The second Le Mans Cup event of the season took place on the undercard of the world-famous Le Mans 24 Hours, with the Team SD Porsche 992 GT3 R sharing the same 8.4-mile circuit as the full 24-hour entrants for two one-hour sprint races ahead of the world’s biggest endurance race.
While Jones had experienced the Circuit de la Sarthe before, the layout was new to Pro racer Malvern, however the pair used the two free practice session on Wednesday to bed themselves into the track. But a problem soon became clear. With the new 992-generation Porsche GT3 R boasting significant downforce gains over the older car, the event’s balance of performance limited the car’s power to compensate for its prowess through the twisty stuff. While that would even things out at many other tracks, robbing the Porsche of crucial straight-line speed at a circuit dominated by a 3.7-mile blast down the Mulsanne meant Jones and Malvern would be fighting an uphill battle against cars with far greater power.
With the car already running with minimal rear wing and no BoP changes forthcoming, Malvern managed to qualify within the top 10 for the first race. A strong start would be key to moving forward, and Jones provided a gem of a first lap to set the crew up for a superb opening result.
Taking the wheel for the start, Jones bolted when the lights went out to gain a few places by catching others napping, and then managed to pick his way through the opening turns as others hit trouble, eventually bringing the Porsche up to fourth by the end of the first lap.
However, with the slipstream effect being so strong at Le Mans, and the Porsche not having the grunt to battle back, Jones could do little to prevent Hiroshi Hamaguchi’s Lamborghini from steaming past, the Japanese driver then elbowing the Porsche wide at Indianapolis. Jones did well to hold on to the car and bring it to the mid-race pit stops in fifth to hand to Malvern.
The Team Parker Racing crew got the driver change done in superb time, but when Malvern went to rejoin he was delayed by a member of a rival pit crew standing in his way in the busy pits. That cost some vital time, but Malvern managed to rejoin the fray in fifth, only to find himself defending from Valentin Hasse-Clot’s Aston Martin.
With the Aston enjoying much greater straight-line pace, Malvern had to tuck in behind Hasse-Clot and was just weighing up an attack when the safety car was called after a nasty accident for the team’s sister car exiting the Porsche Curves. The race finished under the caution period with Jones and Malvern crossing the line sixth, and then being elevated to fifth courtesy of a penalty for #74 Kessel Racing Ferrari.
With a bagful of points already secured, race two promised much, with Jones making the most of a disrupted qualifying session to snatch seventh on the grid. Jones then repeated his trick of charging up the order at the start, running fifth during the early stages before once again falling victim to the slipstream train on the Mulsanne.
Jones held a space around the top 10 by the time he pitted, with more slick work from Team Parker getting Malvern back out in ninth. The Porsche was then elevated as high as fifth through a combination of Malvern’s pace and others hitting trouble. However, when the pack bunched up into the last lap and put a train of much faster cars right behind Malvern, the Porsche was a sitting duck, with Jones and Malvern eventually classified 11th from the 20-car GT3 entry.
While the results may not have been truly representative, Jones and Malvern did enough to leave round two third in the championship points, still firmly in the title picture.
“It’s been a difficult weekend, but also a great weekend. You can’t help but love being a part of the Le Mans 24 Hours weekend and all of the excitement that brings. It’s a huge privilege to race here, it’s just a shame that circumstances outside of our control limited what we could achieve in the races. We simply, didn’t have the pace on the straights and around here that makes things so tough. But we maximised what we had in race one, and then just got unlucky in race two. We’re still in a very strong position in the championship, so on to Le Castellet in July.”
“Regardless of the results, what a week it’s been! This was my first experience of Le Mans, both as a fan and as a racing driver, and it’s been magic. Driving the track on Wednesday was the realisation of a career ambition for me, and I felt at home there from the very first laps. It’s just such a shame the BoP wasn’t in our favour for the races. When other cars both enjoy greater top speed and greater acceleration we were largely on damage limitation. Nick’s first lap in race one was just superb, and he drove incredibly well all week. We leave sitting third in the championship and with everything still to play for.”
The next round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup takes place at Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France on July 16.