Olli Caldwell and his teammates were back fighting the LMP2 field this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps in the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. With six hours of racing ahead of them, the trio worked together to push their way to complete the race, providing a boost ahead of tackling the mighty 24 Hours of Le Mans in the next round.
The 7.004km long circuit which weaves through the Ardennes forest features the infamous uphill Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex, leading on to long straights offering up a thrilling yet technical challenge for all who race there. Having raced at Spa before Olli had the advantage of familiarity and rose to the challenge of putting that experience into practice in new machinery.
First on track on Thursday morning, Olli took the wheel for the opening stint of the weekend. Working to improve each sector and make the most of the pace of the #35 Alpine A470 machine, the British driver matched the sister car as the team worked to unlock more speed. Having put in the longest stint across all the LMP2 field, Olli ended over to his teammates for the rest of the session.
Jumping in for the final few minutes of free practice on Friday, Olli got to grips with the set up and prepared himself for his first ever qualifying session in charge of the #35.
Olli on a charge
After a short delay to clean the track from the previous session, it was time to get qualifying underway. Adrenaline flowing through his veins, Olli was ready and raring to go as he followed the sister car onto Belgian track as the light went green at the end of the pit lane.
Feeding his way around the lengthy track, the rookie driver returned to the pits for fresh tyres after the sighting lap, ready to lay down a banker time for the session. With no real representative time being set in the opening part of the session, the pack continued to circle, continuing to get the tyres up to speed and understand the conditions of the track.
Having set a 8th fastest time the pressure was truly on to set a rapid lap. So with the seconds ticking down, Olli ticked off each sector with improvement set a final lap to go faster than the sister car. Despite their efforts, they struggled to challenge the rest of the field and qualified in 10th.
“My first qualifying with Alpine left me with mixed feelings. I was happy to be close with the sister car, one of the category's benchmarks, but disappointed to be far from where we wanted to be as a team. We’ll see what we can do during the race.”
Getting down to business
Saturday morning saw weather conditions synonymous with the Ardennes region, as the ribbon of tarmac was suitably drenched in drizzle. As the race start got closer, the team opted to bolt on slick tyres hoping the gamble would pay off on a drying track.
Following a number of formation laps due to the tricky conditions, the clock began to tick down as the pack continued behind the safety car. Finally let loose to go racing it wasn’t long before the safety car was called again. With the rules depicting they must complete 3 laps behind safety car before pits open, the team worked to monitor whether to continue on slicks or opt for wets.
Working their way through the opening hours of the race and keeping their nose clean, the #35 squad pushed on where other cars struggled.
With driving honours shared between Memo and Andre in the opening stage, it was passed across to Olli as they head into the halfway point of the race. Ready for the challenge, he certainly made the most each inch of track as they pushed to make up ground where they could and found themselves fighting for P8 on the road. Looking for any advantage they could find in the strategy stakes, Olli worked with the team and rapidly adapted to the changing strategies to make the most of every opportunity that came their way.
With another safety car period called, they quickly changed tact to try a strategic move, which paid off as both Alpine A470s were able to gain positions before Olli handed the reins over to teammate André. Having completed a valuable triple stint in the race, the 20-year-old racer was happy with the progress made and returned to the team as they hoped their efforts would pay off.
In the closing stages it was clear that fuel consumption would be a key player in their end result. So whilst the squad had made up positions in the race, they ultimately worked to avoid having to make a final visit to the pits for a splash and dash fuel stop. Saving fuel and closely managing their race to the final flag, the #35 car crossed the line to take 8th place.
"I'm happy with my work over the weekend, but we still need to find some pace to close the gap and be truly competitive. We are improving step by step, but we have to put our next Monza tests to good use if we want to gain some momentum and be in a better position for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
Olli and the team will put themselves to work over the next month as they look ahead to competing in the centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Making his debut on the hallowed ground in the 100th year of running, Olli will be back on track for the world's most prestigious sportscar race on 10–11th June.