Double podium in Italy keeps Oregon Team duo firmly in the title race
Maximilian Paul and Pierre-Louis Chovet remain in contention for the International GT Open championship courtesy of their fourth success of the season at Monza. The Oregon Team pairing started from pole position for both races and capped off a near-perfect weekend with a third place in race two, despite serving a 20-second handicap.
The victory and podium finish ensures Paul and Chovet remain in the mix for the drivers’ title, having increased their tally to 88 points. They lie just 16 points adrift of the top of the table heading into the final round of the year at Barcelona next month.
The weekend started well for the Oregon Team duo, with Paul setting the fastest time in the opening qualifying session after fine-tuning the #63 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2 in free practice. Paul posted a time of 1m46.751 during the wet session to end up just under two-tenths of a second quicker than the second-placed car. The sister Oregon Team Lamborghini of Daan Arrow and Pietro Perolini lined up third on the grid.
Heavy rain dominated Saturday’s action, and the first race began behind the safety car. Once the race began proper, Paul led the opening stages before being passed by the Audi of Karol Basz. The #63 Lamborghini, however, showed strong race pace and Paul began to reduce a two-second margin to just half a second before the pit window opened. Eventually, Paul forced a mistake from Basz and the German pulled alongside the Audi coming out of the final corner and down the main straight. The #63 completed the move for the lead under the braking for turn one and duly opened up a healthy lead of over three seconds.
Chovet then took over from Paul as the Oregon Team elected to fit slick tyres onto the #63 with conditions improving. It was a bold call, but ultimately the right choice, despite Paul slipping behind the #6 Mercedes into second place. Like the first stint, the #63 took a bit of time to get into the optimum operating zone, but once Chovet got the measure of the car, the Frenchman began to chase down the Mercedes. The two cars swapped turns in the lead, but Chovet brilliantly seized the top of the field by perfecting a superb move around the outside of the first Lesmo corner. The #63 then sprinted clear in the final minutes, coming home over seven seconds ahead of the Mercedes over the line.
Pierre-Louis Chovet said post-race: “We started with quite low tyre pressures during Max’s stint but of course he did a really good job this morning, so we started P1, then he dropped to P2 but fought back into the lead. Then we had the 10-second handicap which meant I had to fight, on slick tyres as well with a damp track. So, it was really tricky to overtake because there was only one line but, in the end, we made it so I am super happy.
Team-mate Maximilian Paul added: “It was a really nice race, the Audi was really quick at the beginning, so it was hard for me in the first three or four laps, but we managed to regain the position and remain consistently in front. And then it was quite a game of poker to see what tyres we would be putting on for the second stint, and obviously it was the right choice to put slicks on and Pierre-Louis did a great job. We are really happy to take our fourth win of the season.”
Chovet and Paul again produced a qualifying masterclass on Sunday morning, with the former setting the fastest time to take a second successive pole position. Conditions were dry throughout the race and Chovet led either side of an early safety car intervention. The #63, courtesy of winning race one, then had to serve a mandatory 20-second handicap time at the pit-stop, which moved it back in the hands of Paul. Contact from another car then pushed Paul down to fifth but the German showed grit and determination to get back to fourth, before deposing championship leader Sam de Haan of the final step on the podium on the line by just four-hundredths of a second.