Final lap heartbreak for Tatiana Calderon at Paul Ricard
Tatiana Calderon enjoyed a competitive weekend with Team Virage, coming within a lap of a credible sixth place finish and with a podium finish looking realistic in the first half of the race. While misfortune struck on the final lap, the Colombian drove the most laps of any LMP2 driver and showed speed to fight at the top of the LMP2-ProAm class.
Running sixth in LMP2 Pro-Am with one lap remaining, a season’s best European Le Mans Series result looked on the cards for Tatiana Calderon. Completing a brilliant double stint during the middle of the four-hour contest, Calderon showed her speed at Paul Ricard at a race in which she briefly took the class lead with just over an hour remaining. However, misfortune struck on the final lap when a fuelling and communication issue resulted in her #19 Team Virage Oreca-07 not being classified at the end of the race.
After a lengthy break since the first round of the championship in Barcelona, Tatiana was eager to get back at on track at Paul Ricard, the circuit at which she made her European Le Mans Series debut back in 2020, scoring a top-5 finish. In Thursday’s collective test sessions, Team Virage finished fifth in LMP2 Pro-Am in both sessions, an encouraging start to the weekend with 126 laps completed by the trio of drivers across the day.
A further two practice sessions gave the teams a chance to fine tune their step-up ahead of qualifying with Tatiana setting the fastest time in the #19 Oreca-07 during the first session, once again finishing fifth in LMP2 Pro-Am. Showing fantastic speed in final practice, Team Virage topped the session in LMP2 Pro-Am, with Ian Rodriguez showing his speed.
Looking to build upon his seventh place LMP2 Pro-Am result in the bronze driver collective test, teammate Alexander Mattschull was tasked with qualifying for Team Virage as the bronze rated driver in the Pro-Am line-up. Mattschull did a fantastic job to set the sixth fastest time in LMP2 Pro-Am in his first European Le Mans Series start of the season. The encouraging pace shown during Saturday's sessions made an LMP2 Pro-Am podium finish seem an attainable target for Tatiana heading into the four hour race.
Lining up sixth in LMP2 Pro-Am, Mattschull was looking for a clean start in his stand-in role for Team Virage and in fact improved on his position, entering the top-5 after the opening lap. Mattschull showed superb pace in his opening stint, holding a position inside the top-5 as he pitted for the first time after 40 minutes. Team Virage did a great job in the pit cycle as the experience German driver ran third after 24 laps of the race and following a close battle with Francois Perrodo, held onto a podium position in LMP2 Pro-Am.
After one hour, Mattschull’s mandatory drive time was complete and a smart strategy call was taken to pit the #19 Oreca-07 for the second time as soon as possible, being the first LMP2 Pro-Am team to do so. By doing this, Team Virage went off-sequence to many of their Pro-Am rivals, installing Tatiana into the car to set a number of fast lap times while bronze rated drivers remained behind the wheel of rival machines. Calderon immediately showed her speed, setting a number of personal best lap times to open her stint, sitting fourth in LMP2 Pro-Am as the pit cycle was completed.
Tatiana began chasing down Matthieu Vaxiviere for the final step on the podium as her opening stint progressed. Showing superb tyre management skills, Calderon’s fastest lap came on the 18th lap of her stint, shortly before she pitted on lap 56. This stop coincided with a safety car period and due to the #19 Oreca-07 requiring fuel, Team Virage could only take emergency service. This was an unfortunate break for the team who would’ve benefited from this neutralisation had the safety car been deployed just a few minutes later.
Remaining in the car for a double stint, Tatiana was able to take the wave-by under the safety car period to remain on the lead lap despite the pit stop misfortune.
Calderon restarted in seventh before taking full service in the pits shortly after, overtaking Mathias Beche for sixth. After a close battle with the Nielsen Racing driver, Beche overtook Tatiana before a penalty for another driver meant Team Virage sat sixth as the race passed halfway.
Tatiana continued to set a great pace as her stint came to an end, holding sixth position in LMP2 Pro-Am. Lap 85 saw the Team Virage driver take the class lead as her rivals pitted, stretching her stint longer than her rivals and in the process completing more than any other drivers in the whole LMP2 category. With one hour and 13 minutes remaining, teammate Ian Rodriguez took over the #19 Oreca-07 in the final run to the flag.
Remaining sixth in LMP2 Pro-Am following the penultimate stop, Rodriguez had secure gaps both ahead and behind as he focused on running consistent lap times. Setting a personal best time on lap 106, he ended his first stint showing front-running pace with a gap of 12 seconds to Ben Hanley in the final top-5 position. Rodriguez continued to display great speed during the final half hour but was unable to make further progress, starting the final lap in sixth position.
Misfortune then struck Team Virage as Rodriguez had the fuel alarm flashing on the final lap of the four hour contest. Due to a radio malfunction, Rodriguez was unaware of the race distance left and, unable to communicate with the team, he pitted instead of crossing the finish line.
With European Le Mans Series regulations stipulating that a car must cross the finish line, the #19 Oreca was unfortunately not classified.
“The end result was very disappointing, but we have to look at the positives", Tatiana said after the race. "All three of us showed good pace and a podium finish could have been on the cards, but unfortunately when I was finishing my first stint, the safety car came out on the lap I had to pit for fuel."
"We had to do a splash and stop again, so we lost a lot of time there", she continued. "There was also something weird going on with the refuelling, because we lost a lot of time in the pits. Even so, we were still on course to finish P6, but there was a miscalculation on fuel, Ian had no radio communication and stopped one lap before the end of the race, and so we lost everything."
"It’s very unfortunate but we showed we can be fighting for good results. We just need to analyse the mistakes we made so we don’t make them again in the future. Nevertheless, it was positive to show we can fight for the top five.”
Despite the disappointing final result, Tatiana enjoyed a great weekend with Team Virage who showed class-leading speed from the first session. Calderon drove the most laps of any LMP2 driver underlining her speed and endurance, together with her tyre management skills. Team Virage came within a lap of a credible sixth place finish, with a podium finish looking realistic in the first half of the race.
Calderon will be looking to bounce back at the third round of the European Le Mans Series which takes place at Motorland Aragon on 26th August.