Olli Caldwell got his 2023 season underway in the 1000 Miles of Sebring this week, in what was the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Taking to the wheel of the #35 Alpine A470 prototype machine alongside team-mates Brazil’s André Negrão and Mexican driver Memo Rojas, the trio made promising progress despite a disappointing end to their race.
New beginnings for Olli
Primed and ready for action, LMP2 rookie Olli Caldwell felt energised ahead of his first season of endurance racing this year. Fresh off the back of pre-season testing, known within the championship as the Prologue, with more than 2,800 kilometres covered by both Alpine Elf Endurance cars across the test sessions. Olli and his teammates were eager to put their learnings into practice and the team had optimism and confidence going into the opening race.
“We had a really productive Prologue and I’m really excited for my first race at Sebring in the FIA WEC. It's an exciting time in my career, even though it's a big change for me. I'm still getting familiar with the team, but it is great to be part of this family. Testing has gone really well, we tested a lot of different things, which is always the ultimate goal these days, and now we can put it all together”
Out on track for qualifying on Thursday evening, Olli and his teammate Memo Rojas watched on from the paddock as experienced Andre Negrão took charge of sealing their first grid slot of the season. Cycling out on a gentle outlap, the team’s first showing of outright pace came as the times began to trickle in.
Sitting 8th out of 12 cars in the LMP2 class and with 6 minutes left to run, the team opted to bolt on some fresh tyres for their final run. However with tyre warming not an option due to the ban on tyre blankets, Andre struggled to get them into the optimal running window in time to set a true representative lap before the checkered flag fell. Taking solace that the 4th place sister car showed promise for where they could be when the tyres were in the window, the #35 squad knew they would have opportunities to make moves from P12 starting position in the race.
Green flag for the 2023 season
The Florida sun was shining brightly on Friday morning as the paddock geared up for the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. With 1000 miles ahead of them, the #35 squad were hopeful to make up some places and make the most of every opportunity that came their way. Prepping for his first endurance race with the Alpine Elf team, Olli worked closely with the engineers and strategists to get himself fully immersed in their plan for the race. Memo Rojas took the wheel for the opening stint, with Olli planned to take over once the race had really got underway.
With the pack circling for 2 formation laps to allow time for the tyres to warm up, Olli took his place with the team to await the rolling race start. As the roar of four classes of racing cars stormed down the start/finish straight, the 2023 season was finally underway.
Up a place before the Safety Car made an appearance for a stricken GT car. Having made a splash and dash stop, the 35 was running 11th in class as Olli was given the signal to prepare for his stint.
Jumping in the car on Lap 33, adrenaline coursing through his veins, Olli took charge of the LMP2 under racing conditions for the first time. However, a little too eager to get up to speed, he narrowly went over the speed limit for which he was later penalised with a drive through penalty. With more than 4 hours left to run, the British driver put his head down and set about making up some ground and keeping his nose clean back on track.
Handing over to Andre on lap 75, Olli fed back to the engineers as the squad found themselves making strong progress and solid pace in the race. Having made 103 passes on track they were ranked as 2nd highest number of overtakes as the race reached halfway.
Running P10 in class the team made a further driver swap to Memo with four hours left to run. Eager to get back on track, Olli got himself prepared for his second stint which was planned for under an hour’s time.
However soon after jumping in the car it was apparent that the #35 was suffering from loss of power. Pulling off the circuit, coming to a stop and refusing any assistance from the marshals, Olli radioed intently to the engineers to try and resolve the problem. Determined to stay in the race, Olli continued to cycle through a number of potential fixes as directed by his team.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, they were forced to retire from the race on lap 139 with an electronic fault.
With eyes already set on taking the positives forward to the next round, Olli Caldwell commented on their first outing:
"We may be disappointed with how the race ended, but it was still a promising week. We managed to improve the car balance from the Prologue, and our pace was good even if we could have started a bit higher on the grid. Unfortunately, an electronic issue cut our race short when I was in the car. I tried everything I could, but that's one of these things happening sometimes in motorsport. The team were doing a great job and I know they will do everything to ensure it doesn't happen again. Now we can take everything we've learned here and put it to good use at the next race in Portimão."
The next round of the FIA World Endurance Championship gets underway at the 6 Hours of Portimão on 16 April.