With the start of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup, Emil Frey Lexus Racing began its new season this weekend. At the Belgium track at Zolder, which was found in 1963, the Lexus crew experienced a tough weekend for the first race meeting. Despite to retirements and the positions 14 and 13 for the Lexus RC F GT3 #114, the Swiss team continuously improved over the course of the weekend, however, the team is still facing a lot of work before the next race at Monza in two weeks’ time.
The first of two 80-minutes free practice sessions on Friday were interrupted by two red flags as well as several yellow phases. The Lexus crew missed out on many fast laps and it was difficult to get to know the track and its conditions. The positions 19 and 20 and 13 and 17 respectively from the second Free Practice reflected this.
The first shakedown for all 22 GT3 cars took place on Saturday morning with the qualifyings. Compared to last year, there are two qualifying sessions this year which results build the grid for each one of the one-hour races on Saturday and Sunday. The qualifying race as known from previous years is replaced by a Sprint race that gets equal points as the race on Sunday.
Albert Costa Balboa took behind the wheel of the #14 and placed the Lexus RC F GT3 in a good 11th position. Team-mate Stéphane Ortelli set the 16th fastest time in the sister car #114. The second qualifying was disrupted once more by two red flags and the Lexus drivers Christian Klien (#14) and Norbert Siedler (#114) reached 16th and 18th place following a difficult 20-minutes session.
Race #1, Saturday, 07 April 2018 – 60 Minutes
The start into the first race of the new season came to an early end for the Lexus #14. Costa Balboa was caught up in the starting turmoil and was carried into the gravel. The Lexus RC F GT3 suffered severe damage at the front right and the cooling system, forcing the team to retire the car on lap five. Ortelli was able to put pressure on the #37 BMW in front of him right from the start showing the potential of the Lexus, however, Zolder made it once again difficult to overtake. The Monegasque pitted early, handing the Lexus #114 to Norbert Siedler from P17. The Austrian returned in 14th place and kept the position until crossing the finishing line for his first race for the Lexus team.
Race #2, Sonntag, 08. April 2018 – 60 Minutes
In sunny and warm Sprint temperatures, the second race of the Sprint Cup weekend took place. Christian Klien improved by two positions at the start and pitted from 14th place. The Spaniard Costa Balboa took over the #14, however, as per the day before he suffered bad luck and was forced to retire the car at the pits shortly before the race ended. Norbert Siedler took behind the wheel of the sister car #114 and was also able to make up some positions until his pitstop. Stéphane Ortelli had a charging stint and finished the race in a good 13th position.
The second race of the Blancpain GT Series and the first race of the Endurance Cup will take place in two weeks (20 – 22 April 2018) in Monza (Italy).
Team Quotes Emil Frey Lexus Racing
Lorenz Frey, Team Principal Emil Frey Racing
“We did not have any references for Zolder compared to other teams here at the Sprint Cup, therefore both we as a team plus two of our drivers had to get to know the track first of all. Of course, we did not have any great expectations, but the weekend was still a disappointment for us. It is positive that we managed to improve from the first free practice session on Friday morning until Sunday’s race. There is not a lot of time until Monza, but Monza is a track that we know with the Lexus RC F GT3.”
Hannes Gautschi, Technical Coordinator Emil Frey Lexus Racing
“After the number 14 was forced to run wide into the gravel and across the green following the starting turmoil into the race on Saturday, the brake cooling system was filled-up completely with dirt which resulted into the overheating of the brakes. Due to safety reasons, it was impossible to continue in the race. We arrived at Zolder, a track that was basically new to us and for which we did not have the relevant experience and data. Therefore, we had to learn the track´s characteristics to find the right Setup, which was not easy as we are still in the learning process for the tyres and its appropriate chassis tuning on both the Lexus. The whole team has worked extremely hard over the past few days and we continue to make small steps forward.”
Driver Quotes Emil Frey Lexus Racing #14
Albert Costa Balboa (ESP)
“It was the first time for me to drive at Zolder. It was a totally new experience for all of us and we continue learning. At the end of the day, Zolder was a test for us. We faced quite a few problems, that will be difficult to have sorted out before Monza. Moreover, Zolder is not a track that suits the Lexus, therefore the next race at Monza should be much better for us.”
Christian Klien (A)
“For me, the race weekend was a personal premiere, as I had never driven at Zolder before. Due to the early retirement for Albert on Saturday, I did not get to drive. I especially looked forward to the start on Sunday. The start was exciting and I made up a few positions. After that the race was easy, because Zolder is such a tight track that overtaking is very tricky so I was stuck behind a group of cars until the pitstop. Zolder was a disappointing start to the season, but we are looking positively ahead to Monza.”
Driver Quotes Emil Frey Lexus Racing #114
Stéphane Ortelli (MCO)
“It was all new to us and there is still a lot of work we have to put into the Lexus RC F GT3. I had hoped to qualify better than P18, because overtaking at Zolder is so difficult, but it was not possible. We fought with understeering throughout the weekend and were lacking 1.5 seconds to the front runners, which is very frustrating. We are on the right way and I am confident we will have a better track with Monza.”
Norbert Siedler (A)
“The start into Sunday’s race was very chaotic, but afterwards I was doing well. We were having issues with high brake temperatures at Zolder and I tried to save them as much as possible to hand the car over to Stéphane in good conditions. I could have driven faster than the Audi ahead of me, but it was not possible to overtake.”