Olli Caldwell was eager to get back on track in Portugal for the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship this weekend. Together with teammates Andre Negrão and Memo Rojas, the Alpine trio set about claiming their first points of the year following their misfortune in the opening round.
Located in the beautiful region of Portimão in Portugal, the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve is one of the most exciting and dynamic motorsports venues in Europe. Sitting at 4.692 km long the track features a combination of fast sweeping corners and tight hairpins, making it a favourite among drivers, teams, and fans alike.
Having racked a total of 79 laps on the board in Friday practice, the squad went into the final free practice session encouraged by their reliability as they aimed to understand the true pace of the car ahead of qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
Preparing to get his time behind the wheel, Olli looked on from the garage as a misjudged move from a Hypercar on track sent the #35 car into a spin. After the unfortunate incident landed them with a rear puncture, Memo Rojas was forced to make his way back to the pits on foot and their session was finished. With their running cut short, it meant that Olli would have to wait until race day to get his next turn behind the wheel of the LMP2 charger.
Tantalisingly close lap times
With qualifying hopes put into the hands of Andre Negrão, the #35 eagerly lined up at the end of the pit lane waiting for the session to go green, committed to making the most of track time.
Posting a solid lap time to clinch a net 4th place with 8 minutes left to run, their pace looked strong in the opening stages of qualifying. As the times began to tumble it was clear that the session was going to be nail-bitingly close as Olli and Memo looked on from the pits willing their teammate on. Despite peeling into the pits for a fresher set of tyres, Andre was unable to improve on his initial banker lap time due to traffic and they scored a 10th place starting position.
With just 1 second covering the top 10, the LMP2 class were enthrallingly closely matched on outright pace and set the crowds up for a thrilling race on Sunday.
Olli looked ahead to the race:
“The car feels good and I’m looking forward to battling in the race. The LMP2 field is really tight in qualifying and I’m sure we have more to give, but our engineers are great with the strategy so hopefully we can make some progress in the race”
Six hours under the baking sun
With weather on Sunday reaching scorching temperature, the race was a battle against rivals and the tyres to push themselves up the order. Handing the starting honours over to Memo Rojas, the #35 squad managed to keep their nose clean at the start of the race to be running in P10 behind the sister car in P9.
After a relatively uneventful opening portion of the race, Memo handed over to Andre on Lap 47, before it was Olli’s turn on Lap 95.
Jumping into the car for his first stint of the 6 hour race, Olli headed out on track with a clear goal of making up ground on the cars ahead. Just as the race reached a century of laps, fully dialled into the car, the tyre and the track, Olli piled on the pressure on the JOTA car ahead. Running within 1s of the rival car catching with every lap, Olli looped his way through the tight and twisty track putting all his racing experience into practice. Until he punched his way through and took the spot for his own, rising up to P10 on the road.
With 6 seconds between him and the sister car, the British driver settled into a groove and focused on stretching out a gap to the chasing JOTA car.
Despite losing the place in the pit stops (Lap 118), Olli focused forward and aimed to make up ground as the race ran on.
Following a splash and dash pit stop on Lap 143, Olli found himself momentarily boosted up the order whilst his rivals did their planned driver swaps. But with the cars around him opting for fresh tyres, Olli focused on keeping his nose clean in his third and final stint. The strategy call allowing for fresh tyres following their own driver swap, which in turn would give Andre the extra boost to the chequered flag.
The only safety car of the race made its appearance with an hour left on the clock, which unfortunately hurt the team’s strategy and left them a lap down once racing resumed. However reaching the full race distance and taking the chequered flag was a positive milestone for the team as they look to improve further when racing resumes at the 6H Spa.
“It was a tough race for us, but I think we can also take some positives away. I had a good battle for position during my first stint and I began to make some ground. It’s just a shame we couldn’t battle more towards the end.
Looking forward to Spa, hopefully we can pull out some more pace in qualifying to put us in a good position to fight in the race. After we were forced to retire in Sebring, this is a step forward and we’ll be working hard to continue that as the season progresses.”
Olli Caldwell will be back on track with Alpine Elf Endurance Team in just two weeks time for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. But first, he will kick off his European Le Mans Series campaign in just a few days time in Barcelona, taking to the track with Inter Europol Competition to make his debut in the opening 4 hour race.