"The two free practice sessions on Friday went very well, but on Saturday nothing just seemed to work" - Belén García fought adversities at Paul Ricard and recovered 11 positions to equal her best finish of the season in the fourth round of the Le Mans Cup season.
Just one week after her podium finish at the iconic Norisring street circuit in the German Prototype Cup - where she teamed up with Xavier Lloveras in a one off appearance at Van Ommen Racing - Belén García was ready for her return to the Michelin Le Mans Cup after the double-header at Circuit de La Sarthe, which had highlighted yet another step forward for the Catalan driver. The fourth round of the season was held at Circuit Paul Ricard - a track that has traditionally been a lucky charm for García, who claimed her first ever endurance racing victory at the Southern France venue last year in November, in her second ever race meeting in LMP3 machinery - as well as her first W Series podium. “This track has been very good for me lately", Belén commented before the weekend, "and also I arrive with a very good feeling, so I want to go back there and feel that I am driving well and with the possibility of obtaining a good result.” At Paul Ricard, García had the chance to work with a new teammate, bronze-rated Canadian James Dayson who subbed in for Mark Richards on this occasion. “The great challenge is to find rhythm again and the confidence I had in Barcelona and knowing how to overcome the usual situations of the Le Mans Cup", García commented. "I know where I have to improve my driving to achieve it, so I will continue working on it, as I did this past weekend”. Action started on Thursday with collective tests, followed by practice on Friday - and the drivers of the #25 360 Racing Ligier JS P320 soon showed that they had the pace to contest for a top 10. Belén 1:51s times in the practice sessions, which put her well within the top-10. Qualifying on Saturday morning, though, would be in the hands of the bronze-rated driver, as per the series' rules: despite previous experience in prototypes, the little track time on the weekend format meant that James Dayson struggled to adapt to the LMP3 machine and the circuit - and eventually completed qualifying in P24.
COOL Racing's Adrien Chila retained the lead at the start of the 1h and 50 minute race later in the day, but a multiple car crash on the straight in the middle of the 42 car field eliminated the M Racing Ligier and saw several cars facing the wrong way. James Dayson - at the wheel of the #25 360 Racing Ligier for the first stint of the race - successfully avoided the incidents and had a very solid start, moving up from P24 to P18. Once the safety car was back in pit lane at the end of the second lap, Dayson resumed the race from P19, just behind the #6 ANS Motorsport Ligier driven by Jonathan Brossard. Dayson fell down to P21 on lap 8, but was able to recover over the course of the following laps, gaining back P18. A Full Course Yellow for debris on the Mistral straight was deployed almost 40 minutes into the race. As the race went back to green, Dayson settled in 20th place and he would pit on lap 22, as the pit window opened. Belén García took over for the second part of the race and immediately started to gain positions and climbed the order up to P14 as everyone completed their pitstop; the Spaniard, though, already had over a minute gap to the leader once she started her driving shift. “In my turn I had bad luck with the traffic", Belén recalled. "First, because of a spin that a rival did in front of me, and that forced me to react to avoid it. This cost me 10 seconds and caused me to get caught by the group that was coming from behind, as well as cutting my progression a bit”, she explained. Two Full Course Yellows did not translate into safety cars, so positions settled; García caught Daniel Keilwitz (#66 Rinaldi Racing Ligier) but couldn't get close enough to attempt a move. She set the fastest lap for the crew in 1:53.004 and gained a further position, ultimately crossing the finish line in P13 - equalling her best result of the season. It was a weekend of fighting against adversities for Belén, who describes her trip to Le Castellet as "bittersweet" after being unable to translate the promising practice pace into a top ten result. Nevertheless, García and Dayson could recover 11 positions from their starting position, also overcoming a few issues with the car that did not behave as in practice. “The truth is that the two free practice sessions on Friday went very well, but on Saturday nothing just seemed to work", García added. "The car had a knock on the right front wheel when my teammate left it for me, and the sensations had nothing to do with those of the day before." "Consequently, the times were not what we expected. However, it's time to focus on the positive, review everything and come back stronger in the next race, which will also be held at home”. Following the cancellation of the Imoa round, in fact, the Michelin Le Mans Cup is set to make a trip to Motorland Aragon, where the fifth round of the 2023 season will take place on August 24 and 25.