TF Sport arrived at the Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup season finale at Estoril today (22 October, 2016) in a bullish frame of mind, keen to cement their advantage at the head of the Teams’ Championship and take the title honours to add to the British GT title claimed in September.
In a near perfect race, Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey performed flawlessly, capitalising on mistakes made by their rivals to take the victory in the two-hour event and with that, claim the inaugural Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup Teams’ Championship and an all-important invitation to Le Mans.
The Aston Martin-supported team started the race weekend with a slender four-point advantage over main rival SMP Racing and with the win, extended this to a title-winning 11.
“A fantastic result,” declared the delighted TF Sport Director Tom Ferrier. “A few times this year we didn’t score the points we could have, but today we did everything we knew we should and could. Both drivers drove brilliantly in what were difficult conditions and the team did a great job to prepare the #34 car well and ensure that we had the tyres to fight all day long.
“We’ve been on the pace all year long and while in some races a podium was okay, we had to go all out for this one today and yes, we had a bit of a break with the #72 making mistakes, but the point is we forced those mistakes and we were there at the end. A huge congratulations to the team. We’re GT3 Le Mans Champions, we’re British GT Champions and we have an entry into the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A really great season!”
Qualifying saw Yoluc behind the wheel of the #43 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, making best of the wet and very tricky conditions to qualify in a solid fourth position. The Turkish driver make his now customary quick getaway at the start of the race and settled his race rhythm.
Lap 12 saw a golden opportunity came his way with the race leader – and championship rival – running off track and then subsequently spinning off, dropping down to eighth position and leaving Yoluc clear at the head of the field. While the #72 would fight back, the damage had been done and this paved the way for TF Sport to take the top honour.
Yoluc continued at the front, briefly losing position to the #14 Ferrari before handing over to Euan Hankey with 64 minutes remaining and 32 laps complete. Hankey was soon lapping at record pace, extending his advantage to an impressive 38 seconds before the rain returned to the Portuguese circuit with 45 minutes remaining.
The British racer opted to stay out on the slicks and with the #72 Ferrari now back up to second position, the pressure was on. Undeterred, Hankey kept the pace up and continued to extend his advantage at the head of the field and went on to take the chequered flag an impressive 43-seconds ahead of the field and with that, secure the title for TF Sport.
“There’s always doubts and I didn’t think we’d do it,” admitted Hankey. “But we did it and Sal drove brilliantly and we did it, we took the championship.”
In the Drivers’ standings Hankey and Yoluc started the weekend 21 points adrift of the SMP pairing and with the victory, closed the gap to just 14 and secured the runner-up position.
The 2017 Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup gets underway at Silverstone on April 14-15, 2017.