by Lilou Wadoux in second place, less than two seconds adrift.
Race 1 winner Laurent Hurgon was third and secured the final step of the podium having managed to break away from Mela in the closing stages.
"I am happy to have climbed one more step in both qualifying and at the end of race 2, but I missed a little something for the win" – commented Lilou, who also signed the fastest lap of the race in 1:34.248.
"I'm a little disappointed not to have had the victory but we did well all weekend, everyone worked well. We did better than last year at Nogaro [where she finished P7, P6 and P8), we found something!"
"The experience helps, it almost happened on its own. At Magny-Cours, we know that we can still be at the front".
19-year old Lilou Wadoux now sits third in the championship standings with 28 points and second in the Junior class. Gosia Rdest is eighth in the points tally, having scored 8 points in the opening double-header at Nogaro.
“Overall, I am satisfied with this round." – commented Gosia Rdest.
"The stakes are much higher this year, the field is bigger. The collaboration with the new Chazel team is going very well. Last weekend's result is not perfectly satisfying for me and I hope for more. At this point, the most important thing for us is to look where to improve and, step by step, we should be closer to the leaders - and hopefully it'll be like that in a month at the next round."
The series will in fact head to Magny-Cours, the former home of the F1 French GP in a month's time, with the second race meeting out of the six scheduled rounds going underway on May 7-9.
Additional reporting: Léandre Leber, Gazettesports