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  • Writer's pictureLIAM REDFORD

Tatiana Calderon achieves season’s best finish at Spa-Francorchamps

“Finishing P5 was a very positive way to conclude a tough weekend" - It has been a season of improvement to date for Tatiana Calderon and Team Virage, who secured their maiden top-5 finish in ELMS after a solid and strategy-driven 4 Hours of Spa Francorchamps.

Tatiana Calderon, Team Virage, ELMS, 2023 4 Hours of Spa Francorchamps
Photo credits: @juledechezsmithenface

Tatiana Calderon continued her positive season in the European Le Mans Series by scoring a top-5 finish in LMP2 Pro/Am at Spa-Francorchamps. Lining up alongside Alexander Mattschull and Ian Rodriguez for Team Virage, the trio drove a smart race which included a very solid middle stint from Calderon. Following a final lap pass by Rodriguez, the team secured their maiden top-5 finish and will be aiming to step onto the podium in the doubleheader season finale at Portimao.

Reflecting on the performance, Tatiana said “Finishing P5 was a very positive way to conclude a tough weekend. Spa is a very particular track and it was our first time there with the low-downforce configuration, which we weren’t able to test with much beforehand. We still have a lot of work to do in terms of pure pace, and in particular over long stints, and we didn’t have time to prepare for the race as well as we would have liked during free practice”.

It has been a season of improvement to date for Tatiana and Team Virage who previously acheived their best result to date in LMP2 Pro/Am last time out at Aragon. Despite the sizeable challenges of Spa-Francorchamps, Calderon was optimistic of a strong weekend. Prior to the event, she commented that “I’m really looking forward to Spa. Since the last race we have done a lot of analysis and we have a clear idea of what we need to work on for the first day of collective testing. It’s always a compromise between being fast in sector two and the straights in the first and final sectors. We’ve been making a lot of improvements as a team with procedures and pitstops, so hopefully we can make another step forward and fight for a top-five finish, or maybe even a podium. That will be the aim for this weekend.”

The weekend began with a pair of collective test sessions on Thursday with the trio quickly adapting to Spa-Francorchamps, finishing the opening session fourth in class while clocking the seventh quickest time in LMP2 overall. Friday’s track action brought further encouragement for Team Virage who ended the first free practice session seventh in LMP2 Pro/Am, before Alexander Mattschull clocked the fourth fastest time in the bronze driver collective test.

Saturday saw the drivers take to the track for the final free practice session before qualifying, with Tatiana setting the fastest time among the Team Virage trio to place the #19 Oreca-07 sixth in LMP2 Pro/Am. Qualifying followed with bronze rated driver Mattschull aiming to fight towards the front. The German driver’s fastest lap placed the team sixth in class, with an unfortunate incident in qualifying resulting in a three-place grid penalty ahead of the four-hour race.

Tatiana Calderon, Team Virage, ELMS, 2023 4 Hours of Spa Francorchamps
Photo credits: @juledechezsmithenface

Lining up ninth in LMP2 Pro/Am, Mattschull made an excellent start to avoid an incident at turn one on the first lap which collected four LMP2 machines. Moving up to sixth in class as the safety car was deployed, the Team Virage driver was keen to make up further positions on the restart. After a great battle with AF Corse driver Francois Perrodo, Mattschull settled into sixth for his opening stint.

A smart strategy from Team Virage saw Mattschull remain on the racetrack longer than the majority of his rivals to conclude his opening stint and this allowed him to jump the United Autosports driver Daniel Schneider in the pit sequence. Following a full course yellow period, Mattschull made a great restart and overtook Rodrigo Sales before handing over to Tatiana in fifth position as his driving time was completed.

Tatiana took control of the Oreca-07 on lap 28 and remained inside the top-5 in LMP2 Pro/Am as the pit cycle was completed. Immediately setting fast lap times to begin her stint, Calderon aimed to hold off an early attack from experiencer racer Nicolas Lapierre. The French driver found a way through on lap 34, before Tatiana was able to hold in close proximity to her rival. Fighting off the advances of fellow Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya, Calderon was competing well as a safety car was deployed on lap 39.

This neutralisation period allowed Tatiana to catch up to the leading LMP2 Pro/Am drivers, with the Team Virage driver restarting in sixth. Montoya made the pass on Calderon on lap 45, with Tatiana making her first scheduled pitstop a lap later. It was a tough pit sequence as the team dropped to ninth in class, however Calderon fought hard to regain lost positions and began catching Bent Viscaal. The end of Tatiana’s stint was disrupted by a number of yellow flags, with a safety car on lap 59 a good break for Team Virage who could make their final driver change of the race with Ian Rodriguez taking the wheel.

As the race restarted Rodriguez was in eighth, and after negotiating a number of LMP3 machines, he set the fastest lap of the race for the #19 Oreca-07. A fast pace was being set by the leading LMP2 Pro/Am drivers and with close margins throughout the field, strategic decisions concerning the final stop would be crucial. Following an incident on track on lap 76, Team Virage made a smart strategy call to pit Rodriguez and this paid off with the safety car being deployed shortly after.

Ian took the restart seventh in LMP2 Pro/Am, however with two rival cars having not made their final stop, a top-5 finish was within reach. The final stint was broken up by a further safety car and a full course yellow period with just five minutes remaining as Rodriguez sat in sixth with all competitors having completed their pitstops. With the race back under green flag conditions for the final two minutes, the Team Virage driver made a brilliant last-lap pass on Tristan Vautier to claim a well-deserved top-5 finish.

Despite room for improvement in overall race pace, Calderon was satisfied with the finish. She commented that "The first time I drove with a full tank was the race, and none of us were particularly happy about the pace. But sometimes you make the right calls on strategy and you get a good result. We have to be happy with P5 but we will be pushing to have better pace for the final two rounds in Portugal.”

It has been an excellent season of progress for Team Virage who are being rewarded with their season’s best finishes in the past two races. A fifth place finish at Spa-Francorchamps is a fantastic achievement for Tatiana who displayed brilliant racecraft in a crucial middle stint. An LMP2 Pro/Am podium finish will be the next target for Team Virage with a doubleheader at Portimao on the weekend of 21st/22nd October offering two chances to achieve the goal.



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