Olli Caldwell was back on track with Inter Europol Competition for the fourth round of the European Le Mans Series this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps. Despite luck not favouring them so far this season, he and his teammates were dedicated and diligent as ever in their pursuits of a strong finish in the penultimate event of the 2023 season. But in a chaotic race that saw five Safety Cars and three Full Course Yellows, luck was not on their side.
The 7.004km long Spa-Francorchamps circuit nestled deep in the Ardennes forest is one of the most infamous tracks on any racing calendar, having raced at Spa many times including earlier this year, Olli is no stranger to Belgian circuit that commonly provides a tricky challenge against the weather and the undulating nature of it’s surroundings.
Fastest on Track
Following strong opening pace on Friday the #43 squad certainly stamped their mark on the timesheets on Saturday morning, as teammate Jonathan Aberdein took to the wheel to punch in the fastest time on track with a 2:04:530s lap time.
Despite improving to run even faster in qualifying, the rapid LMP2 category was covered by less than a second, Jonathan and the team had to settle for a 5th place starting position for the race. But with four hours of racing ahead of them, they were in a great place to make up ground and charge for a podium finish.
As the sun shone down on the Ardennes circuit on Sunday morning it provided a bright outlook for the Inter Europol Competition squad. Confident in their pace and potential, Olli and his teammates looked forward to getting to work when the 4 hour race went green.
“Our pace has been strong so far and we’re feeling confident going into this race. If we can keep ourselves out of trouble I’m sure we can make our way through to be fighting for the win.” Olli commented.
As the green flag waved, the pack teared towards the tight right-hander at La Source, the #65 car dramatically locked up and took out three cars before the race had really begun. Having avoided being caught up in the incident, teammate Rui Andrade managed to jump to 2nd on the road as the remaining field continued on the opening lap. Benefitting where others faltered, the team considered their strategy as the safety car prepared to take control of the race.
With the safety car finally ending after 20 minutes and rapid clearing of debris by the marshals, racing finally got back underway. The #43 car kept their advantage on the chasing Cool Racing car, managing tyres whilst steadily biting into the lead that the Algarve Pro race leader had managed to pull out, Rui got into the groove and began the team’s stealthy hunt for glory.
Pitting as the race reached the 40 minutes mark, the team continued with their initial strategy despite the early safety car, as Rui remained in the driving seat as the race ran much as planned.
Turning the screw and gaining on the car ahead, Rui aimed to benefit from the tow through Eau Rouge-Radillion complex before making his pass on the Kemmel Straight to take 3rd.
Readying for his stint at the second pit window, Olli stretched and prepared himself for action. Despite the pit lane entry being blocked by a stopped car on the entry, Rui thread his way through and Olli jumped aboard with fresh tyres for his opening stint with just over two and half hours left to race.
#83 LMP2 Pro-Am clattered into the back of him causing a slight puncture. Having pit for fuel and damage checks, the 21-year-old soon put the hammer down and set about making up the time in pursuit of the leaders. However he found his progress hindered by a pack of LMP3 cars who failed to adhere to blue flags and let his faster machinery by, blocking him repeatedly on the racing line. Carefully threading his yellow and green machine ahead as best he could, Olli finally found himself in open air to make up ground lost behind the slower cars.
Opting to pit to change the punctured tyre and take on a new rear section which had been damaged in the earlier collision, the #43 rejoined the race 4th in class. However just one lap later the safety car released the pack and the pit lane became a hive of activity, the #43 deep in the thick of it as it was time to hand over to Jonathan with over an hour left to go. However with the frenetic nature of half the field pitting at the same time Jonathan unfortunately narrowly shunted another car when exiting the pits. Pitting for their 3rd stop in as many laps for a replacement nose was a costly blow to their progress in the race.
Back on track behind the safety car, all was not lost for the dynamic trio as they prepared to take on the challenge of taking back any positions they could in the remainder of the race.
A sting in the tail
Unfortunately with only 18 minutes left of the race, battling hard and in the running to make their way back to the class podium, Jonathan fought a loss of grip in the rear end of the car which sent him spinning across the gravel and clattering into the wall. With race-ending damage to their mighty machine, Jonathan thankfully escaped unharmed and their day prematurely came to an end.
"Another difficult weekend in ELMS, we struggled immediately with some large suspension issues and I think this put us on the back foot straight away. Some damage in the race didn’t help my pace and confidence in the car, and unfortunately it worsened when Jonathan took the wheel for his final stint, with the rear instability ultimately ending our race. Hopefully we will be able to finish the season on a high in Portimao"
As the racing season nears it’s conclusion, Olli will be back on track for the final rounds of European Le Mans Series at the double-header event in Portimão on 19th-22nd October. Before heading to the Middle East with Alpine Elf Endurance Team for the season finale of FIA World Endurance Championship in Bahrain in November.