TF Sport makes history by winning first ever GT3 Le Mans Cup race at Imola
TF Sport made history by winning the first ever Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup race at the historic and evocative Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari di Imola (13-14 May).
The combination of flawless stints from Turkish gentleman driver Salih Yoluc and his Pro teammate Euan Hankey and swift pit work by the TF Sport crew led to a very convincing victory that lays solid foundations for the team’s push for the 2016 GT3 Le Mans Cup title and a prized entry to the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.
A recent test at Imola and a gentle approach to free practice proved effective. Yoluc and Hankey featured highly in FP2 and translated their raw pace into a position on the second row of the grid for Round 1 of the 2016 season and the first ever GT3 Le Mans Cup race on Saturday (14 May). afternoon.
From third on the grid, Yoluc utilised a great start to maintain position on the charge to the first braking zone at Tamburello, where contact between the two front-row starters opened the door for the Turk to take the initiative, ahead of the FFF Racing Team McLaren of Hiroshi Hamaguchi.
The challenge from behind was immense and unrelenting, and the top two traded fastest laps for almost 40 minutes, confirming that the new-for-2016 GT3 Le Mans Cup is going to be the test of confidence and competence that it's designed to be.
It was certainly a stern test for Yoluc, but he withstood the pressure remarkably well and ran error-free in what has been widely hailed as the strongest drive of his career, to not only keep the McLaren at bay, but extend his advantage.
TF Sport then came out on top in the battle of the pit crews, as a perfectly executed driver-change, fuel and tyre stop followed and transformed what was a three-second gap into a lead of more than 13 seconds.
Hankey, who had been nervously watching his seemingly unflappable Am teammate and pupil from the pit wall, was clearly far more comfortable when he stepped in to the #34 Aston Martin at the end of the first hour.
The British ace made good his escape in the Pro battle against the FFF McLaren, now in the hands of Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, and utilised the cooling early evening temperatures and increasing grip to lap solidly inside the 1m43s and simply manage the gap to P2 and his fuel load.
After two hours of racing and 68 laps, TF Sport made history by becoming the first ever Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup winner, the victory taking extra significance for being the team’s third in a row, it’s first in Europe and the maiden GT3 win for both Hankey and Yoluc.
TF Sport Director, Tom Ferrier, said: “Victory in the opening round of the Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup is a great way to start. Salih Yoluc’s stint was an absolute blinder and he drove brilliantly throughout, not making one mistake. We got a bit lucky with the first two coming together, but that’s racing. A very good pit stop followed and then it was simply up to Euan (Hankey) to cruise home. We were a bit tight on fuel and that was a concern, but he managed the pace and fuel usage well.
“This will give Salih a much-needed confidence boost and it’s three wins on the bounce for us – we’re undefeated in 2016 so far! We just need to keep doing what we always do, making sure the cars are put together wonderfully and the strategy is there or thereabouts, and the results should come. We won’t win all of them, but we’ll aim for solid finishes in every race.”
The Michelin GT3 Cup will be held as part of the illustrious support bill for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France next month (17-18 June).