What might have been: podium for PaddlUp Esports but victory on the cards in Round 1 of ACF WEC
Despite technical gremlins faltering their charge, the PaddlUp Esports squad adds another podium to their scorecard in 2022.
Saturday, 30 April saw the historic Monza circuit host the opening round of the ACF WEC series and, for the first time, welcomed the Le Mans Hypercar category (LMh) to the grid in what promised to be a thrilling first race.
PaddlUp Esports entered the weekend in fine fettle, fresh off the back of a podium in the VSR GT3 series so hopes were high coming into the weekend. Ahead of the first official qualifying session, our team opted for the Alpine A480-Gibson and prepared to race.
The car's set-up proved tricky to hone in the early stages, but eventually, the PaddlUp squad overcame those challenges and was on imperious form in the latter stages of qualifying, taking pole position by three-tenths of a second and laying down the gauntlet for the four-hour contest that immediately followed.
With an equally impressive getaway at the start of the race, PaddlUp's resident simulator expert Riley Phillips began to gap the field at a relentless rate. As he came in for his first pit stop – around the 45-minute mark – second place was over 20 seconds behind.
Phillips went on to do a double-stint and by the time he eventually handed over to team-mate Leandro Schäfer, he had lapped all but second and third place. Once Schäfer got behind the wheel, third place was swiftly lapped thereafter and set about catching second place to lap the entire field.
Unfortunately, disaster struck during the second half of the race when Schäfer experienced hardware issues, meaning he was unable to change up from third gear. After limping around almost an entire lap, he made it back to the pits and handed the reigns back over to Phillips, but this unscheduled stop had put them completely out of sync with the rest of the pack and they would now have to make an extra stop, this ultimately lost the duo three minutes to their competitors.
The final pitstop came in the final 10 minutes of the race, at which point Phillips rejoined with a 20-second deficit to P2. A valiant effort saw him close the gap to just 2.5 seconds on the line but ultimately PaddlUp Esports had to settle for third place. A positive result for the team but it was a case of what might have been in a race that promised so much more.
The team were due to race on bank holiday Monday in GT3s at the Nordschliefe but technical gremlins sadly meant a DNS for Riley and Leandro. Similarly to real-life motorsport, technical issues often play a part in the outcome of races and even championships as seen in Veloce Esports' #NotTheGP series during the first 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.
Riley Phillips, Esports Driver, PaddlUp said: "The ACF WEC 4 hours of Monza was fairly eventful. We qualified on pole by three tenths which was really good. It was the first round of a new series - running the WEC LMhs for the first time - and we were in the Alpine.
"We struggled with car set-up initially, it's quite an aggressive car to drive. It doesn't stop overly well and touching the kerbs unsettles the car massively, and as we know at Monza you need to use the kerbs quite a bit! So that was quite tricky to get the set-up right.
"We had a great start and I had pulled around a 20-second gap at the end of the first stint. I did another stint after that and by the end of that run, I think we had lapped everyone up to third which was great.
"Leandro got in and had great pace in his stint so everything was looking good. We lapped P3 at that point and we were catching P2 to lap them. Unfortunately, at that point, Leandro had an issue with his wheel so he couldn't shift up at all so we got stuck in third gear for about a lap.
"Once he'd made it back to the pits I took over but one of this series' regulations is that each pit stop has to be three minutes so we lost a lot of time. If it had been five or six minutes later we would've been on track for our normal strategy anyway and we wouldn't have had to do another pit stop at the end.
"With seven minutes to go, I had to make a pit stop thanks to the issue. I did it a little bit before then so I got more benefit from the fresh tyres but that meant we lost three minutes, essentially two laps so we ended up on the lead lap, just.
"We came out about 60 seconds behind the leader and about 20 seconds behind P2. I think I had four laps to close an eight-second gap which I didn't quite manage it, I was 2.5 seconds off when we crossed the line. We finished P3 which isn't too bad but we should've won that race."