Cornwall’s Tommy Foster concedes that the penalty that stripped him of a podium finish in round three of the Michelin Le Mans Cup series was ‘fair’ if not a little ‘harsh’, writes Tom Howe.
The Newquay native shared the Paul Ricard rostrum with 360 Racing teammate Terrence Woodward and returned to the pitlane in buoyant mood, with the #26 car behind only runaway leaders Team Virage in the standings.
However, post-race scrutineering found Foster had ‘increased his speed in excess of the permitted 80 kph’ two seconds before a full course yellow had been withdrawn, resulting in a ten second penalty that dropped the British-based entry to sixth spot.
Despite his frustration at the punishment dished out, the 21-year-old refused to be too downbeat, instead preferring to focus on the many positives that came out of a weekend in which the partnership continued their unique run of point scoring finishes in each race this season.
“The penalty decision is fair,” Foster told Cornwall Sports Media. “We believe that it is pretty harsh as it was delivered so late in the evening and when you consider that we didn’t actually gain an advantage or any spots in the standings. However, it is one of the rules and we will make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“Overall, I’m still very happy with the weekend. We had great race pace in the car and proved we can regularly fight for race wins. It was a great feeling being able to get up onto the podium and score good points for the championship. It has fuelled myself and Terrence’s determination to get back up there.
“Our partnership is really good. We get on well, understand each other and what it is that we both need from the car. He just didn’t quite hook it up in qualifying, though. He got stuck in a bit of traffic which upset his rhythm.
“My race stint was intense. I didn’t get any time to ease in. It felt like I did an hour’s worth of last lap battles. The pitstop was perfect. We actually had the quickest stop of the race which was rewarding as it was previously one of our weak spots. The team has been practising a lot to improve and it shows.”
A resounding chorus of La Marseillaise made way for the roar of a 42-car grid in the heat of Le Castellet, with temperatures pushing 30 degrees celsius. The iconic 14-turn track, punctuated by the famous Mistral Straight, enjoyed one of its more eventful afternoons in a history that spans more than half a century.
Woodward, having set the 13th fastest time in morning qualifying, kept his nose clean through a messy start and would have been relieved to find himself pointing in the right direction when a first lap safety car was signalled.
The FIA Bronze licence driver, who, in a quirk of the series, shares the LMP3 Ligier with Gold licencee Foster, had made up four places by the time the race’s first full course yellow came along and moved into eighth when the #29 MV2S Racing entry suffered a mechanical episode.
There was another sharp intake of breath when the #8 Graff Racing car, piloted by George Nakas, and Fabian Michal’s #2 CD Sport car spun almost in unison. Moments later, Christian Gisy was turned around in the #2 Racing Spirit of Léman, prompting another full course yellow.
It came at an opportune moment for most of the field, with the allotted 45-minute minimum for each driver having narrowly been surpassed. Many teams opted to pit and 360 were no different, unleashing Foster into proceedings sixth on the road.
His progress was disrupted by a third full course yellow that arrived after just five minutes of Foster’s stint but what ensued was worth the wait, with a classic battle for the drivers between fourth and eighth place.
The pressure was on with each of the cars on and sometimes indeed over the limit. Foster traded places with Kirill Smal of CD Racing before dropping to the back of the train when running wide at Beausset.
With just four seconds separating seventh and second at this point, the rip roaring battle continued to play out, allowing Foster to close the gap and begin to pick off his rivals one by one.
Smal made contact with the #77 Team Thor vehicle, piloted by Colin Noble, which promoted Foster into fifth. He maintained a tenacious chase and hung on the coattails of Josh Skelton’s #7 Nielsen Racing, eventually taking the place.
He went on to secure third when overtaking James Winslow’s #3 DKR Engineering entry following an epic ten-minute battle, ultimately finishing less than half a second shy of the second place car, the #87 CoolRacing Ligier, and spraying the champagne alongside the victorious #16 Team Virage of Julien Gerbi and Gillian Henrion.
The result saw the 360 Racing outfit move second to Virage in the standings, with a 20 point gap going into round four at Aragón in six weeks’ time.
However, the aforementioned penalty arrived late in the evening and demoted Foster and Woodward to fourth, behind the #77 of Team Thor and #87 of Cool Racing.
“We are all really fired up for Aragon,” concluded Foster. “Every single member of the team was elated when we got up on that podium and that has fuelled our passion to get up there more.”
- Round four will take place in Aragon, Spain on Saturday, August 26. For further information, visit www.lemanscup.com