Alex Peroni has retained his lead in the French Monoplace Challenge series at a controversial second round at Le Mans.
After placing second in the first of the weekend’s three races, the 16 year-old from Hobart, Tasmania, was disadvantaged in the second race when several drivers were allowed to change their wet weather tyres just before the start.
Officials had directed all 27 drivers to use treaded tyres after rain soaked the 4.2km ‘Bugatti’ layout of the iconic racetrack. But the rain stopped by the time the cars began the warm-up lap, and with the track drying rapidly the leaders, including Alex, pulled into pit lane to change to dry weather slicks.
However Alex’s TS Corse team, knowing that the series rules prohibited tyre changes before the start, told him to stay on the wet weather rubber even though it would be substantially slower than slicks.
Despite starting from the back of the grid on the unsuitable tyres, he scythed through the field to finish 10th in the 20-minute race.
Alex won the third and final race decisively, taking an early lead and steadily extending it for six laps until two incidents brought the race to a premature conclusion.
His series lead is either 24 or 7 points, depending on whether the results of the second race are anulled.
Changing track conditions and a stoppage during qualifying added to the drivers’ challenge at the round.
“There was very little time to get a quick lap in qualifying after a red flag in the first few minutes,” Alex said. “When the session restarted the track was damp except for the dry racing line, and we were all on slicks so there was virtually no way to overtake slower drivers.”
Even so, Alex recorded the second-fastest lap, only 0.154 seconds off pole position.
“In the first race I had a good start and led for the first five laps, but we had to guess the car set-up for the conditions and it wasn’t quite right,” he continued. “Even though I couldn’t hold on until the finish, second place was okay under the circumstances.
“Race two was even more difficult with the confusion about changing tyres before the start.
“I couldn’t contact my team on the radio during the sighting lap, so I decided to follow the other leaders into the pits to change to slicks. But my team said the rules didn’t allow it, and because I’d gone into the pits I had to start from the back.
“It was hard to come through the field without damaging my wet weather tyres. The slower drivers stayed on the wet parts of the track to avoid their tyres overheating, so I had to drive on the dry parts to overtake them .
“Fortunately there were no problems in the third race, which was dry. I passed the two drivers ahead of me by the third corner, and extended my lead by a few tenths of a second each lap.
“I was just over two seconds ahead by lap six, when the Safety Car came out. Then almost straight after the restart there was another Safety Car, which was how the race finished.
“Overall I’m happy with my performance in the round.
“The second race cost me severely, but I’m hopeful that the results will be cancelled. Even if they aren’t, I guess you have to factor these things into a season.”
The third round of the Monoplace Challenge takes place on May 20-22 at the Paul Ricard circuit in Southern France.
ALEX PERONI’S RESULTS – Monoplace Challenge round 2, Le Mans ‘Bugatti’ (4.2km)
Qualifying: 2nd fastest
Race 1: 2nd
Race 2: 10th
Race 3: 1st
Championship position: 1st (274 points)