Saintéloc Junior Team secured its first overall podium in the 24H SERIES at the 2023 Hankook 12H MUGELLO, and feels that, but for two unfortunately-timed Code 60 caution periods, the #26 Audi R8 could well have taken the fight even more to eventual winner Haas RT.
Words – James Gent
Images – Nico Mombaerts
Saintéloc Junior Team secured its first overall podium in the 24H SERIES at this past weekend’s Hankook 12H MUGELLO, though the French team still feels the #26 Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II “could clearly have finished closer to the winner” were it not for some unfortunately-timed Code 60s.
The French team finished a fighting 2nd overall just two laps adrift of maiden series winner Haas RT in Mugello, in spite of the relative GT3 experience of GT4 young drivers Erwan Bastard and Paul Evrard. Indeed, the Hankook 12H MUGELLO was in fact only the second GT3 race for reigning GT4 European Series Silver Cup / Championnat de France FFSA GT champion Bastard, and the first for Evrard.
Saintéloc spent eight of the 12-hour endurance event in outright podium contention, and even led outright for 32 of the 341 completed laps. Bastard in particularly though felt that a closer fight for the overall win was on the cards were it not for two Code 60 caution flags being flown just moments after the French team completed a pit stop.
“Twice we came out of the pits, and there was a Code 60,” Bastard explains in an official team statement. “It cost us time and we could have been closer to the winners. But we are very satisfied with our work. Our pace was good. The most important thing for us was to gain experience and accumulate as many kilometres as possible with the Audi R8 LMS GT3.”
Despite the frustration, an impressive showing from Bastard, Evrard and Saintéloc started with 4th place on the overall grid, and while Evrard was unable to hold off Land Motorsport’s Christopher Mies and Haas RT’s Frédéric Vervisch during his first stint, the young French driver was at one stage running 3rd overall. Saintéloc was among the first GT3 frontrunners to pit for a driver change, but briefly fell out of the top 10 when the first Code 60 of the event was flown shortly afterwards.
Further time was lost during ‘part one’ when Bastard made contact with the NKPP by HRT Performance Porsche 992 GT3 Cup at Casanova, the impact of which sent Harry Hilders into the gravel and cost Saintéloc a 20-second time penalty.
Impressive running during the final three hours though – plus race-upending incidents for early leaders CP Racing and Land Motorsport, meant the #26 Audi R8 finished just 34.991 seconds behind leader Haas RT at half-distance and, crucially, restarted the race the following day on the same lap. Time lost again to an unfortunately timed Code 60 one hour in (ironically with the NKPP Porsche once again in the gravel) plus new fastest laps from Audi factory driver Vervisch meant Saintéloc Junior Team was unable to close a two-lap gap heading into the final four hours.
Despite this, no major errors nor mechanical faults meant Saintéloc was still able to secure the overall runners-up spot one lap clear of Heart of Racing by SPS. The result also puts to bed memories of this year’s Hankook 24H DUBAI, at which the #26 Audi R8 was forced to retire at half-distance after a mid-race collision.
Saintéloc Junior Team has already registered the #26 Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II for the third European round of this year’s 24H SERIES powered by Hankook at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on 6-7 May.