France’s SAINTéLOC Racing secured its first category podium of the 2022 season at the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO, and, but for damage sustained in the opening stages, might well have finished even higher.
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba
SAINTéLOC Racing finished an exhausting Hankook 24H PORTIMAO in the overall top 10 and 2nd in the GT3-PRO/AM, and might even have challenged for an overall podium but for damage sustained on-track during the opening four hours of the event.
The French team, entering its fourth 24H SERIES event of 2022 in preparation for the 24 Hours of Spa in July, fielded season-regulars Christian Kelders, Olivier Estèves and Simon Gachet in the #26 Audi R8 LMS for Portimão. With fellow season regular Pierre-Yves Paque instead competing at the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup round at Spa-Francorchamps (again, in preparation for July’s 24-hour event), Kelders, Estèves and Gachet were joined at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve by GT World Challenge frontrunners Nicolas Baert and Lucas Légeret. So impressive was the duo’s pace, the SAINTéLOC recorded the overall fastest lap of the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO – a 1m 43.087s – as well as five of the 10 outright fastest laps during the event.
Alongside his race pace, Légeret topped his qualifying session overall, Estèves and Kelders setting the third quickest during their own respective sessions to secure 5th on the overall grid. Baert then began an electric opening stint by moving from 5th to 2nd in the opening two laps before engaging in a thrilling battle with Phoenix Racing’s Pierre Kaffer for the overall lead: after one hour, the R8s were split by just 2.9 seconds.
Sadly, while battling for 3rd overall with Red Camel-Jordans.nl during the fourth hour, Estèves was inadvertently pushed wide while lapping traffic 18 laps into his first stint, the French driver tagging the barriers at turn 11 in the process. Though Estèves managed to get the #26 Audi back to the pits, heavy damage to the front end – including a mounting bracket for the front bumper that came incredibly close to harpooning the front right wheel – ended up costing the French team more than two hours in the garage and any chance of overall victory.
A sensational effort by the mechanics though was not downplayed by the team post-race…
“Hats off to the drivers for their performance on the track, and to the mechanics for their effort in the pits to repair the car,” SAINTéLOC explained in an official statement. “In just two hours, they almost entirely replaced the front end of the Audi R8, which [rejoined] the track shortly before 8 p.m. The night marked the start of a magnificent comeback for the quartet [of drivers], which concluded on Sunday afternoon with a top 10 and 2nd in the GT3-PRO/AM category.”
Returning to the track during the sixth hour – now in 21st overall, 65 laps behind the leading Phoenix Racing Audi – SAINTéLOC slowly worked its way back up the order through the night to 11th. Herberth Motorsport’s retirement as a result of an on-track collision then pushed the #26 R8 into 2nd in-class by the 19th hour, and come the chequered flag, SAINTéLOC Racing had recovered to an impressive 9th place overall.
Ironically, despite its issues, SAINTéLOC Racing secured its first category podium of 2022 at Portimão as well as its second best overall result of the season following the Audi’s 7th place overall at Spa-Francorchamps. The French team has also registered an entry for the Hankook 24H BARCELONA on 9-10-11 September.