The final run-up to the start of the Michelin Le Mans Cup season at Le Castellet may not have gone to the precise plan, but come the chequered flag on Saturday evening, the Bullitt Racing squad secured a sensational debut podium in the series in just its second race with the Aston Martin Vantage. It was however a far from an easy journey to champaign spraying moments, making the last-lap pass for the third position* all the more deserving for all concerned.
A harmless spin for Stephen Pattrick in Wednesday’s pre-event test had significant ramifications for the week ahead after the #99 Vantage was struck by a rival pushing on a hot lap. The damage to the front end of the Aston Martin was significant, with parts sourced from Germany arriving Thursday afternoon.
An all-nighter from the crew to build up the spare chassis followed (AMR 16A-027-1 to AMR 16A-003-2 for those interested!), but a few crucial parts were unfortunately still in-transit as official practice got underway Friday morning.
“A relatively small incident made for a tough start to the weekend for us and we have to thank our friends and colleagues who helped us in sourcing and supplying the parts we needed to compete,” stated Team Manager Steffan Pattrick. “The Bullitt crew did a fantastic job in building up the t-car with the new parts, we’re super-proud of them all.”
Following a shakedown in the Bronze test session, the first real setup work took place ahead of the final practice session. A little on the back foot in terms of track time, qualifying Saturday lunchtime saw Stephen record the seventh fastest time, right with the back and confident that there would be plenty more to come.
He was correct as when the 110-minute race got underway, Stephen quickly dispatched the #51 Ferrari to run in sixth. Two cars ahead had jumped the start and were subsequently called in for penalties. Stephen was soon into his rhythm and lapping an impressive two seconds a lap quicker than his qualifying pace.
Approaching the pit window, he pulled in the deficit to fourth position, opting not to challenge for the position and then boxing for Theo Nouet. A mistake in timing the stop however saw the #99 exit the pit ahead of the allotted time. A stop-go penalty duly followed and it seemed that fourth position would be as good as it would get.
Theo however underlined his Pro-status within the team, closing down a 15-second margin in the final 30-minutes. The #61 of Andrea Montermini put in a strong defence, but Theo wasn’t to be denied as he made the pass on the very final lap to secure an impressive podium position from what was a trying week. And it could have been more. The team now begin preparations for the next round of the championship that takes place at Imola in May.
*Late on Saturday evening, it was declared that the race had finished a lap before we took the chequered flag. And as a result, Theo’s great pass for position on the final lap did not count and we were finally classified in fourth place.
Steffan Pattrick, Team Manager
“It was a challenging week; we only ran in the first test session on Wednesday ahead of the racing accident. We had to change the chassis and the boys did a sensational job, a real all-nighter for them, and then we were back on track. We didn’t have time to test the things we wanted, but great drives from both Stephen and Theo helped make up for that. Third is good after the week we have had but naturally we want to be on the top step of the podium.”
“It was actually fairly uneventful, but lap by lap, it was quicker and quicker. I hadn’t been in the car enough really, so to be able to lap significantly quicker in the race than in qualifying shows the progress we are making. Once on the pace, I was able to replicate it lap by lap, so for me, that was really good. It was important to keep it clean amongst some really stiff competition, but it played out nicely so happy days!”
“The car was great and we were flying. We had the test crash that set us back and the team did an amazing job, even if we couldn’t test everything we wanted to. Stephen ran a great stint, we had the pitstop issue, and we got a good P3 in the team’s first Le Mans Cup race with the Aston Martin.”