Whilst it would be unfair to label a driver of Franck Perera’s experience as one of the revelations of the Blancpain GT Series season at the Czech ISR Audi team, in many respects it would be true. Anybody who has followed GT racing over the last few years will know that the Frenchman is seriously quick, as an outright pole position with the GT by Almeras Porsche at Silverstone in 2014 will attest. Yet despite winning the ELMS GTC title last year with a TDS BMW Z4, Perera has struggled to get the recognition that his pace merits. That is, until now.
With pole position at Brands Hatch in the Sprint Cup followed by a thrilling battle for the lead with Mirko Bortolotti in the Endurance Cup at Silverstone and the fastest lap at Paul Ricard, Perera has hit the heights many have long known he is capable of, frequently upstaging Audi’s own factory drivers in the process.
That continued at the Nürburgring during the Qualifying Race, where Perera was right in the thick of the four-way battle for the lead and trading laptimes with WRT stablemates Christopher Mies and Rene Rast.
But could the former Toyota F1 test driver be an option for Audi going forward? The man himself smiles as Racing.GT pose the question – there are those who believe that at 32, Perera may have missed the boat – but with the team only in its second year of running GT cars, there is still plenty of potential to unearth.
“I can’t lie that my goal is to be with a factory as soon as I can, like I was in the past with Toyota,” he says. “I think I’ve grown up a lot since then and I’m still improving even though I’m 32 years old.
“I’m in contact with [Audi] because a lot of people are coming to the team to watch, to see, to work. But any big contact for next year I think it’s still early, my goal is just to continue what I’m doing since the beginning of the season, to be competitive in different conditions and to bring the team as high as I can.
“I like the atmosphere in ISR, it’s a very professional team but a family team also, they have not a lot of experience in GT but they are growing up quickly and I’m sure we can have a lot of success together.”
Perera admits he has been slightly bemused by the response to his headline grabbing performances – as long ago as 2006, he finished second to Lewis Hamilton at Monaco in GP2 – but is pleased that at least the right people are taking notice.
“It was funny for me because people were like ‘where has this come from’ and people forget quickly what drivers have done in the past or in the series,” he says. “Without wanting to be arrogant, I was a young driver with a good future for Formula 1 when I was fighting with Hamilton in GP2, Formula 3 and everything, but in life sometimes you are in the right moment or in the wrong moment.
“When I drove the Porsche, I showed that with a small team I could do a pole position at Silverstone, where the Porsche was never in front. It was the same last year with BMW, I had a very good performance in the races especially and won the ELMS title, but I think people didn’t see that so much because it’s not like the Pro Cup. Now with Audi I just started with no experience on the car and I’m always faster than the factory drivers, so I hope my performance will help me to have a really good contract for next year. But I’m not the person who decides!”
Indeed, as Perera well knows, performing well at the Spa 24 Hours will be crucial for keeping his name in the loop when Audi come to assess their options for next year. With the experienced Nicolas Lapierre joining Perera alongside gentlemen drivers Henry Hassid and Philippe Giauque for the year’s biggest points-paying event, ISR have an excellent chance of clawing back ground on Pro-Am championship leaders Kessel Racing.
“The 24 Hours of Spa is very important for my future, everything will happen [at Spa]. It’s a massive race, I like it a lot – I’m really looking forward to Superpole!” he chuckles. “When I’m in the car I will try to be the best, to continue to push and to show that I can be the best in different conditions as well.
“We will have Nicolas to help us who I’ve known for 20 years, he’s a really good guy with big experience for the night stint. I’m sure we can do a strong race and try to get the title in Pro-Am, which would be really good for everybody and for Audi also, because to get more people coming to Pro-Am next year with Audi is important.”