Emil Frey Lexus Racing has concluded its first season of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup with solid Top-10 results in the two races at the Nürburgring. Following a very good second place on the grid for the first race, the Swiss team secured P5 and P9 as well as seventh and eighth place in Sunday’s race. In its debut year in the highly competitive Sprint Cup Series with a total of 13 teams participating, the Lexus crew finished in an overall sixth place.
The track in the Eifel showed itself from its autumn side with cool temperatures for the two Free Practice session on Friday. Both Lexus RC F GT3 were facing considerable difficulties and drove lap times in the back field. All the more surprising was the first qualifying session, which took place in unusual dry and sunny weather at the 5.2-kilometre-long track. The Spaniard Albert Costa Balboa put the magic on the tarmac, qualifying the #14 in second place for the first race and securing the best-ever qualifying result of the season. Meanwhile, team-mate Norbert Siedler in the sister car finished in 13th place.
Unfortunately, the team could not take the momentum into the second session, with both Lexus RC F GT3 finishing the qualifying in sobering positions 13 (#114) and 15 (#14).
Race #1, Saturday, 15 September 2018 – 60 minutes
Costa Balboa had an exciting opening lap into the one-hour race and following a short off into the grass whilst fighting for positions, he had to let the #1 Audi of Riberas pass him. But the Spaniard was on fire and drove the fastest times in sector 2 and 3 for a number of laps. Team-mate Siedler had a more quiet race and improved by one position on the second lap.
Everything was put on reset after a short Safety Car period and the re-start on lap 8 went without any issues. Costa Balboa was able to close the gap to the #1 Audi once again, taking many hundreds of seconds of his competitor in each sector. Whislt the Audi pitted, Costa Balboa stayed outside trying to make as much time as possible until the came into the pits from the lead of the race for the obligatory driver change. Unfortunately, the pitstop went not perfectly well for the #14 and valuable time was lost in the end. Christian Klien returned in seventh place onto the track and made-up one more position until the finish.
The sister car #114 pitted two laps earlier on lap 12 and Markus Palttala joined the race in P11, improving by one more position. Due to the later disqualification of a Lamborghini, both Lexus RC F GT3 gained one more place in the results standings, eventually finishing in P5 and P9.
Race #2, Sunday, 16 September – 60 minutes
In the late summer sun, the finale Sprint Cup race of the year started. Christian Klien in the #14 had a fantastic start and was able to improve by five positions. Team-mate Markus Palttala had bad luck with traffic and was also pushed of the track with the Audi number two on the first lap, however, he took 12th place shortly after off the #55 Audi.
Klien was overtaken by the #87 Mercedes-AMG GT3 on lap 12 and pitted on lap 13 from 11th place, closely followed by the sister car #114.
Back in the race, Costa Balboa lapped once again the fastest third sector in the #14. Both Lexus RC F GT3 absolved the last Sprint laps at the Nürburgring in formation and crossed the finishing line in seventh and eighth place.
The season final of the Blancpain GT Series will take place with the Endurance Cup in two weeks at Barcelona (Spain).
Team Quotes Emil Frey Lexus Racing
Hannes Gautschi, Technical Coordinator Emil Frey Lexus Racing
“Last year, we participated here at the Nürburgring as guests in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup and back then we did not really find our great love to the Nürburgring. We could see that again on Friday and we eventually fought to find the right Setup. We were all confident for the races after the second place in qualifying. In the end, we managed to bring home four Top-10 finishes, which is still a good result for the whole team.”
Lorenz Frey-Hilti, Team Principal Emil Frey Racing
“We had a rather difficult last Sprint Cup weekend here at the Nürburgring. The performance of all competitors was once again strong and our speed was not enough to drive by ourselves into the Top-5 in the races. Despite all, Albert showed a great achievement in qualifying and secured us the first starting position from the front row with the Lexus in the Blancpain GT Series. We have learned a lot in our first Sprint Cup Season and we will intensively analyse during the winter and work towards becoming more competitive in the short and intense Sprint races next year. This year we could see, that the Lexus RC F GT3 shows its full potential in the long-runs and long distance races. It was an exciting season with a steep learning curve, now we are all excited for the big season final at Barcelona in two weeks.”
Driver Quotes Emil Frey Lexus Racing #14
Albert Costa Balboa (ESP)
“Qualifying was fantastic. To be honest, I did not expect that performance by our car. I was very proud of the team for the big step we had made since Friday. It was the first time, that we started from the front row with our Lexus in the Blancpain GT Series. Unfortunately, I was pushed off the track in the first corner and lost two positions, but that’s racing, I had nothing to lose. In the second race, I drove the second-fastest lap and I am very happy about that.”
Christian Klien (A)
“Our race on Saturday was very difficult, you drive your guts out the whole 30 minutes of racing. The car was difficult to drive on the limit. But if we look at where we were on Friday, we made a huge jump forward, nobody would have expected us to be second in qualifying and fifth in the race. But our pace was not enough to fight for the front positions.”
Driver Quotes Emil Frey Lexus Racing #114
Markus Palttala (FIN)
“I think, we did a good job. We fought with many problems on Friday, but the car was running much better on Saturday. Unfortunately, both Norbert and myself could not get the maximum out of the tyres and therefore we qualified in disappointing positions. But we saw with the sister car that more is possible so we took a few Setup options for our car as well. But I still think we had two good races. In the end, we finished both in the Top-10, for a Top-5 finish we are not quick enough at the moment.”
Norbert Siedler (A)
“We had two difficult races, but especially in the second race we had a great charge through the field. If we had qualified better, it would have been a lot easier. I was caught behind a Mercedes in the first race and it was not possible to overtake, that’s why we pitted early to avoid losing more time.”