Positive first Barcelona race for Margaux Verza in Alpine Europa Cup
Coming off her first top-15 of the season before the summer break, the second half of the Alpine Europa Cup season was off to a positive restart for Margaux Verza, who was P16 in Race 1.
Almost three months after the latest race at Zandvoort, Netherlands, Alpine Europa Cup was back on track at another Grand Prix venue – Circuit de Catalunya, as the Alpine one-make series supported the 24 Hours of Barcelona.
The GT4-based series has witnessed its competitive level skyrocketing in the last couple of years and, with a strong 26-car field at the Spanish round, provided once again excellent racing action from some of the most promising up and coming sports car drivers.
At her first season in the series, young Frenchwoman Margaux Verza is certainly in a learning-oriented season, which has nevertheless showed really encouraging signs in the first half of the season: from a P22 at debut in Nogaro, to her first top-20 in Magny-Cours, and her first top-15 in Zandvoort, the trend is undoubtedly on the rise.
Simon Tirman took pole position for Race 1 on Friday, joined on the front row by Laurent Hurgon. Margaux Verza made steady progress throughout the sessions, from free practice to qualifying where she lined up in P22.
Lengthy delays in the other support series resulted in a scheduled change, with Race 1 actually going underway at 20:10 local time, for a rather scenic night race.
A few cars went through the run-off at Turn 1 and the Safety car was out for the stricken car of Bossy, sixth on the grid.
Verza had a good start and gained two positions on the opening lap before the neutralization; at the green flag, the driver of the #71 Patrick Roger Autosport GP Alpine A110 Cup resumed her charge, recovering up to 16th place.
On cold tyres, Herrero made a mistake at the restart and went deep into the gravel at Turn 1, but was able to avoid making contact with the barriers and continued. Paul Cauhaupe was also on the move and overtook Hurgon for second and hunted down Tirman – but his chase was halted by a second Safety Car, as Louis Maurice was tagged and spun around at Turn 10.
With a one lap shootout for the win, Cauhaupe made a brilliant move stick at Turn 1 and took a last lap victory over Tirman, as Laurent Hurgon rounded out the podium.
Despite the frequent Safety Car disruptions, Margaux Verza managed to recover 6 positions to finish P16 - another positive result for the Frenchwoman who aims for steady improvements in her rookie campaign.
On a sunny Saturday morning, Verza had a better qualifying and was18th fastest ahead of Race 2. At lights out, Tirman, Cauhaupe, Herrero and Frayssinet went 4-wide into Turn 1, but it was a relatively clean start ahead, before Pierre Macchi spun and brought out the Safety Car.
Verza avoided the incident but lost one position; when the race resumed on lap 3, she was right in the mix of the mid-field battles. Frayssinet overtook Herrero for third place, while several drivers were placed under investigation by the stewards for either unsafely rejoining the track at Turn 1 or abusing track limits.
With 9 minutes left on the clock, unfortunately, Margaux Verza made a mistake and was hit by another driver. Involved in the incident were also Louis Méric and Jean-Paul Dominici.
"It was not the race I was expecting", Margaux summed up. "The start was okay compared to yesterday, but I wasn't next to the person I was supposed to be. But I tried to find my rhythm and find my way after the first Safety Car."
"The restart was okay – at least all the cars were together. At one point there was a car on fire - he spun and then restarted, so I lifted a little bit and I was a bit distracted", she recalled.
"On the following lap, at Turn 5, I just lost the car and the guy behind me couldn't avoid me so we had contact."
At the final restart with now one minute to go, Tirman and Cauhaupe battled again for the lead - but the latter would receive a 5 second penalty that demoted him to sixth.
Simon Tirman took his second win of the season, ahead of championship leader Lucas Frayssinet and Laurent Hurgon.
Despite the unfortunate ending of Race 2, Margaux Verza had another overall positive learning weekend in Alpine Europa Cup, as the series now heads to Monza for the fifth and penultimate round of the season.
"I'm still happy with my qualifying this morning, I'm still learning this car", Verza said.
"It was quite a long break - almost three months – and I'll be even more ready for Monza in a few weeks."
Additional reporting: Xavi Salas