Valencia – Spain, 17th September 2023
Strong performance by Emil Frey Racing in Valencia: At the penultimate round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS Sprint Cup, the two Ferrari 296 GT3s impressed with a consistently competitive performance. Both cars finished the two races in the Top-10 and with the number 69 the team secured two podium places – and that at the home-race of Spaniard Albert Costa Balboa. Everything is now open again in the team standings and the fight for the Top-3 in the Championship after the great points results.
Race 1 I Saturday, 16th September 2023:
Torrential rain disrupted the schedule on Friday. However, when the cars could finally take to the track, the rain had long since stopped and the sun came out. Konsta Lappalainen set the third fastest time in the #14 Emil Frey Racing Ferrari, underlining the expected performance for the weekend.
This was also evidenced by both cars in the first qualifying session when Thierry Vermeulen finished third and Konsta Lappalainen completed the second row to be a complete Emil-Frey-Racing row with fourth place.
The start with 40 cars was particularly turbulent this time and whilst Thierry Vermeulen defended his third position, young Konsta Lappalainen lost a few places and dropped back to 7th. After a start accident in Turn 1, the Safety-Car came onto the track for under ten minutes. Afterwards, Konsta Lappalainen wanted to attack again, but the Finn struggled with understeering and could not attack.
Thierry Vermeulen remained in P3 in his number 69 Ferrari, setting the absolute best first sector on lap 7, but could not close the gap to the #88 Mercedes running in 2nd place. On lap 17, the team made the obligatory pitstop and driver change. At the exact moment when they wanted to send the number 69 back on track, another car approached. To avoid an “unsafe release, ” they let the other car pass first – which cost valuable seconds.
Konsta Lappalainen had a good fight for position six with the #911 Porsche just before the pitstop and came in two laps after the sister-car. Giacomo Altoè remained in P7 in the #14 Ferrari until crossing the finishing line.
Albert Costa Balboa secured the second position despite losing valuable seconds during the pitstop. The only Spaniard in the field showed his determination to secure the race win and promptly drove the fastest first sector.
In the closing stages, Albert Costa Balboa caught-up with the leading #88 Mercedes-AMG lap-after-lap. Despite a brief moment of shock in Turn 1, he was nose-to-tail with the Mercedes. The battle came to an absolute showdown on the race’s final lap, but unfortunately the Emil Frey Racing driver was unable to pass the Mercedes.
Thus, Albert Costa Balboa and his team-mate Thierry Vermeulen secured a well-deserved first podium of the season at his home-race – after a third place at Hockenheim two weeks ago was cancelled by the race stewards shortly afterwards.
Race 2 I Sunday, 17th September 2023:
The weather caused once again chaos as it did on Friday. Rainfall during the night had already made the track slippery, and it became even more treacherous when it started raining again shortly before the start of the second qualifying at 09:00 a.m.
But neither the rain nor the fact that the session was split in two by a red flag upset Albert Costa Balboa. The Spaniard kept his nerves, secured second place in the #69 Ferrari and therefore started from the front row of the grid for the second time in the Sprint Cup. The sister car #14 struggled to get the tyres to work with the given Set-up, so Giacomo Altoè’s lap-time was only good enough for a disappointing 16th place.
The adventurous start was another hot one: Albert Costa Balboa kept second place while Giacomo Altoè moved up into eighth, helped by accidents in the first sector. As on Saturday, the Safety-Car came onto the track right after the first lap on Sunday.
It was “Go” again from lap seven and the number 14 was flying through the field, running in sixth place only two laps later. The first four competitors were all running with approximately 1,5 seconds at that moment of the race with Albert Costa Balboa setting the first best sector and Giacomo Altoè pacing as the third quickest car in the field.
After a short Full-Course-Yellow on lap 11, the Safety-Car was put to use once again. Three laps later, the race was clear again and Giacomo Altoè headed for the pits from 6th position for the stop with the number 14. The sister-car stopped two laps later from second place, but unfortunately the number 69 lost two positions due to traffic on both the In- and Outlap, falling back to second place.
On lap 31, after yet another Full-Course-Yellow, the Safety-Car was called out onto the track for the third time. With only seven minutes to go until the end of the race, the battles for the top positions continued to intensify.
In the end, the number 69 remained in a strong third place and secured the second podium in Valencia. The Number 14 finished the race in 4th place in the PRO classification and fifth overall after a great performance and recovery from 16th place.
Team Quotes Emil Frey Racing
Jürg Flach, Technical Director: “It was a strong weekend overall with two podiums. The team worked in a very disciplined way, and we were also very competitive in qualifying this time. In addition, the recovery of number 14 in the race on Sunday from 16 to 5 was very impressive. Overall, I am satisfied. However, a win would have been the crowning glory.”
Lorenz Frey-Hilti, Team Principal: “We finished in the Top-10 in both races and on the podium twice, so of course we are happy with the results. However, if you look at the performance, we could have done better, but we brought home good points for the championship. We were unlucky on Saturday when we pitted with the 69, losing the seconds that Albert was missing in the chase for the win afterwards. It’s a shame the race didn’t go on for two more laps, who knows how it would have turned out. After the crazy qualifying where we had problems getting the front tyres to work at the number 14, the drivers did a brilliant job and went from 16th to 5th, which was incredible on a track like Valencia. It makes me happy for a rather inexperienced and young driver like Thierry to be on the podium twice. He put in a great performance together with Albert.”
Driver Quotes Ferrari 296 GT3 #14
Giacomo Altoè (Italy): “Saturday was certainly not the race I had hoped for. Unfortunately, we lost a few places in the first laps and dropped back to P7. Then we fought with other cars but couldn’t get past, so it was quite a difficult race. In return, we finally had a great race on Sunday! We caught the right window with the Set-up, and I could make up many positions in my stint from P16 to P5. I really enjoyed this race, and we can be proud of it! Now we focus on the last race at Zandvoort! Many thanks to the whole team.”
Konsta Lappalainen (Finland): “I started from P4 on Saturday and the car felt good, but I wanted too much in Turn 2 and 3 and lost positions. After the Safety-Car I tried to attack but couldn’t gain another position. It was also tough to overtake on Sunday, even though we managed to get a good result with P5 on Sunday.”
Driver Quotes Ferrari 296 GT3 #69
Albert Costa Balboa (Spain): “We were so close to victory! I did the maximum on every lap and just drove at the limit. I really believed that I could take first place. But I had a problem in the first corner, there was some oil on the track, and I lost the car, which cost me two or three seconds. And maybe that was the crucial point. I managed to close the gap to the leader again to 0.3 seconds, but then I ran out of laps. On Sunday, I kept a cool head and didn’t take any unnecessary risks. I have learned from the mistakes of the past and am now more focused on my task. We had a good rhythm in the race and to be on the podium twice in my home country is of course great, even though I really wanted to win the race today.”
Thierry Vermeulen (Netherlands): “It was a very positive weekend in Valencia. I am very happy to have been on the podium twice. The car felt really good, and I am also happy with my own performance. In terms of strategy and pitstops, there are still areas where we are losing time. But we have had a positive couple of weeks with good results and we can continue like this. I am very happy to have been able to race like this and now we are optimistic for next weekend at the Red Bull Ring. I want to thank the whole team and everyone else for their continuous support.“