Jamie Campbell Walter has set his sights set on a podium finish on his return to racing at the 24 Hours of Paul Ricard.
The 43 year-old has not competed regularly since winning the WEC Trophy for GTE Am Drivers in 2013 alongside Stuart Hall, but jumped when offered the chance to join up with Hall, Dan Brown and car-owner Roald Goethe in a RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 at the fifth round of the 24H Series.
Platinum-rated Campbell-Walter hadn’t driven the car until Thursday’s Free Practice sessions, but told Racing.GT he was confident that defending event winners RAM will be on the pace again.
“In theory I’m not really driving anymore, but I never actually retired, so I was happy to do it when I got the call,” said Campbell-Walter, whose last race outing was the Dubai 24 Hours in 2015. “It’s obviously a fantastic car which should be good for 24 Hours, since it won at the Nürburgring. I had a brief chat with Yelmer Buurman at Hockenheim last week about it and he said ‘Jamie, you’re going to have no problem!’
— J Campbell-Walter (@jcampbellwalter) July 11, 2016
“The car should be up to it, I know the team definitely are and then it just comes down to us drivers. Roald is a gentleman driver but he’s improved massively since I drove with him in 2013 and I think he’s finding the Mercedes slightly easier to drive than the GTE car with the ABS, traction control and things like that. Stuart and Dan Brown are nice tidy peddlers that do a good job and that’s the name of the game in a 24 hour race where you just want to stay out of the pits and keep it on track.
“Of course we’re going there to have fun, but we’re also going there to do a proper job and I wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think we could get a result. We’re all going there with a podium in mind.”
Much of Campbell-Walter’s time is presently occupied by overseeing the career of young single-seater racer Ferdinand Habsburg, although the punishing travel schedule it entails has left the 2000 FIA GT champion with little time to prepare himself for Paul Ricard. Whilst he admits to being a little short of match sharpness as a result, Campbell-Walter believes his extensive experience will be an invaluable asset.
“Ideally I would have liked maybe a bit more notice to get myself ready because ten days isn’t that much and my lifestyle now is such that I live out of a bag,” he said.
“I’m on the road non-stop, I’ve done 63 flights so far this year, which probably isn’t the ideal preparation for doing a 24-hour race! I don’t expect to turn up, jump in and be bang on the pace within a couple of laps, but I’ve driven a lot of GT3 cars and GT cars generally, so hopefully my experience of doing 24 hour races will see me through.”
As for the rest…
Aside from RAM Racing, there are six teams representing as many different manufacturers who head into the Paul Ricard 24 Hours with victory very much in mind.
Scuderia Praha have demonstrated in the Blancpain Endurance Cup that their new Ferrari 488 GT3 can be a force to be reckoned with, but persist with their venerable 458 for the 24 hours. Having been requested by Creventic to sit out the Misano 12 Hours after causing a sizeable accident in Dubai, Matteo Malucelli qualified sixth in the Paul Ricard 1000km and will look to use the Ferrari’s straightline speed on the long Mistral Straight to his advantage. Veteran GT racer Peter Kox, single-seater convert Josef Kral and team owner Jiri Pisarik will provide able assistance.
— Joe Osborne (@osbornejoe) July 14, 2016
Optimum Motorsport really ought to have won at Misano, but encountered gearbox issues with an hour to go that forced the luckless Ryan Ratcliffe onto the sidelines. To add insult to injury, he was then hit at speed by a Porsche which hadn’t spotted the waved yellow flags, causing significant damage to both cars in what Ratcliffe described as the scariest accident of his career. On their return to the 24H Series, Ratcliffe, Joe Osborne and Flick Haigh are joined by Audi factory driver Edward Sandström, who won the Nürburgring 24 Hours with WRT last year.
Whether in Blancpain, GT Masters or even British GT last weekend at Spa, the Grasser Racing’s Lamborghini Huracan is never to be counted out, particularly when Jeroen Bleekemolen is at the wheel. The Dutchman will lead the team for its first of two 24 Hour races in the coming weeks, with Swiss drivers Rolf Iniechen and Adrian Amstuz expected to contribute much of the heavy lifting as a trio.
Aston Martin are also strongly represented by the all-Danish Massive Motorsport team, headlined by WEC driver Nicki Thiim. Former Le Mans winners Casper Elgaard and Kristian Poulsen can each be depended on in 24 Hour situations to keep a cool head, while young gun Nicolai Sylvest has impressed in selected GT Masters outings with Zakspeed this season. Kristian’s brother Roland Poulsen completes the lineup.
— Tom Onslow-Cole (@tomonslowcole) July 14, 2016
The camouflage-liveried SPS Automotive Mercedes can be filed under the ‘dark horses’ column. Tom Onslow-Cole will be hoping for better luck on the French Riviera in his first appearance with the team after hitting various calamities in the opening three races of the season. The Briton will be joined by experienced GT racer Alex Müller, Nürburgring expert Lance David Arnold, Peter’s daughter Stephane Kox and Valentin Pierburg.
The only team entered at Paul Ricard to have won a 24H Series race this season is the Herberth Motorsport Porsche, which cashed in on dramas for RAM to win at Zandvoort. The new-for-2016 991 GT3 R has enjoyed only fleeting success in its first season, although Herberth have won this season in GT Masters at Oschersleben. The Renauer twins Robert and Alfred return with Daniel Allemann and Ralf Bohn.