On July 3, 2011, Chapman Ducote made his debut into European motorsports at the 6 Hours of Imola, the fourth race in the illustrious series of Intercontinental Le Mans Cup races.  And, what a debut it was!  Pitted against a field of seasoned European competition, Ducote rose to the top in his JMB Racing #99 Formula Le Mans (FLM) machine, and claimed his place on the coveted top step of the podium, making this his tenth career Le Mans Series podium.

For the 6 Hours of Imola, Ducote teamed up once again with veteran American Le Mans Series (ALMS) driver, Kyle Marcelli.  After closing out the 2010 ALMS season with their solid P2 finish at Petit Le Mans in Atlanta, Ducote and Marcelli knew they were a strong team and looked forward to the challenge of expanding their racing careers to the European circuit.  With the continued sponsorship of Merchant Services LTD, who sponsored the pair throughout the 2010 ALMS season, Ducote and Marcelli’s dream became a reality as they joined Monaco based team JMB Racing, and French driver, Nicolas Marroc, to add a brand new track to their repertoire – the Autodromo Imola, a long 4.93km track with fast, off-camber curves.

“It’s always difficult to show up and perform on a track that you’ve never tested on, let alone seen,” Ducote said.  “But, after 5 seasons on ALMS tracks, I was ready for the challenge of learning a new one and looked forward to testing my skills against the best Europe has to offer.”

Starting the race from pole position, Marcelli took charge of the field and quickly set the pace, by laying down a new lap record for the track in the FLM category which no one was able to beat throughout the remainder of the race.  Marcelli slipped momentarily into P2 after his initial pit stop, but then quickly re-passed the competition before handing the car over to Ducote in P1.  After a flawless stint battling through the other 48 racecars on track, Ducote handed over the car to Marroc, who also put his head down and worked his way quickly and safely through lap traffic.

With Marroc well into his second hour of driving, and with the tires triple-stinted, the team decided to pull the car into the pits.  Now in P2 by 35 seconds, the team prepared for the final hand-off of the car from Marroc to Marcelli, planning to stop for a driver change and fuel to last until the last 45 minutes when they would need a quick tire change to rubber that would carry them to the end of race.  Quickly calculating their time behind the P1 car, and the stops they had left, Ducote’s veteran instincts kicked in and he sprinted to the pits with an idea for a different race strategy that could catapult them ultimately into P1.  Rather than a driver change during the re-fuel, Ducote suggested a splash and go, which would shave off vital seconds between them and the P1 car.  According to Ducote, the team should wait until the last stop to make the driver change while tires were swapped.  After his quick explanation, the team agreed and they reformulated the race strategy at the last second with Marroc agreeing to remain in the car until the last pit stop.  As the car roared into the pits for the final time, Ducote’s strategy worked and bought the team some valuable time.  However, with ten laps left, the #99 FLM car was still 20 seconds behind the P1 car.  With a quick calculation, the team realized, Marcelli would need to gain on the front running car by 2 seconds every single lap or they would be unable to claim the victory.

The air in the garage was electric, as everyone, the crew, the engineers, Ducote and Marroc, the team owner, the sponsors, stood in rapt attention, huddled shoulder-to-shoulder below the television monitors watching the time of each sector appear on screen as Marcelli devoured the track.  There was nothing left for the crew to do, nothing for the engineers or the team manager, all they could do was watch the clock and wait for Marcelli’s lap times to appear on screen.  His first lap back in the car, Marcelli shaved off 2 seconds from the P1 car’s lead.  The next lap, he snatched back 4 more seconds.  The next, 6 seconds!  In his last stint in the FLM car, not only did Marcelli catch up to the front running car, but he passed it – and claimed P1 for JMB Racing with a 39 second margin!

“I knew I could do it.  I couldn’t wait to get back behind the wheel.  Once I had the front running FLM car in my sights it was all over.  I’ve learned so much through my experience with Intersport Racing in ALMS, and I really felt prepared for this challenge.  It was such a rush to cross the finish line to victory at my first race in Europe, not to mention, what an honor it was to find out I set the fastest FLM lap of the race in the process.”

Contributing their talent behind the wheel as well as their veteran skills in race strategy, Ducote and Marcelli earned their place on the top podium step at their first race in Europe and at a track that neither driver had ever seen before the race weekend began.  Now, the pair has only a few weeks to prepare for their next race together, as they will again join forces at the Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport in Ontario, Canada on July 22-24, 2011.  Mosport is the fastest circuit in the ALMS series with average lap speeds in excess of 130 mph and a top speed of over 200mph for the prototypes.

With his successful debut into European motorsports and already one Intercontinental Le Mans Cup victory under his belt, Ducote is ready for his next foray into the European circuit.  “I really enjoyed working with JMB in Italy,” Ducote said.  “They run a very professional shop, and the car was in great shape.  I look forward to a long relationship with the team in the future.”  Keep an eye out for Ducote and JMB Racing in the coming months, as Ducote has already signed with JMB to race the #99 FLM machine at the 1000km of Silverstone in England on September 11, 2011.