Tatiana Calderon scores top-6 at 4H of Aragon in best ELMS result of the season
“Finally we finished P6, which I would say is our first ‘real’ result of the year" - Tatiana Calderon was in contention for a podium in LMP2 ProAm and secured her best finish of the season so far in ELMS after a positive outing at the 4 Hours of Aragon.
Tatiana Calderon secured her best finish of the season to date in European Le Mans Series after a positive outing at the 4 Hours of Aragon, third round of the 2023 season, which saw the drivers of the #19 Team Virage Oreca crossing the line in sixth place among the LMP2 ProAm category.
Calderon, Rodriguez and Mattschull bounced back after a series of misfortunes at the previous round at Paul Ricard, where they were denied the chance of a podium finish due to an ill-timed safety car, paired with a communication issue in the closing stages that ultimately resulted in the team not being classified for not having crossed the finish line on the final lap.
Nevertheless, their performance in the ProAm class was highly promising and, looking to build on that speed, bronze-rated Alexander Mattschull was back with the team for the first ever visit of ELMS to Motorland Aragon, for the 4-hour contest, which started in daylight and concluded at 10pm, one hour after sunset.
"The pace in the previous race at Paul Ricard was really encouraging, also in Barcelona, so hopefully we can put it all together this weekend", Tatiana said. "We have Alex [Mattschull] for the rest of the season, so it should be more natural and I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.”
While she had not raced before at the Spanish venue, Calderon had the opportunity to learn the 5.345km track in testing: “I'm very excited to be back racing in Spain", she commented. "It will feel like another home race to me, but this time we race at night - which I'm really glad about because it’s really hot in Spain at the moment!"
"It’s also the first time for the series racing at Aragon, which is a tough and technical layout with many blind corners", Calderon added before the race meeting. "It will be a challenge, especially with the traffic and the temperature change from the day to the night. But I enjoy the track and every time I’ve worked with the team we’ve started to understand each other better."
The #19 Team Virage Oreca soon proved to be fast at Aragon, and the trio completed the first practice session with the third fastest time - in a highly promising start of the weekend.
More encouraging signs came after the bronze driver collective test, as Mattschull clocked a 1:50.531 that put the team in second place among the LMP2 ProAm class.
Their times continued to improve in FP2 hopes were high ahead of the qualifying session on Saturday morning, which saw the German driver taking to the track for the 15-minute session and securing a fifth place on the grid after a strong performance.
Mattschull was also the driver elected to start the 4-hour race later in the afternoon, and he continued to impress by gaining a couple of positions in ProAm class at the start.
Third in LMP2 ProAm and 10th overall, the bronze German driver lapped very competitively and closed in on pole-sitter Salih Yoluc (#34 Racing Team Turkey), who had lost the lead to Giorgio Roda (#99 Proton Competition). Positions were restored at the top of the class on lap 4 - as Mattschull followed closely.
Roda and Yoluc swapped places again, with the Italian eventually keeping the top spot in class. A spin out of the last corner for Michael Fassbender - who kept it out of the wall after being hit by Nico Pino - did not bring out a neutralization and classes enjoyed good clean battles throughout the first 30 minutes of racing.
The top 2 LMP2 ProAm cars pitted on lap 17: Alexander Mattschull therefore took the lead, before pitting two laps later. Team Virage's fast bronze driver remained at the wheel of the #19 Oreca, rejoining in second place - ahead of both the #24 Nielsen Racing of Rodrigo Sales and the #99 Proton which previously led in class. Salih Yoluc made a mistake while in the GTE traffic and spun, but could keep the lead, a couple of seconds ahead of Mattschull.
One hour into the race, the Safety Car made its only appearance when the race leading InterEuropol LMP2 Oreca of Rui Andrade collided with the LMGTE leading Formula Racing Ferrari of Johnny Laursen, who couldn't see the LMP2 overlapping him.
Positions were unchanged in LMP2 ProAm, but most of the teams opted to pit as the race went back to green - and Ian Rodriguez took over the #19 Virage Oreca after a brilliant first part of the race for Alexander Mattschull.
After the round of pit stops, Ben Hanley (#24 Nielsen Racing) led in class from Team Turkey's Charlie Eastwood and Gianmaria Bruni (#99 Proton Competition), with Rodriguez fourth.
Rodriguez lost fourth to the #83 AF Corse Oreca, now in the hands of Alessio Rovera, but the driver from Guatemala ran competitively and kept a safe margin to Juan Pablo Montoya's DragonSpeed entry.
As the sun went down over the horizon and the dawn approached, the LMP2 class pitted for the third time at the mid-race point: Rovera's AF Corse took the lead, having passed Racing Team Turkey and Proton Competition. Ian Rodriguez remained behind the wheel in P5.
The first FCY of the race was deployed with 1 hour and 28 minutes elapsed, when the #10 EuroInternational LMP3 and the #31 Racing Spirit of Leman LMP3 came to a halt on track for separate issues. It was a rather short yellow though, and once up to speed, Rodriguez picked up fourth in ProAm when the #34 Team Turkey Oreca pitted, installing Louis Deletraz behind the wheel. Rovera and Hanley also pitted soon after, leaving the #19 Virage machine in the lead until lap 81, when Rodriguez handed over to Tatiana Calderon.
Once in control, Tatiana rejoined seventh in ProAm, just behind the Pro #23 United Autosport entry. Calderon recorded her personal best on lap 94, clocking her first lap under the 1:51 mark - just before a Full Course Yellow for the stationary #13 InterEuropol LMP3 at turn 12. The green flag waved again shortly after and, with 40 minutes to go, the final round of pit stop started.
It was disaster for Racing Team Turkey's Deletraz, whose car won't re-fire. Tatiana Calderon went longer with her stint - now third during the pit cycle. The Colombian pitted for the final stop on lap 103 - emerging in fifth place in class. 3 seconds behind Proton's Jonas Ried, Calderon gained a few tenths over the following laps and closed in on the German.
Tatiana was on a mission but also had the fast approaching Tristan Vautier behind. The French driver found a way past for fifth - and then overtook Ried after a further Full Course Yellow in the closing minutes. Tatiana was faster than Ried but the last neutralization hampered her chances of catching him and she couldn't eventually complete a move, crossing the finish line in sixth place in LMP2 ProAm. The result was nevertheless her best finish of the season so far.
“Finally we finished P6, which I would say is our first ‘real’ result of the year" - Tatiana commented. "We’ve made a lot of improvements with the procedures and pitstops, and Alex did a great job in the first stint."
"Unfortunately the track conditions changed a lot from one day to the next; it cooled down by more than 10 degrees, maybe even 20, by the end of my stint", the Colombian explained. "We were in the fight with P4 and we were under pressure from behind from DragonSpeed, so I feel we did the maximum with what we had." Tatiana still managed to hold off Sebastian Montoya in the final laps.
"There are still things to improve, but I am really happy with the step we made", she added. "We needed this solid result and consistency in the driver line-up. We’ll keep pushing as a team to understand what we could have done better."
After the disappointment of Paul Ricard, the 4 Hours of Aragon was clearly a confidence boost for Calderon, Rodriguez and Mattschull, who proved to be in contention for a podium in LMP2 ProAm with a clean, trouble-free race. They will be eager to build on this weekend and capitalize on their speed at the next round in Belgium.
"Next is Spa, which will be much colder, but I’m looking forward to it", Tatiana concluded. The penultimate round of the 2023 European Le Mans Series season is in fact scheduled for September 24th, at the iconic circuit of Spa Francorchamps, before a double header at Portimao in October.