Starting from fifteenth place, Bent Viscaal overtook fourteen opponents during the 4 Hours of Imola. Nevertheless, the 22-year-old Dutchman, who teams up with the German lady Sophia Floersch in the European Le Mans Series at Algarve Pro Racing, finished eighth. A bittersweet result, according to Viscaal.
Only six days after his debut – which was not a debut due to a teammate’s accident – in the World Endurance Championship, Viscaal was allowed to start again. This time it was the second company in the ELMS, the European endurance racing championship in which the driver from Twente made his debut with an unforgettable second place four weeks ago. Despite the great result of the first race, expectations for the four-hour race at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari were deliberately kept low.
After all, Viscaal and Floersch form a double silver driver duo, where the majority of their competing teams consist of three drivers, including at least one driver with a gold FIA rating. A difficult Friday practice fueled the idea that a new podium place would be particularly difficult to achieve.
During free practice on Saturday morning, however, a different sound came from team principal Stewart Cox’s garage. Both Viscaal and Floersch appeared to feel like a fish in water as soon as they drove over a longer distance. However, a cunning qualifying training provided an additional, unforeseen circumstance for the talented twenty-somethings. Floersch was hindered considerably in her qualifying round, so that she did not reach further than a disappointing fifteenth place.
Despite that setback, Viscaal did not let himself be discouraged. The resident of Albergen already let it be known on Saturday evening that he had a good feeling about the race pace and that turned out to be right half a day later. Viscaal flew off the starting blocks in a distinctive way, passing no fewer than three opponents within the first three laps of the endurance race. After an early neutralization, five opponents still had to lose, after which Viscaal again passed two competitors after a second yellow flag situation. After half an hour the team with start number nineteen found itself back in a phenomenal fourth place.
A second consecutive podium finish seemed easily within reach. After all, Viscal’s pace was better than that of the leading trio. Unfortunately, it was not to be for the Tukker, who made his first pit stop shortly before a Safety Car phase. Several opponents were lucky enough to have to enter right after the neutralization was released, effectively losing less time on maintenance than Viscaal did.
When the dust clouds had cleared and the track was clear again, Viscaal found himself in tenth position. Once again, the two-time Formula 2 podium customer started a strong catch-up, this time taking him to sixth position. After two hours of racing and an unprecedented number of fourteen overtakes, Viscaal handed over the wheel to teammate Floersch.
The German lady, as was the case during the first race at Paul Ricard, drove solid stints and thus consolidated a decent points position. Just before the flag dropped, Floersch was in fifth position, allowing the Algarve Pro Racing team to live well after that disappointing qualifying session. In the ultimate final phase of the four-hour race, however, bad luck still struck: a flat tire forced Floersch to make an unplanned, extra pit stop, as a result of which she was passed by three opponents. In the end, an eighth finish place was awarded to the Viscaal-Floersch duo.
“It actually went very well”, Viscaal looks back from Italy. “I started fifteenth and before the first pit stop I was in fourth place. That full course yellow hurt us a lot. We drove in earlier to undercut the opponents, after which the match was neutralized. Instead of competing for a podium place, I drove straight into tenth position.”
“After that I actually continued with what I was doing”, laughs de Tukker. “I immediately overtook a whole bunch of cars. The pace was just great, overtaking was actually quite effortless, partly because the car was so nice. I was very happy behind the wheel. However, we have had so much bad luck with the strategy, that is hardly normal anymore. To make matters worse, we also got a flat tire at the end. If that doesn’t happen, at least we’d still be fifth.”
“From starting position fifteen, every point scored is of course a bonus, but there really could have been a lot more today. The positive is that the speed is there in any case. As far as adapting to the endurance cars is concerned, I think it’s going well too,” says Viscaal with a sense of understatement. “If we have that little bit of luck, we can compete for the podium places in the next matches – and maybe even more.”
The next race in the European Le Mans Series is once again in Italy, albeit at the Monza circuit. The third race of the ELMS 2022 season will be held in the first weekend of July, followed by the 4 Hours of Monza on Sunday 3 July.