The first ever race of the Ultimate Cup Series took place on the track on the ex-F1 Portuguese Grand Prix of Estoril last weekend.
Team Virage started its second season in LMP3 series, after having competed with success in the 2018 VdeV Series. Coming into the newly-built series, organised by Michelin with two Ligier JSP3, Team Virage aligned two different kinds of drivers line-up :
On the 94 : 24-year-old Philippe Valenza, who already competed in the team in 2018, scoring one podium in Dijon was joined by Thomas Padovani and 16 years-old American-Swiss Julian Wagg, making his motor racing debut in Estoril. On the 95 : two French-speaking drivers who are already experienced in LMP3 : Frenchman Philippe Cimadomo and driver from Monaco, Alain Costa, who will also compete in the Bronze category.
Julian Wagg showed a very good pace from the first free practice session, placing the #94 in 5th position, while the #95 ended up the first day in P13. The qualifying sessions took place at an early time on Saturday morning, with three different sessions and an average lap time from each driver, configuring the eventual starting order for Saturday afternoon. While the #95 of Cimadomo/Costa ended up in P13, the #94 had an average time placing them 6th on the grid.
Valenza was chosen to take the start of the 4h of Estoril in the #94, while Costa was at the wheel of the #95. Valenza took an excellent start, climbing the field from P6 to P2 in a couple of laps, Costa was also very reactive, avoiding several crashes in front of him and placing his car temporarily P10. After one hour of racing, Valenza took the lead of the race and eventually had to pit, Wagg substituting him and re-joining the track in 5th position. A strong consistency by Costa saw him keep his 10th position when giving the wheel to his French team-mate Cimadomo.
On his side, the young American driver Julian Wagg immediately got into the pace of the fastest drivers, climbing through the field lap after lap in order to get back in the leading position shortly before his own pit stop. On the #95 however, a technical issue stopped the car in the box for 30 minutes, before Cimadomo could eventually re-join, unfortunately a few laps down.
The beginning of the race’s second half started to show a proper order, and with Padovani leading up to 30 minutes before the chequered flag, all Team Virage had good hopes to celebrate a strong result. The #26 of Capillaire/Dunner/Kaiser was however coming back quickly in the #94’s mirrors, Dunner eventually overtaking Padovani with a few minutes to go. The Estonian crossed the finish line in 2nd position, an excellent result for his and his teammates Valenza/Wagg, the latest also celebrating an amazing international podium at his motor racing debut. The #95, which technical problem was eventually fixed, crossed the finish line in 10th place, scoring two points in the general standings.
Philippe Gautheron : « We are coming back from Estoril with a positive results, which is even amplified by the fact this race scored for double-points. The whole team worked perfectly well, and the combination of a strong driver line-up with a good strategy made the rest of work. It is our best result in LMP3 so far, and we are now aiming to go for our first victory in the next race in Dijon end of April. »