L’The off-season was terribly long, but the return to competition could not have been better for Benjamin Lessennes. In the BMW M4 GT4 of L’'Espace Bienvenue, the 21-year-old Belgian and his Dutch team-mate Ricardo van der Ende were omnipresent at the front of the field during the first round of the French FFSA GT Championship. Not only did they win their class (Silver Cup) three times, but they also won once in the overall classification.
By amassing 75 points, the maximum possible, Benjamin Lessennes and Ricardo van der Ende left Nogaro as solid leaders of the French FFSA GT Championship in the Silver Cup. “It would have been difficult to do any better,” smiled Benjamin. “I am extremely happy to have been able, with Ricardo, to offer such a great start to the season to André Grammatico, the boss of the L'Espace Bienvenue team. He gave us his trust and we could not have repaid him any better.”
It was during qualifying practice that the pair set the path for their future success. “Nogaro is a circuit on which overtaking is not easy”, explains the 21-year-old from Namur. “Above all, in our case, we can rely on the power of our BMW M4 GT4 and a very good top speed. On the other hand, and especially on this circuit, we knew that the tyres would deteriorate considerably. By starting at the front, we hoped to be able to defend our position.”
First, second and again in pole position for the three races on the programme, Benjamin and Ricardo started the season with an authoritative victory both in the overall standings and in the Silver Cup. “In the French FFSA GT Championship, there is no real overall classification and it is only in the classes that we score points,” explained Benjamin. “But it is obviously always a great feeling to pass the chequered flag in first place and it is also very important for team morale. Knowing that the crews entered in the Silver Cup have to stay ten seconds longer in the pit lane during the driver change, we could not do better than 4th and 2nd place in the general classification thereafter, which in itself is extremely satisfactory.”
If those three victories in the Silver Cup might have seemed simple, they were not. “At race pace we were clearly not the fastest,” conceded the man who finished third in last year's GT4 European Series. “From a driving point of view it was often very frustrating because I was driving below the car's limits most of the time. I was always looking in my rear-view mirrors and I was following the pace of my rivals so as not to put too much strain on my tyres. But Ricardo and I managed them as well as possible and closed all the doors when we were under pressure. This thoughtful approach enabled us to score a maximum number of points this weekend... and that was the most important thing.”
Championship leaders, the two drivers of the L'Espace Bienvenue team are looking forward to the second meeting in three weeks time on the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours. “Contrary to Nogaro, a circuit which is not normally suitable for our car, the Magny-Cours track has often been successful for BMW M4 GT4s in the past. It should be fantastic to continue our momentum in the Nièvre!”