Alain Prost and Dacia lead 2011/2012 Trophee Andros title chase

The setting for the Trophée Andros dropped in altitude this weekend with a visit to Saint-Dié des Vosges, in eastern France. The battle for victory was as thrilling as ever, however, and the big crowd saw Alain Prost pull out a gap over Jean-Philippe Dayraut after beating his title rival in both races. That said, Benjamin Rivière boosted his championship hopes with a strong run in the Vosges Mountains. There is very little in it between these three drivers ahead of next weekend’s last round at Super Besse (Auvergne).

The Trophée Andros regulars were greeted by mild temperatures and non-stop rain. Despite being refrigerated, the Geoparc circuit in Saint-Dié des Vosges featured very little ice and, given the weather conditions, each driver was allocated eight tyres instead of the usual six.

Indeed, the chief difficulty for the Dacia runners was the lack of wintry conditions. “Our car is designed to race on ice, not asphalt,” observed Alain Prost. “Unfortunately, there was practically no ice left after free practice. It’s the same for everyone, I know, but it’s a shame that this winter’s Trophée Andros will be settled on asphalt given how close it has turned out to be.”

Alain Prost, Evens Stievenart and Nicolas Prost preferred not to take any risks during free practice in order to save their tyres as much as possible. However, Nicolas Prost and Evens Stievenart lifted a little too much during the first qualifying run, while Alain was halted by transmission trouble after his first flying lap.

It wasn’t the ideal start to Race 1, but the three drivers succeeded in bouncing back in Q2. Despite carrying 40kg of ballast, Alain Prost notched up the fifth-best time, with Evens and Nicolas following in eighth and 12th places respectively, which is how the Race 1 finales ended for the Dacia trio. Sixth place in the final standings enabled Alain Prost to pull out a small gap over his main rival for the title, Jean-Philippe Dayraut. “It didn’t end too badly because it’s never good to start with a technical problem, although it’s the first time that has happened to us this season. True, Benjamin Rivière picked up a lot of points, but it was important to finish ahead of Jean-Philippe.”

The action continued with Race 2 on Saturday evening, and the challenge was once again to be as competitive as possible through the puddles which were all that remained of the ice. Both qualifying sessions were fiercely fought affairs and the win only escaped the Dacia Lodgy Glaces by a few hundredths of a second. Evens Stievenart was third, Alain Prost fifth, and his son Nicolas eighth.

Nicolas survived his finale unscathed, but the bill-topping clash in which Alain and Evens starred was much more aggressive, and the Dacia drivers’ rivals didn’t hesitate to indulge in a little door to door contact. The contest ultimately produced the season’s eighth different winner, while Alain Prost completed Race 2 in fourth spot, followed by Evens Stievenart (7th) and Nicolas Prost (8th).

Although Alain Prost arrived in St-Dié equal on points with Jean-Philippe Dayraut, he will go into the last round level at the top of the table with Benjamin Rivière. That promises a breath-taking end to the series, although each driver’s two ’least good’ results will be subtracted from their final scores, a rule which, on paper, isn’t favourable to the chances of Alain Prost and Team Dacia.

Alain Prost: “It’s great to be in with a chance for the title at Super Besse, even though the scoring system promises to make it difficult for me. We will do all we can to win but it’s a shame that the championship will be settled on this type of circuit. I am a little disappointed by the way today’s finale unfolded because the behaviour of our rivals was over the top. You’ve got to salute Benjamin Rivière’s performance this weekend, though. He’s got a strong car and he’s a good driver. So ‘bravo’ to him! Super Besse will be complex. We will just try to win and see how the points work out afterwards. It’s good for the spectators that the decision has gone down to the wire.”

Evens Stievenart: “The conditions weren’t much fun, even though the first race didn’t go too badly for me given that I was carrying 60kg of ballast. We were competitive for Race 2, but a few mistakes, especially during the finale, cost me a podium finish. Alain’s fate is no longer in his hands, so it will be necessary to win at Super Besse and hope that our opponents have a poor weekend. Nicolas and I will consequently have a key role to play. A one-two-three finish would be ideal and give us a good chance of clinching the title.”

Nicolas Prost: “It wasn’t an ice race. It was all asphalt, so managing our studs wasn’t easy. I ended both races inside the top 10 and I was able to match the pace of the front-runners. That’s a positive to take away from the weekend. Now, we just need to score a strong result at Super Besse. The level of the championship is very high and it’s been close all season. The best way to help my dad is to keep working together as we have done all year. It’s going to be very close…”

St Dié des Vosges (Race 1) – final positions: 1, Bertrand Balas (Mini Countryman). 2, Franck Lagorce (Skoda Fabia). 3, Benjamin Rivière (Skoda Fabia). 4, Didier Thoral (Toyota Auris). 5, Olivier Panis (Skoda Fabia). 6, Alain Prost (Dacia Lodgy Glace). 7, Jean-Philippe Dayraut (Mini Countryman). 8, Nicolas Prost (Dacia Lodgy Glace). 9, Jean-Baptiste Dubourg (Renault Clio). 10, Evens Stievenart (Dacia Lodgy Glace). Etc.

St Dié des Vosges (Race 2) – final positions: 1, Franck Lagorce (Skoda Fabia). 2, Benjamin Rivière (Skoda Fabia). 3, Bertrand Balas (Mini Countryman). 4, Alain Prost (Dacia Lodgy Glace). 5, Jean-Philippe Dayraut (Mini Countryman). 6, Jean-Baptiste Dubourg (Renault Clio). 7, Evens Stievenart (Dacia Lodgy Glace). 8, Nicolas Prost (Dacia Lodgy Glace). 9, Olivier Panis (Skoda Fabia). 10, Paul Belmondo (Skoda Fabia). Etc.

2011/2012 Trophée Andros – provisional standings: 1, Alain Prost (Dacia Lodgy Glace) and Benjamin Rivière (Skoda Fabia), 813 points. 3, Jean-Philippe Dayraut (Mini Countryman), 808. 4, Olivier Panis (Skoda Fabia), 784. 5, Franck Lagorce (Skoda Fabia), 762. 6, Evens Stievenart (Dacia Lodgy Glace), 754. 7, Jean-Baptiste Dubourg (Renault Clio), 751. 8, Pierre Llorach (Renault Clio III), 746. 9, Bertrand Balas (Mini Countryman), 739. 10, Nicolas Prost (Dacia Lodgy Glace), 707. Etc.