• Stop/go penalty and late-race clash thwart #50’s progress
• Corvette C7.R shows front-running pace on debut

Larbre Competition’s FIA World Endurance Championship return proved an eventful affair at the 6 Hours of Silverstone last weekend (April 10-12). While the #50 Corvette C7.R was on the pace throughout, hopes of a GTE Am podium were dashed thanks to a one-minute stop/go penalty and late-race tangle with another car.

Gianluca Roda, Paolo Ruberti and Kristian Poulsen enjoyed a strong start to their WEC season opener, with the crew immediately featuring in the class’ top three during Friday’s first free practice session. Better still, the trio then set the second fastest time in qualifying, a clear indication that the Corvette could challenge the series’ frontrunners on debut.

Sunday’s race also began brightly when Ruberti seized the GTE Am lead before returning to second place at the end of his opening stint to save fuel. The Italian then handed over driving duties to fellow countryman Roda who set about completing a strong double stint around the British Grand Prix venue.

His efforts were nevertheless compromised by the unfortunate pit-lane infringement and stop/go penalty that dropped the Corvette to fifth in class. But Roda’s subsequent good work helped him recover to third after overtaking fellow Bronze drivers.

Next behind the wheel was Poulsen, whose double stint would also be punctuated by an incident when the reigning GTE Am champion was punted off by the #8 Audi on lap 138. The contact was sufficiently hard to bend one of the Corvette’s track rods, which required seven laps in the garage to fix. However, efficient work from Larbre’s mechanics ensured the C7.R would re-join the action.

Ruberti was back aboard for the finish, demonstrating what might have been by matching the leaders’ pace over the closing stages en route to seventh in class.

The resulting points, however few, could prove very valuable later this season given the level of competition in GTE Am. Indeed, the French squad already has round two of this year’s championship – the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps – firmly in its sights and will look to bounce back in style at the historic Belgian venue on April 30 – May 2.

Paolo Ruberti: “I had two good stints, although during the first one there was a little bit too much understeer. In the second we used different front tyres and the car was better. I think we lost out on the podium because of the penalty and incident with the prototype. But we have a good driver line-up to fight for wins later this year. We weren’t lucky at Silverstone but we’ll be trying hard next time out. We just need some luck.”

Gianluca Roda: “My first stint was very good and I was able to turn fast and consistent times despite the gusty winds that were unsettling the car. We were second when given the stop/go penalty, which was compounded by the Audi accident that lost us seven laps. Before that I felt optimistic because I like Silverstone and it was the first time I’d raced the new Corvette. It’s a great car and easy to drive; I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen. Hopefully we can put it to better use at Spa and then Le Mans, which is worth double points. Winning there would give us a big championship boost.”

Kristian Poulsen: “It was hard work. Everything that could have happened on debut did, including a stop/go penalty. I also made a mistake with one of the Audis. It was a long day but I’m optimistic about the future. Sometimes you just have one of those weekends when everything goes wrong. You have to get back on the horse again, starting at Spa where we’ll try to do better.”

Jack Leconte, Team Manager: “It looks like we’ll need to change our recipe after Silverstone. First of all, it seems that we have a technical issue with our C7.R since its petrol tank has been shrunk to 85-litres instead of the original 90. But as our fuel consumption is on a par with the other cars we cannot react with as much flexibility as our rivals, like when there’s a full course yellow, for instance. Corvette will be speaking to the regulating body soon, so we’ll see what comes out of their meeting.

“The very harsh penalty also dashed any hopes we had of finishing on the podium.

“Finally, I had warned our drivers about the need to adopt a very conservative approach during the event. We know what can happen when you get too close to another car through a corner. We had to change a track rod but thankfully managed to do so pretty quickly and send the car back out to complete the race. Silverstone therefore offered us some grounds on which to build and move forwards through methodical work.

“There are still some little things that need to be ironed out. We were making our WEC return after a one-year hiatus and the series’ level is extremely high. There is no room for error and the slightest approximation can wreck your weekend.

“There was a small on-track incident with big consequences during the race, along with a couple of slip-ups here and there in qualifying. Everybody is giving their best, working as a team, and is well aware of the challenge at hand. But it doesn’t mean we should put too much pressure on ourselves as a result.

“That said, I’m happy to see the Corvette on the pace from the get-go. Qualifying was good and we were still in podium contention at the halfway mark before the problems began, which really demonstrates our level of performance. Now we need to string everything together and deliver, starting at Spa where we’ll be eyeing a top-three finish once again.”

6 Hours of Silverstone GTE Am result:
1. Aston Martin Racing / Aston Martin V8 Vantage / Dalla Lana/Lamy/Lauda / 168 laps
2. AF Corse / Ferrari F458 Italia / Perrodo/Collard/Aguas / +13.712s
3. SMP Racing / Ferrari F458 Italia / Shaytar/Bertolini/Basov / +15.827s
4. Aston Martin Racing / Aston Martin V8 Vantage / Castellacci/Goethe/Hall / +2 laps
5. Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing / Porsche 911 RSR / Ried/Al Qubaisi/Bachler / +2 laps
6. Dempsey Racing – Proton / Porsche 911 RSR / Dempsey/Long/Seefried / +3 laps
7. Larbre Competition / Corvette C7.R / Roda/Ruberti/Poulsen / +8 laps