On the heels of its heroic comebacks in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Alpine Elf Endurance Team and its two crews headed to the Autodromo di Monza for round five of the 2023 FIA WEC calendar, the final European meeting of the year.
After three studious practice sessions concluded with 218 laps and valuable data for the Alpine A470s at the "Temple of Speed", qualifying was entrusted to Olli Caldwell and Charles Milesi. Using different strategies to meet the challenge of the tyre warmer ban, the Briton finished eighth, just ahead of his French teammate.
Both were less than three-tenths of a second off the top three at the end of a particularly tight session, with the entire LMP2 field covered by a second.
On Sunday, Memo Rojas and Julien Canal took to the wheel of their cars for the start of the race in front of grandstands engulfed by the fervour of the spectators, including many tifosi. The two Silver drivers brilliantly defied the challenges of the opening lap, with the Mexican climbing to fifth and the Frenchman to eighth before their strategies diverged during the first safety car period. Memo Rojas in the n°35 stopped once the pit lane opened while Julien Canal in the n°36 waited until the race resumed under the green flag.
Continuing their efforts and even taking the lead, they were relayed in hour two by André Negrão for a double stint in the n°35 and Charles Milesi for a triple in the n°36. Making the most of their pace, they stepped up the team's offensive by consolidating their positions, thanks in particular to a fine reflex save by Charles Milesi to avoid a collision between the n°10 Vector Sport and the n°9 Prema.
Still at the sharp end of the order during the second safety car period, Les Bleus called upon Olli Caldwell and Matthieu Vaxiviere to continue the fight. Both followed up their teammates' push with a triple stint for the Brit and a double for the Frenchman whilst cleverly managing fuel and tyre consumption to regain the lead after the third neutralisation.
At the start of the final 90 minutes of the race, André Negrão and Charles Milesi were back in action in a category where no competitor had yet broken away. A few minutes after André Negrão's final stop, the hierarchy began to unravel in the final sprint.
Leading with 17 minutes to go, Charles Milesi came in for a splash and dash before emerging from the pits in second place. The Frenchman measured his effort perfectly to cement second place and cap the impressive teamwork of his crew, the perfect execution of the mechanics and the strategic excellence of the team. André Negrão was eighth under the checkers after a six-hour spirited fight with his teammates in the sizzling heat.
With this first podium of the season, Les Bleus accelerated their ascent in the championship, with the n°36 Alpine A470 climbing into the top five in the general classification. In addition, the same prototype set the fastest lap of the race and Charles Milesi won the Goodyear Wingfoot Prize, awarded to the quickest LMP2 driver over a double stint in the race.
Following the final European round in the history of its contemporary LMP2 programme, Alpine Elf Endurance Team will now head to Fuji Speedway for the season's penultimate round. In parallel with these competition commitments, the team will continue to prepare its future in the premier category with the first laps of the A424, the future Hypercar designed by the A-arrow brand.
André Negrão: "It was a tough weekend, but I'm thrilled for the n°36 Alpine crew with their first podium of the season and a good haul of points. We're still fighting to squeeze every tenth of a second out of our potential, so our result is a bit disappointing given our pace, but the gaps are extremely tight. We'll continue the fight in Japan, giving it our all as always."
Olli Caldwell: "Whilst the race didn’t go our way we can be confident with the steps forward we have made since Le Mans. Hopefully we can have a more positive result next time out. I’m really looking forward to heading to Fuji, it’ll be my first time racing in Japan and the track looks amazing!”
Memo Rojas: "I have mixed feelings as the race looked promising, with a solid start from me and a great fight to the front thanks to an excellent strategy from the team. Unfortunately, things didn't work out in our favour and we suddenly lacked some pace. It’s a bit disappointing, and we need to work out what happened, but I'm delighted with the podium finish for the sister car."
Matthieu Vaxiviere: "I am really happy with this result. The race went extremely well, with a great start and an excellent double stint from Julien, followed by a solid performance from Charles. We had a great pace, and the decision not to stop during the first safety car period was eventually the right one. We created our luck as the race wore on, and this first podium is a great boost for the whole team."
Charles Milesi: "Our car keeps improving since the start of the year, which shows that all the hard work put in by the team is paying off. This weekend, we were in the right performance window, particularly late in the race, so we seized the opportunities and this podium is a testament to that. We will try to build on this success in Fuji and Bahrain. On a personal note, I'm thrilled to win the Goodyear Wingfoot Award. I have to say I've had it in my sights since the start of the season!"
Julien Canal: "We were in contention right from free practice, and although qualifying could have gone better, we made up for it in the race. It wasn't an easy start from a long way back, but I ran well before optimising the tyre strategy with Charles and Matthieu to maximise our chances. It paid off with a fine comeback to the podium and a result that the whole team eagerly awaited."
Philippe Sinault, Alpine Elf Endurance Team Principal: "We continued our solid form at Monza, where we have finished on the podium every year since 2020, first with the Alpine A110 Rally in FIA R-GT, then with the Alpine A480 the last two seasons. This result is a huge relief. We showed much improvement at Le Mans, but we absolutely had to confirm that momentum at Monza. I want to thank the drivers and the team because they all stayed committed, focused, motivated and confident. That's also why our cars performed well from the first laps this week, which allowed us to work more calmly. It was a particularly challenging race with the high temperatures and the close gaps. Our Silver drivers got off to an excellent start, and we were able to implement clever strategies. We did an excellent job dealing with the race incidents, and this well-deserved podium is no fluke. The n°35 car was a little further back due to increased degradation in the second stints and an unfavourable race action, but we've made progress, and we shall be looking to excel with our two crews over the rest of the season. Looking forward to Fuji, this podium means we can start our summer programme with the A424 with a smile on our faces!"
6 Hours of Monza – LMP2
1. JOTA n°28
2. Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°36
3. Team WRT n°41
4. United Autosports n°23
8. Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°35
FIA Endurance LMP2 Trophy
1. Team WRT n°41 – 110 points
2. Inter Europol Compétition – 100 points
3. United Autosports n°22 – 82 points
5. Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°36 – 64 points
11. Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°35 – 21 points