After a season under the DGFX banner and then the “summer season” to launch the IVRA, the ClubSport Series in general and the TCR category in particular had already seduced Alexandre Godefroy and Jonathan Razanahoera for many months when the announcement of a regular season was made. The Audi RS3s would continue to share the track with the Porsche 911 Cups and the GT4s would replace the Mazda MX-5s in this six-month long championship. Exciting!
The two men were quite confident about their ability to make a place for themselves in this field after having regularly demonstrated that they had the means to fight for top 5 positions. This confidence was quickly reinforced by the addition of Aymeric Blomme to the team. The pre-qualifiers on the Charlotte rovale did not contradict this feeling with a second place finish in their split. The future would show however that the most serious competitors were either automatically qualified or in the other split…
Round 1: 2,4H of Road America (24 Oct. 2020)
Alex/Aymeric – Q:12 >P11/17
This is how a pattern that will be repeated throughout the season will be set up. From the free practice sessions in the week leading up to the race, the #272’s pace proved to be well below expectations, consistently at the bottom of the standings. But these practice sessions were long enough for track conditions to change significantly, and it was not until Saturday that the real hierarchy was revealed.
And at almost every race, the reality is indeed quite different. Apart from the podium finishers, which systematically sets a furious pace, the gaps in pace are small enough for everyone to have a say. Not to mention that we are in IVRA; the Safety Car can enter the track as soon as a competitor is unable to reach the pits by his own means. Another constant is that our crew would often be among the most economical.
Thus, although our TCR was not among the fastest on this opening round, it would still manage to show itself in the lead during one lap by managing to make one loop more than its opponents, until… Until the appearance of the Safety Car which would ruin any advantage. Forced to refuel while the pitlane was still closed, the “L’Agence Automobilière” stamped Audi would be sent to the back of the pack for the restart. An insurmountable handicap which would leave traces in the minds until the end of the season…
Round 2: 4H of COTA (21 Nov. 2020)
Aymeric/Jonathan – Q:7 >P5/17
For a while, it was thought that Alex would be racing in this round. This reveals how much the practice sessions have sown some doubt in our crew minds, while the latter holds in horror the Texan track… The surprise would be even greater when Aymeric would be able to offer himself the pole position, until two turns from the end of his last qualifying lap. However, confidence returned.
This time, as soon as the first Full Course Yellow was shown, early in the race, the #272 took advantage of it to pass through the pit lane and shift in strategy. The gamble paid off and with the right pace, a podium finish could be on the cards. But in IVRA, every detail counts and brief imperfections during the pitstops forced the duo to serve a stop & go twice. However, other safety cars would come and smooth out the delay.
This led to a great battle in the final stint with some of the cars running out of tires, first with four cars, then with three cars against Full Send Racing and Impulse Racing for fourth place, not far from the podium. Frustrating, but reassuring for the rest of the season.
Round 3: 2,4H of Barber (12 Dec. 2020)
Alex/Aymeric – Q:12 >P10/16
The Alabama track has surely been the symbol of the 2020-2021 iVRA season. It was the scene of the Endurance Series pre-qualifying rounds, and within 24 hours of each other it also hosted a round of the Endurance Series and the ClubSport Series. It is as much to say that those of our drivers who had never put their wheels here before now know this underestimated track like the back of their hand.
Technical, hilly, Barber imposes in many places a unique trajectory. Not easy to make three categories cohabit in such a restricted space. Nevertheless, to the surprise of our drivers, the Safety Car would only make a single and brief appearance during this race.
As often, thanks to a slightly shifted strategy, the #272 would be in 3rd position for a while after having quickly presented itself as a contender for the top 5. However, Alex would have to resist at the end of the race to much faster drivers and his double program ClubSport/Endurance was probably felt at this moment. It’s not easy for everyone to switch from front wheel drive to mid-engine rear wheel drive with little or no transition…
Round 4: 4H of Spa (9 Jan. 2021)
Alex/Aymeric – Q:11 >P11/15
Typical Spa… Although a voice briefing takes place before each round, the organizers felt that a final cautionary reminder might be necessary at grid time. “It’s a 4H race, you have cold tires, the Raidillon stands in front of you, be smart…”. A justified feeling in view of what followed.
Did some people not hear this common sense message? Did some forget that the race, beyond its duration, is not won in the first hectometers, even less in this championship? Anyways, we would see some competitors running two-wide in Eau Rouge as soon as the lights turned green. The chain of events at the top of the hill was inevitable. TCRs on their roof and the #272 found itself with a torn suspension.
Two laps lost from the very begining. What to do? Every point could count at the end of the championship, so we had to hang on. 4H of race not really exciting, obviously, but some did not have this temperament and threw the towel. Our duo would go to the end of this event because it is the essence of this kind of competition. If there are bad days, there will be better days.
Round 5 : 2,4H of Suzuka (6 Fev. 2021)
Alex/Aymeric – Q:12 >P12/13
Probably the most complicated race of the season for our TCR team. For once, the traditional lack of pace during free practice reflected the reality observed on track on race day. Impossible to compete.
If, once again, the fuel saving capacities of the duo allowed for a time to give the illusion of the possibility of a strategic move, it didn’t pay off at all.
A few unfortunate contacts would come to destroy those brief hopes and a final attempt to reverse the steam by not changing the tires on the last relay would offer to Aymeric an end of race where he would have to resist to the competitors on new rubbers. He finished on the rims and had finally to give up after several laps of a hard fight.
Manche 6: 6H de Sebring (6 Mar. 2021)
Alex/Jonathan – Q:12 >P7/14
Who says 6H race means distribution of points at mid-race. Thus, our trio could still mathematically hope to gain a few places in the final championship standings, even if the gaps left little hope of obtaining much better than a top 10.
However, Sebring promised our two drivers of the day to have a good time as a conclusion. A track that is always appreciated, a late afternoon start and a finish greeted by a fireworks display, including a magnificent sunset. Some people probably thought they were on vacation a little too early and we would see a record for this season with three race neutralizations during the first hour! Enough to worry about the physiognomy of the next 5H…
But also a reason to worry about the strategy. Still shy after the frustration of Road America, Alex decided to make Jonathan shorten one of his stints to avoid exposing himself to a possible closed pitlane. Good idea? Really? What if the duo was too low on fuel at the end of the race? There was still almost 5 hours to go and the Safety Car would surely be seen again by then.
Yes… But no. After the record of the first hour, it is the record of the longest period under green flag this season which is beaten; 4H49 without major incident. The race of the #272 would be the same, without incident. Or almost… Indeed, while many of its competitors had to pay penalties or were victims of collisions, our TCR might finally achieve the perfect race.
Unfortunately, it just took one driver to lose control of his Porsche Cup for twenty seconds to be lost in the evasive manoeuvre. Twenty seconds that no Safety Car would allow to recover while it was very likely possible to finish not far from the podium. There was still the possibility of a top 5 finish, however.
But having to drive full speed, something was becoming increasingly obvious. At this rate, and without a helping hand from fate, two more laps of fuel would be needed to finish the race. The chase was over, and it was time to ease off, even though other crews were in the same situation.
Time for a break!
After more than a year of competition in this league (DFGX then IVRA) and by allowing us to cross swords with very talented teams, the ClubSport Series and the Audi RS3 LMS offered us great battles sometimes, but also frustration, often. We were hardly spared from material incidents before this season, but the bad luck finally left us. If the top teams were out of reach, we remain convinced that it was possible to play more regularly the places of honor. But the devil is in the details. That’s what makes the competition all the more beautiful.
Enough to feed the desire for new challenges? To be continued…