One year after her debut in endurance racing, Belén García returns to the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portugal. A true revelation in the field thanks to her solid pace and spectacular comebacks through the field, the Spanish driver will aim for a top-class performance on a track she already knows with the Ligier JS P320. The goal? End the season in style with her teammate Mark Richards before looking ahead to the 2024 season!
With steady and impressive progress since the start of the season, Belén García heads to Portimão this week for the Michelin Le Mans Cup season finale. The native of L’Ametlla del Vallès is eager to end her campaign on a high with her British teammate Mark Richards, following on from their sparkling performances highlighted by two consecutive top-five finishes in very different conditions at Motorland Aragón and Spa-Francorchamps.
« I’m really looking forward to the last round of the year although it’s going to be a bit of an emotional one », says Belén. « I enjoyed a lot this season, but it has gone by so fast. I’m also really excited to get back into the car, and on a good track as I like Portimão a lot. »
Among the most technical in Europe, the Portuguese track features several high-speed bends and gradients ideal for putting on a show. Among the Algarve challenges, the crew of the #25 Ligier JS P320 will pay particular attention to turn one, located at the end of a nearly kilometre-long straight, preceded by a downhill braking zone before a fast sequence leading to a slower section. On the rest of the circuit, the duo will put all its talent to the test on the blind crests requiring constant commitment to not lose precious seconds.
« Last year, red and yellow flags as well as track limits were the main actors in the Portimão tests and race so I hope it’s going to be better on that point this week », adds the 24-year-old Catalan driver. « Let’s hope for a good race even though it’s going to be a tough one as it will be the first visit in Portimão for Mark. Hopefully we have a clean Wednesday so he can really get the mileage in and I can find back my bearings on this track! »
The RACC Mobility Club supported driver can nevertheless count on her Portimão experience. Just over a year after her debut in endurance racing, Belén García returns to the Portuguese track, where she has already competed in a Formula 4 and Ligier JS P320. Always quick to spare no detail, she intends to capitalise on her experience to prove once again the full extent of her progress as well as her impressive potential.
« Track experience is one of the most important things », explains Belén. « This season, we have often been a step back compared to many teams on that aspect, except on tracks I knew such as Barcelona. Portimão will be the same and I will be able to focus on the car and setup. We will still have to work on the driving, but most of that has already been done, like the most experienced drivers have been doing the whole season. That’s also why I’m relishing to be in Portimão, a more familiar circuit. I’ve raced there in F4 back in 2019 and I was really fast although some issues with the car prevented me to maximise my chances. I was fighting for podium positions in a very high-level championship so I always felt strong on this track. I also drove last year there for my Michelin Le Mans Cup debut. It was a bit difficult as I only had one morning of tests with this car before race week. Despite my low mileage and my lack of knowledge, I enjoyed it a lot, started my progression and found my pace during the two days of post-race testing there. I was really quick and I also tested there in mixed conditions with slick and wet tyres. Unpredictable weather might play its part this weekend too, but I think it’s the first time in my career that I’m not really worried about it as I know I can be really fast in any conditions and I feel very fast at adapting quickly when needed as we’ve seen it in Spa. Actually, I’m happy to see such a mixed forecast. Bring it on! »
« Compared to one year ago, I also think I completely changed my driving style », continues Belén. « Every race situation is different to single-seater racing. You need to adapt to the different scenarios a lot more. One year ago, I wasn’t used to all the procedures and long stints, like it should have been last year if it were not for a red flag. Now, let’s say it has become quite mechanical or automatic for me and I have everything under control. I’m also more used to this car, a very different one from single-seaters. And I got more feel with the tyres as I can now predict how they will behave over my stints. I learnt a lot and I feel more confident in everything I do. »
With 26 points in play in the season finale, the only duo to reach the top five twice since the summer break can look forward to further progress in the standings.
« We’ve had a good couple of last races but the podium has been on sight since the beginning of the season », concludes Bélen. « I felt we were really strong in Barcelona, but Le Mans was especially tough. All in all, I think the podium is always the goal. We’re competing and racing to win, and I do believe we have the pace to do it. There’s some bit of luck involved in this championship with all the race incidents and it is a bit difficult to predict the behavior of the other crews, but we just have to find our luck in this final round. Everyone will have the same target as it is the season finale, but I’m confident Mark and I can fight for it. »
Forty cars will be on track at Portimão, including 27 LMP3s competing against the 360 Racing Team’s #25 Ligier JS P320 driven by Belén Garcia and Mark Richards. Belén will be back in action on the Portuguese track tomorrow morning in the first collective test session before a free practice session on Thursday and a second on Saturday. Per the regulations, her British teammate will qualify the car on Saturday afternoon. The 110-minute race will start on Sunday 9am for what promises to be an intense final confrontation with nothing to lose!