More good news and another victory!

Kévin Estre - Barber 2015
Kévin Estre - Barber 2015


Newsletter Kévin Estre #3-2015
WEC Spa preview (2-3 May) + race reports: Blancpain GT Series (Nogaro Sprint 4-5-6 April & Monza Endurance 11-12 April), Pirelli World Challenge (Long Beach 18-19 April & Barber Motorsports Park 25-26 April)

In March it was announced that Kevin Estre would take part in the Le Mans 24 Hours at the wheel of a Ligier JS P2-Honda-Dunlop entered by OAK Racing. There was more good news in mid-April in the form of a drive with the Porsche works squad, Team Manthey, in the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship on the Spa Francorchamps circuit. While awaiting this major event the McLaren GT works driver raced at Nogaro in the Blancpain Sprint Series, at Monza in Blancpain Endurance and at Long Beach and the Barber Motorsports Park in the Pirelli World Challenge. In Alabama he scored his second win of the season after a ding-dong battle.

In 2015, Kevin is competing in three full programmes with three teams running McLaren 650S GT3s. This season Porsche Carrera Cup specialist, Attempto Racing, has launched an assault in the Blancpain Sprint Series. In the “Coupes de Pâques” on the Nogaro circuit, which kicked off the season of this spectacular championship, Estre and Rob Bell didn’t enjoy much luck. The Frenchman started the qualifying race from 13th place on the grid and he had to cope with a heavily-damaged front bonnet, the result of a collision just in front of him soon after the start. Despite this handicap he fought his way up to fourth place! Although the Franco-British duo lost a little time during the driver change, Bell looked on course for a top-3 finish until battery failure intervened two laps from the chequered flag.

This meant that Rob had to make do with 12th place on the grid for the main race. Despite the best efforts of its two drivers the no. 55 McLaren came home in a distant 13th place because of a messy pit stop. “One of the cars was damaged at Hockenheim a few days before, and the guys spent several sleepless nights rebuilding it,” explained Kevin. “However, we’re feeling very optimistic about the rest of the season as the potential’s obviously there.”

The following weekend it was time for endurance racing and Kevin found himself at the legendary Monza autodromo (the temple of speed!) in the 650S GT3 entered by the Von Ryan team. Given the Balance of Performance currently in force in the Blancpain Series, Estre and his team-mates Bell and Shane van Gisbergen suffered from a lack of top speed on this ultra-quick circuit. Nonetheless, they finished 15th out of 58 cars and 10th in the Pro Cup opening their score in the championship. “We were on the pace in the fast curves and under braking. We also learned a lot about the car, the behavior of the new tyres and their degradation rate on the long runs which, we hope, will soon pay dividends.”

Long Beach is a name that is firmly embedded in the hearts of F1 fans of the 70s and 80s. The single round of the Pirelli World Challenge on the programme turned into a succession of full course yellows and restarts. In his McLaren entered by the K-Pax with Flying Lizard Motorsports team Kevin was in the mix in California. “I love this city circuit even though I was held up on the last two laps in qualifying. I was on P3 on the grid and then I lost two places at the start due to the launch control. It’s an automatic system that makes standing starts easier, but it’s difficult to adjust all the parameters which change from one start to the next: track and tyre temperatures, the clutch settings, track grip, etc. I used the restarts to get back into fourth place and then third. When O’Connell overtook Beretta I took advantage of this and slipped into second, but a bit further on Beretta sneaked up on the inside and tagged me just when O’Connell braked earlier than usual in the middle of the track. I found myself caught up in a sandwich and I couldn’t avoid hitting the Cadillac and O’Connell and I both ended up in the wall.” The three drivers were handed a penalty after the race.

Kevin more than made up for this disappointment on the Barber Motorsports Park circuit near Birmingham in Alabama. Not on the Saturday, though! “This circuit suited the McLaren down to the ground with its long curves and its hilly layout which put a premium on good road holding.” The Frenchman was the victim of an erroneous tyre choice and started the race in 13th place. He immediately began to pick off the cars in front of him and had moved up into seventh when his clutch let him down. The next day, however, he emerged victorious after making a perfect start from fifth place and getting up into second by the second corner! He then sliced past his team-mate and drove on to clinch his second victory in the series. “Obviously, we’ve been instructed not to tangle with each other. He made a slight mistake and that helped me to find an opening. I eked out a small gap and despite a full yellow I was never under threat until the flag.”

This coming weekend Kevin is determined to make a success of his first outing in the WEC in the GTE Pro category at Spa-Francorchamps with the Porsche works team. “The guys at Porsche contacted me around two months ago as the race clashes with a USCC round at Laguna Seca. They were lacking two drivers for Spa and I’d like to thank McLaren GT very much for allowing me to enjoy this experience. The only hiccup is that with my very busy programme I haven’t been able to test the 911 RSR. But I know Spa well. My team-mate’s Sven Müller and our aim will be to score points for Porsche in view of the world title in the category.” Rendezvous on 2-3 May in the Belgian Ardennes.