Stunning recovery in Monza secures Margaux Verza her best result of the season
"I just felt amazing with the car" - Margaux Verza bounced back after a difficult day in rainy Monza and, on a dry Sunday, had her best race of the season so far with a charging performance to finish P13 in the penultimate event of Alpine Europa Cup.
Two weeks after the Barcelona round, Alpine Europa Cup made its return to the track at the famous Temple of Speed – one of the most iconic places in the history of motor racing: Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.
Built in 1922 in the middle of the biggest city park in Europe, Monza remains one of the fastest circuits in the world and both a fan and drivers' favourites for its unique challenges: with not many corners and predominantly flat, Monza has plenty of other peculiarities that makes it easy only on paper, but quite hard to master.
And with adverse weather, those challenges are even bigger; that's what the drivers of the spectacular Alpine Europa Cup had to tackle during the fifth round of the French one-make series, with intense rain throughout Saturday's qualifying and Race 1 and clearer skies on Sunday.
French rookie Margaux Verza (Autosport GP) has been the protagonist of a remarkable progression since her debut at Nogaro: with noticeable improvements race after race, Verza scored her first top-15 in Zandvoort – and kept momentum with a P16 in the first race at Barcelona.
For Margaux, the Italian round was a matter of first times: it was her first time at the track, as well as her first time driving the Alpine A110 Cup in the rain.
On Friday, in fact, Verza immediately showed huge pace in the dry practice sessions, where she was P10 and P12 in sunny conditions. Unfortunately, the weather changed on Saturday – and Margaux's confidence in the car as well: a mistake under braking at the second chicane – in very difficult conditions – resulted in a contact with the barrier that hampered her qualifying result.
Starting from P20 in treacherous weather conditions, Verza was smart at the start and kept her nose clean, gaining two positions as two drivers spun at the tricky first chicane.
A big 3-way battle for the lead saw Louis Meric taking first place on the run down towards Prima Variante, but an impressive Alexis Garcin would claim the top spot at Ascari, as pole-sitter Lucas Frayssinet dropped to third.
Frayssinet and Meric battled hard for second, allowing Garcin to open a small safe margin in the lead; the driver of the #93 Chazel Technologie Course Alpine A110 Cup eventually fought back to second, following a several lap scrap.
Having cleared Meric, Frayssinet was the fastest on track, but Garcin had managed his margin well and was not to be challenged.
In her first race in the rain, Margaux Verza struggled with confidence under braking and could not make up positions, losing out to the cars ahead of her.
When Time Merieux spun and then retired in the pitlane, she could move into 19th position – but a red flag immediately after brought back the result to the lap before.
Stephane De Groodt, in fact, had gone off at the exit at Ascari and totaled the #110 VIP car. De Groodt was unharmed, but the chassis of the #110 machine sustained big damages from the heavy impact. In its final lap, the race was not resumed.
Alexis Garcin claimed his maiden victory in the series, preceding Lucas Frayssinet and Louis Meric. Ninth across the finish line, championship leader Simon Tirman lost the top of the standings.
After a difficult race, Margaux Verza was classified P20.
Luckily, the weather changed on Sunday. While there was no rain on the final day of racing at Monza, conditions remained very tricky in qualifying, with a damp track requiring a tyre gamble. The drivers that went out on slicks struggled in the first part of the session, but lap times dropped as the track dried up. Margaux Verza opted for wet weather tyres and found herself in the mid-pack, but then could not improve towards the end of the session, finishing P19. Race 1 winner Garcin bagged another pole position, ahead of Meric and Frayssinet – with the top three drivers on a pace of their own. "Qualifying was between wet and dry and we decided to go with wet tyres" – Margaux told us. "It was a good choice for the first ten minutes, and then the wrong choice. We put the slicks with only 4 minutes to the end, so I just had time to do two warm up laps. At least I had perfectly new tyres for the race." With a 4-wide battle at the start, Frayssinet took the lead at Prima Variante, in a remarkably clean start throughout the field. Garcin tried to fight back on lap 3 – but he was surprised by the recovery of Simon Tirman, who overtook his rival with a brilliant late move at Parabolica. Tirman would then attack and pass Frayssinet one lap later, moving up into the race lead. Verza again had another good launch and was P18 after the first lap of racing; her pace on the dry track was way faster than the cars ahead and she started to charge back, passing car after car as the race went by. Midway through the race, Verza had reached the top-15 – equalling her best finish in the series so far – but was on a mission to top that. Always in the pack and elbows out, Margaux fought hard and clean, gaining 14th place in the closing stages. The final run to the chequered flag was even more spectacular, as Verza, in a group of five cars, snatched 13th place by 13 thousandths of a second across the line, claiming her best result to date in Alpine Europa Cup. Simon Tirman survived a late charge by Lucas Frayssinet and won race 2, with Alexis Garcin completing the podium. After a nice battle, Paul Cauhaupe was able to finish fourth, ahead of Louis Maurice, while Meric spun in the final laps and ended P11. Gosia Rdest was also the protagonist of some brilliant passes and recovered from P12 to P9, scoring two top ten finishes in two days. For Verza, the Monza round was another testament of her steady improvements and big steps ahead over the course of the season. "The race was sunny, so it was a big step for me, I was really happy with that. I felt confident, I felt good with the car, I had a really good dry setup and perfect tyres." – she summed up. "I took a good start and then I just found my rhythm. I had a car ahead that was a bit waving several times on the straights – and we were not in the same class, so I was really careful but I knew that I had a better pace." "I just felt amazing with the car and I passed the last car on the finish line by 13 thousandths" - she continued. "It's the best race this season and I can't wait for Paul Ricard and I will cross my fingers that it's sunny!" Friday practice and then Sunday's race show that Verza can now aim even higher: "I know that I can do it now, and I aim for a top ten" – she said. "I know that if I had a better quali I had the pace of some cars ahead. Maybe I would not have overtaken them, but I could have followed them with my pace. That's why I have to do a good qualifying in Paul Ricard". While the progression has been consistent and steady, Margaux felt that Monza was a pivotal moment in her season, as a test day prior to the race weekend was crucial to her understanding of the Alpine A110 Cup car. "I had the chance to do a track day on Wednesday and I started to brake much harder but feeling the car more at the same time. I was waiting for this moment to understand the car since the beginning and I think something clicked", she explained. "There were some good steps in Barcelona, but I think Monza was that moment where I understood the car better and I'm really happy." "I was really confident today; I was talking to myself and talking with the car. I just need to find a name for my car now!" The season finale of the Alpine one-make series is scheduled for 14-16 October at Circuit Paul Ricard, South of France.