Lilou Wadoux wins first race in Alpine Europa Cup, Rdest ends season with double P6
Lilou Wadoux took her maiden win in the Alpine Europa Cup finale, cementing her third place in the standings. Gosia Rdest completed a very solid season with two sixth places, equalling her 2020 result at Portimao.
After her charging podium at Circuit Paul Ricard, less than a month ago, we jokingly asked Lilou Wadoux when was that first victory going to come after getting so close, many times.
“I hope it’s gonna come soon, but I think it’s more important to keep scoring big points for the championship than a retirement” - she replied, demonstrating to be a smart driver and not only a fast driver.
That elusive victory, turns out it was just around the corner.
The 20 year old Frenchwoman has been the revelation of the 2021 Alpine Elf Europa Cup, and has certainly turned a few heads in the world of motorsport: at her second season in the series, Wadoux fought throughout 2021 for the podium positions, coming into the season finale at Circuito do Algarve, Portugal, third in the standings and still with mathematical chances to win the title.
Last year at Portimao, Wadoux was the protagonist of an outstanding battle with fellow female racer Gosia Rdest - who also returned to the Alpine one-make championship. Gosia, arguably one of the top female athletes in the sport with experience in touring cars, GT3 as well as single-seaters, returned to the all-female championship W Series in a reserve driver role, contesting three races and scoring points.
"The Algarve circuit is a really great facility and I can't wait to go back there." - she said ahead of the final race weekend in Alpine Europa Cup, which again supported the European Le Mans Series. "Of course, there is a tough job ahead of me, but I think I have a chance. I had a good trip there a year ago, so with a bit of luck - who knows."
Rdest had scored two sixth places in 2020 and was thus confident to end her season on a high.
Wadoux, who had spent the free practice sessions around the top-three, qualified in fifth place for the first race on Saturday, while Rdest was eighth fastest.
Belgian racer Ugo De Wilde took pole position, preceding Simon Tirman and championship leader Jean-Baptiste Mela. Mela and De Wilde were in fact Wadoux's closest rivals in the points' tally and the young French lady was determined to make the most out of the final two races.
Lilou had a blistering start and immediately moved up to fourth place, while also attacking Mela who went slightly wide into Turn 1. In a masterful move, Wadoux overtook both Mela and De Wilde while being sandwiched on the run towards Turn 5, firing into second position after a few corners.
Rdest also had a great getaway and gained one position to slot into seventh place.
De Wilde and Mela fought back, but Wadoux held off their attacks and caught up with Simon Tirman, who had taken the lead after an action-packed first lap.
On lap 4, Wadoux went for the move and made it stick - opening the door also to Mela. The reigning champion dived in at Turn 1 but made contact, turning around Tirman.
From the melee, Lilou Wadoux emerged in first place and never looked back, having gained a crucial gap to De Wilde. Gosia Rdest battled fiercely in sixth place and had her mirrors full of Corentin Tierce and JB Mela - who had dropped back after the contact.
Gosia was the protagonist of the most intense battles in the latter stages, as she continued to hold off Tierce. With 10 minutes left on the clock, the Safety Car was deployed when the #07 Alpine A110 Cup of Franck Rouxel spun in the gravel. A series of other spins were spotted at the back of the field, with oil on track likely being the cause.
The race was thus red flagged with 2 minutes left and Lilou Wadoux could finally claim her first victory in Alpine Europa Cup - becoming the first woman to do so.
Gosia Rdest was a very solid sixth across the line, in one of her best results of the season after the Magny Cours podium and the fifth place at Spa Francorchamps.
If Wadoux's maiden win came slightly unexpected after a fifth place on the grid, Sunday morning started again with the right foot for the young French lady, who qualified fourth for the final race of the season.
Ugo de Wilde snatched again pole position from Simon Tirman, while Jean-Baptiste Mela shared the second row with Wadoux. Gosia Rdest was once again eighth fastest in Q2.
At Turn 1, Mela and Tirman came together once again and forced Lilou Wadoux wide into the run off. Nevertheless, she emerged in second place, behind De Wilde.
Gosia Rdest continued her tradition of great starts and moved into sixth place.
With Tirman down to eleventh and Mela also recovering, the race direction deemed the lap 1 contact as a racing incident.
On lap 3, Corentin Tierce retired after a contact with Rouxel that had left his #11 Alpine with heavy damage at the front. Mela, meanwhile, made a move stick on Hurgon to re-claim the third step of the podium.
With 10 minutes to go, the top three pulled away from the rest of the pack, but were never close enough to battle each other.
In the final laps, both Wadoux and Rdest were under pressure: Mela was desperate to score more points for his championship fight, but Lilou never made the slightest mistake and gave no chances to the reigning champion and AutosportGP teammate.
Despite some rear bodywork damaged, Rdest was also holding off the charging Simon Tirman: the front-row starter attempted a pass at Turn 1 on the final lap, but Rdest shut the door.
Ugo de Wilde secured his fourth win of the season, preceding Lilou Wadoux by two seconds. In another stunning performance, Wadoux cemented her third place in the championship standings and second in the junior class. Jean Baptiste Mela, third at the finish line, had done enough to keep the title by four points.
In one of her most intense races of the year, Gosia took the chequered flag in sixth place again - equalling her 2020 weekend at Portimao.
"I definitely consider the weekend a successful one." - said Rdest.
"In practice, maybe it was not as good as I wanted, but in the races I have traditionally proved that this part of the competition is my strongest point."
"I kept my cool and grabbed what I could." - she summed up, as her defending skills gained her the nickname of 'Polska Wall' in the paddock.
Rdest finishes eighth in the championship standings, certainly showing improvements compared to the previous season and consistently scoring Top-10 finishes in a very strong field.
"It was definitely a 'more normal' season than the previous one - more rounds, the calendar didn't change, so I could prepare better." - Gosia added. "First of all, I already knew the tracks and I also felt better with the car. However, there were many strong rivals, so there were a lot of fights. The occasional starts in W Series were surely very helpful, as I was in a better shape and more 'driven'."
"The podium at Magny-Cours has shown that I can fight in the lead - I hope to do it even more often."
Gosia Rdest is currently working on her 2022 plans, while Lilou Wadoux has recently confirmed that she will be flying to Bahrain for the FIA WEC rookie tests on November 7. She will join W Series stars Alice Powell and Jamie Chadwick at the wheel of the Richard Mille Racing LMP2 Oreca, as she evaluates a future in endurance racing.