Kessel Racing kicks-off ELMS and Michelin Le Mans Cup Season with a Podium

After taking victory in Bronze class in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup at Paul Ricard last weekend, Kessel Racing headed into the season-opener of the Endurance Le Mans Series (ELMS) and the Michelin Le Mans Cup at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend. Although the first round in the ELMS did not bring the results the team hoped for, the Ferrari of Andrew Gilbert and Fran Rueda secured a great second place in the Michelin Le Mans Cup, setting a great mark upon their return to the team after a year´s absence.

Challenging weekend for Kessel Racing in inaugural race in ELMS

From the start of the weekend, the number 57 Ferrari 296 GT3 showed good pace and the newcomer to not only the championship but also to Kessel Racing, Esteban Masson, showed a very good performance.

With eleven cars participating in the LMGT3 category, Takashi Kimura took seat behind the wheel of the bright yellow “Car Guy” Ferrari and set the fifth fastest time.

Kimura-san also took over the start into the four-hour-race and was able to improve into P4 on the opening lap. From lap 15, a Virtual-Safety-Car turned into an actual Safety-Car, which was deployed for six laps. Once the lights turned green, there was a lot of traffic and following a few contacts with LMP3 cars, the Ferrari #57 lost both its left and right rear mirrors. The team decided to bring the car in for a quick pitstop for fuel and new tyres on lap 27. Kimura-san re-joined the race in P10 in class.

On lap 56, the Japanese driver handed the Ferrari over to his new and young team-mate, Esteban Masson, and during the pitstop both missing rear mirrors were fitted to the car, which cost additional valid time. Masson joined the race in P10 and steadily worked his way up the field into sixth position. He also pitted once for a standard pitstop on lap 80 and handed the #57 Ferrari to Daniel Serra from P9 on lap 107.

Two Full-Course-Yellow followed from lap 113 and then once again from lap 123 and after a race filled with action and disruptions, the Kessel Racing Ferrari crossed the finishing line in P9 in LMGT3 class.
Kessel Racing secures podium finish in Michelin Le Mans Cup

It was an action-packed day for the two Ferrari 296 GT3 participating in the Michelin Le Mans Cup. First up on Saturday was qualifying, and Frédéric Jousset placed the #14 Ferrari in sixth place, whilst the sister car #74 with Andrew Gilbert behind the wheel secured fourth position.

The 1 hour and 50 minutes race went underway in the early evening hours and after a solid start by both Jousset and Gilbert, the Kessel Racing pilots started making good progress. Whilst Gilbert (#74) already made-up one position at the start, Jousset (#12) was already running in fourth place with a chance of a podium.

However, on lap 8 the Safety-Car was deployed due to two LMP3 cars stranded in the gravel and the recovery of the cars took longer than expected. The green lights were turned-on again on lap 17 and the action started to get intensive. Jousset (#12) was still running in a promising fourth position, when he was hit by the #59 Team Virage LMP3 car, forcing him into a spin and putting him back at the end of the field.

Until the mandatory pitstops (2 minutes / 45 seconds), Gilbert (#74) saw himself under immense pressure from the #24 Audi, however kept a cool head and pitted together with the sister-car on lap 23 from P3 and P7 respectively.

David Fumanelli was now behind the wheel of the Ferrari #12 and put in very good lap-times, closing-up to the cars in front of him. Fran Rueda re-joined the race in the number 74 Ferrari in P3, putting in a great performance to the #24 Audi and eventually securing P2. The Spaniard was chased by the AF Corse Ferrari of Agostini, after he had to wait ten seconds more on his mandatory pitstop.

Due to yet another Safety-Car, the field was pulled back together. Racing resumed with just nine minutes on the clock and the fight for the podium positions was in full swing. In a nail-biting final, the #74 of Andrew Gilbert and Fran Rueda crossed the finishing line in a fantastic second place, whilst the sister-car number 12 with David Fumanelli and Frédéric Jousset narrowly missed out on the podium with P4 after a great comeback.

Kessel Racing is now returning to the workshop in Switzerland to prepare for the second round of the Endurance Le Mans Series and the Michelin Le Mans Cup taking place at Paul Ricard (France) at the first weekend in May.
Ronnie Kessel, Team Principal
“We had another great start to a new championship opener this weekend with securing a podium in the Michelin Le Mans Cup. It is nice to have Andrew Gilbert and Fran Rueda back in the Kessel-family, especially seeing Andrew doing so well after his accident last year. Our second car with David Fummaneli and Frédéric Jousset also showed a very nice performance. They could have also achieved a nice podium result if it wasn´t for the touch with the LMP3 car, which resulted in a spin and lot of lost time. For the ELMS, this was the first kick-off with the new Ferrari 296 GT3. We would have deserved to achieve a better result, but regrettable the course of the race and the events that occurred unsettled our strategy. Taking this in consideration, we were out of a chance for a good result.”

Driver Quote Ferrari 296 GT3 #57 – ELMS
Takashi KIMURA (Japan)
“We were in a position to fight for the race win as we had a very fast car over the weekend but unfortunately, the Safety-Car didn’t help our strategy. I felt that I and the other drivers had good pace, yet we could not get a good result, which we and the whole team would have so well-deserved.”

Driver Quote Ferrari 296 GT3 #12 – MLMC
David FUMANELLI (Italy)
“My stint was quite active with all the cars on track, so it was not so easy to manage the traffic. I was once forced wide in Turn 1 after I was overtaking another GT3 car, but an LMP3 car decided to join the party and after he touched me I lost the rear and went wide. After that I lost a little the peak of the tyres, because I went wide twice. We got lucky with the Safety-Car in the end and it was a lot of fun to fight for the podium during the last laps. I almost got the AF Corse by Agostini in front of me, who is also a good friend of mine, so that was a fun racing with him. In the end we finished in P4, we got some good points for the championship and we will try our best to step up the game at the next round.”

Driver Quote Ferrari 296 GT3 #74 – MLMC
Andrew GILBERT (Great Britain)
“To be fair I can´t believe that we achieved a podium. After having come back from a big injury I suffered in a heavy crash in Monza last year, we weren´t even going to be sure if I could race again this year. All weekend I struggled a little bit with the third sector and during the testing sessions. Then we qualified in fourth place and now we ended up with a podium on P2, which is just amazing.”