WEC: Late Safety Car denies Doriane Pin potential first win
"The first lap was really good, as well as my two stints. The second one was the best, especially in comparison to the more experienced gold and platinum drivers" - At her second race in LMP2, Doriane Pin once again came close to achieving her first win in WEC and currently sits second in the standings.
For young drivers in any form of motorsport, it is common to contest a rookie season to learn and a sophomore season to win. This apparently does not apply to Doriane Pin, who has been a disruptive figure in the world of sports car racing since her very debut: the young Frenchwoman shows up and fights for the win.
In her first year with Iron Dames, she proved to be already good enough for a few appearances in the main line up, in some of the world's top endurance series in the world.
At her debut in the Ferrari Challenge, Pin swept the competition and stormed to the European championship title. Now part of the all-female line ups in IMSA and GT World Challenge, she has been promoted to the LMP2 class in WEC, for the first time at the wheel of the high-downforce Oreca prototype run by Prema Racing.
And, at her first ever race, she was just as fast as highly experienced teammates Mirko Bortolotti and Daniil Kvyat. At Sebring, the crew of the #63 Prema missed out on a potential win for a late fuel stop which put them second - as Pin clinched her first podium in class.
And at her second race meeting, the 6 Hours of Portimao, the 19-year-old talent was aiming even higher.
Pin and her teammates led the opening practice sessions on Friday, showing that the #63 car would be the one to beat at the Portuguese roller-coaster.
Coming into qualifying, there were high expectations for Mirko Bortolotti, who would take on the #63 Oreca for the 15 minute session.
In a drama-filled session, Bortolotti's LMP2 prototype came to a halt in pit lane and Prema's mechanics assessed the problem, fixed it and sent the car back out on track, with Bortolotti immediately claiming the top spot. While his first lap ended up deleted for track limits, Bortolotti again topped the timing sheets with two minutes to go, beating Gabriel Aubry's #10 Vector Racing Oreca by one thousandth of a second - in the second closest WEC qualifying ever.
The memorable moment was one for the history books, as Doriane Pin became the first ever woman to take the start from pole position in the LMP2 category on Sunday.
The first corner, though, turned out to be a chaotic one, with a late getaway from the hypercars which bunched up the pack and ended in a few cars going off at turn one.
Doriane Pin, almost held up by a few hypercars, lost the class lead to Sean Gelael (#31 WRT) who found a gap around the outside of turn 2, as the #2 Cadillac and the #708 Glickenhaus went wide.
In the following laps, Pin battled with Glickenhaus' Olivier Pla, while keeping contact with the leading WRT. While she tried to get around Gelael, Doriane was passed by Ben Hanley in the #22 United Autosport, thus dropping to third. Held up by GTE traffic, the second United Autosport also got by.
Once settled in third, Pin had a very strong stint, with consistent lap times at the top end of the category. The leading LMP2 cars pitted on lap 22 for the first time: Pin and Giedo Van der Garde were the first ones to dive into the pitlane and re-emerged as the two leaders.
In her second stint, Doriane was much more comfortable with her set of tyres and kept second place, pulling away. She would pit again on lap 46, then handing over to Daniil Kvyat after another brilliant performance for the rookie.
"I was really excited to take the start" - Doriane commented. "The first lap was really good, as well as my two stints. The second one was the best, especially in comparison to the more experienced gold and platinum drivers, which is really positive."
The former F1 driver rejoined in second place once the #22 United Autosport Oreca, off sequence compared to the sister car, pitted.
Unfortunately, Kvyat came together with the #10 Vector Sport Oreca of Gabriel Aubry at turn 5, sending the latter into a spin. The incident would cost the #63 Prema a 5 second penalty at the following pit stop.
A big battle for fourth, fifth and sixth saw Ugran, Hanson and Deletraz sparing no contacts; eventually Hanson got ahead of the second Prema driven by the Romanian driver.
Meanwhile, Kvyat had significantly closed in on the class-leading #23 United Autosport, when he came in for the third pit stop of the day: pole-sitter Mirko Bortolotti got behind the wheel on lap 96.
The #23 United Autosport cycled back into the lead once the #48 Team JOTA pitted - and Bortolotti could start his pursuit of Oliver Jarvis: the Lamborghini factory driver significantly closed the gap and, for a few laps, he seemed able to challenge for the lead.
Daniil Kvyat was back in the car with two hours to go; the Prema crew kept second in LMP2, but had to keep an eye on the recovering #22 United Autosport of Ben Hanley. The battle for the lead saw a new plot twist when the #23 of Van der Garde received a 5 second penalty for a pit stop infringement; van der Garde, though, managed to extend his gap to over five seconds, as Kvyat was heavily under pressure from Hanley.
The United Autosport Oreca was through when both Van der Garde and Kvyat pitted.
The Dutchman, struggling with a radio malfunction, lost a few seconds when he wasn't aware of a planned driver change; Kvyat, who remained behind the wheel, moved into the lead with 1 hour and 15 minutes to go thanks to a fuel-only pit stop.
A potential race win was on the table for Kvyat, Bortolotti and Pin, as the #63 Prema managed the gap at the front. After five hours of green flag racing, though, a Safety Car disrupted their plans.
Jacques Villeneuve had in fact lost the brakes on his Vanwall hypercar and hit the tyre barriers, triggering the neutralization.
At the restart, Kvyat held the LMP2 lead, ahead of Jarvis and Hanson. Jarvis, though, continued to gain over Kvyat until he had to pit again for fuel with around 30 minutes to go. The race leader pitted on lap 195 and lost the top spot to the #22 United Autosport. Now struggling on old tyres, Kvyat would also lose second and third to the #22 United and the #41 WRT in the final minutes.
What would have been a historic first win eventually slipped from Doriane Pin's hands, after the safety car hampered Prema's chances: Pin, Bortolotti and Kvyat had to settle for fourth place, after spending all race in contention for a LMP2 victory.
"Mirko and Daniil did an amazing job too, but the safety car didn't help us at all", said Pin. "We lost the win or at least P2 there and finished in fourth place."
"Of course, we are disappointed because the whole team deserved a podium. We will work hard for Spa to try and fight for our first win."
With two races under her belt, Pin is performing like a seasoned driver and is hungry for victories. With 40 points, she now sits second in the LMP2 championship standings, 16 points behind United Autosport duo Lubin/Hanson. With such pace and consistency, Pin not only is likely to get her first win very soon - but she might also have a real chance for the title.
The 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps, third round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship, is scheduled for 28-29 April at the iconic Belgian track.