The no21 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson took the first victory of the 2019 European Le Mans Series at Le Castellet with Ben Hanley crossing the finish line ahead of the nearest rival, the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Loup Chatin. It was the first win for the no21 DragonSpeed, and Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley, since Spa in 2016
The LMP3 victory went to the no17 Ultimate Norma of Matthieu Lahaye, a debut ELMS win for the all French team of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and François Heriau. The Ultimate Norma finished ahead of the no11 Eurointernational Ligier of Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen.
The LMGTE victory went to the no51 Luzich Racing Ferrari with reigning FIA World Endurance GTE Champion Alessandro Pier Guidi taking the chequered flag for a debut win for the Swiss team with Fabien Lavergne and Nicklas Nielsen.
In second was the no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari with Michelle Gatting crossing the finish line for a debut podium for the all female driver crew alongside Rahel Frey and Manuela Gostner.
Four Hours of Uninterrupted Racing Action
The 4 Hours of Le Castellet started with the sun in the sky and the large 41 car field ready to give the large crowd a great afternoon of racing. The no27 IDEC Sport Oreca had to start from the pitlane after missing qualifying with a gearbox issue and they were joined at the end of the pitlane by the no34 Inter Europol Competition Ligier, which slowed on the formation lap.
Roman Rusinov led in the no26 G-Drive Racing Aurus into the first corner, with the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Lafargue and the no21 Dragonspeed Oreca of James Allen snapping at the rear wing of his car. The Russian driver led for the first nine laps of the race before Allen went around the G-Drive Aurus on the outside of the penultimate corner to take the lead after passing Lafargue into Signes corner three laps earlier.
The no11 Eurointernational Ligier of Mikkel Jensen went from 5th on the LMP3 grid into the lead by the end of the opening lap, ahead of the no19 M Racing Norma of Lucas Legeret and the no17 Ultimate Norma of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye. Lahaye lost two place on lap two with David Droux slotting in behind the two leading cars in the no9 Realteam Racing Norma.
By lap 5 the top five LMP3 cars were split by less than four seconds before Jensen managed to pull out a small gap to the battling pack behind him.
In LMGTE the no51 Luzich Racing Ferrari of Fabien Lavergne got ahead of the pole sitting no77 Dempsey-Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Ried on the opening lap and the French driver then started to open a gap to the chasing pack or Ried, Edigio Perfetti in the Project 1 Porsche, the no88 Proton Competition Porsche of Horst Felbermayr, the no66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Wei Lu and the no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Manuela Gostner.
Perfetti passed Ried for second place but by this time Lavergne had opened up a five second gap and was pulling away. Fabien Lavergne had a scare when the Ferrari was clipped by the no32 United Autosports Ligier which was lapping the French driver. There was minor body damage and the door mirror was hanging down. But this didn’t seem to slow Lavergne as he continued to lead the category.
Back at the front the no21 Dragonspeed Oreca continued to lead and by lap15 Allen was nearly 20 seconds ahead. The no25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca of reigning ELMS Champion Andrea Pizzitola, which had started the race in 12th place, was up to second, with a two second gap to the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Lafargue. Rusinov had dropped back to 5th place, behind the no30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca of Pierre Ragues, the French driver on a charge up the field. Ragues moved ahead of Lafargue and then Pizzitola and by lap 19 he was second but 24 seconds behind Allen’s Dragonspeed Oreca-Gibson.
While Jensen continued to lead the LMP3 class, the no9 Realteam Racing Norma of David Droux closed to within two seconds but the Dane was able to hold the lead from the Swiss driver.
In LMGTE the no66 Ferrari and no77 Porsche were side by side into Signes, battling for third, but there was contact. Both cars ran wide but managed to stay out of the barriers and stay in contention.
After the first stops Henrik Hedman took over in the no21 Dragonspeed but after the pitstops the gap had shrunk to three seconds, with Pierre Ragues, who had stayed in the no30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca at the stop closing and passing the Swedish driver. Roman Rusinov, who had handed the no26 G-Drive Racing Aurus to Job Van Uitert, said that he had been losing grip in the front tyres during his stint, with the team changing the front left tyre at the pitstop.
Pierre Ragues started to pull out a 20 second gap to Paul Lafargue in the no28 IDEC Sport, with Hedman falling back to 6th. The Swede handed the car back to James Allen on the next pitstop after completing the mandatory minimum driving time.
Mikkel Jensen continued to lead the LMP3 category after the first stop with David Droux in second and the no10 Oregon Team Norma back up to third in the hands of Damiano Fioravanti . Droux and Fioravanti battled for several laps, swapping places a couple of times but ultimately allowing Jensen to open up a ten second gap at the front of the LMP3 field.
Fioravanti’s race suffered a blow when the no39 Graff Oreca cut across his Norma to enter the pitlane, causing the Italian to spin and lose time. The Graff Oreca was served a drive through penalty for crossing the pit entry white line as a result of the incident. The Graff team suffered a further blow when the rear bodywork had to be replaced when the rear light was not working, dropping the French team out of contention for the podium.
The no51 Ferrari was nearly a minute ahead of the LMGTE field as the two hour mark approached with the no77 Porsche, no66 Ferrari, no83 Ferrari of Rahel Frey and no80 Porsche of Fabio Babini all in contention for the other podium position. Frey was passed by Babini’s Porsche, dropping her to 5th, just as the leading no51 Ferrari was instructed to repair the damage incurred in the earlier incident at the next pitstop.
Fabien Lavergne handed the no51 Luzich Racing Ferrari over to Nicklas Nielsen, with the team working quickly to repair the bodywork damage. After the pitstops Rahel Frey was up to second in the no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari after passing Christian Ried’s no77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche.
Frey had a scare when she clipped the no8 Nielsen Racing Ligier of Nobuya Yamanaka into a spin. The Ferrari was only slightly damaged but the Swiss driver was reported to the stewards. However a black and white warning flag was the only penalty as Frey pitted to hand the car over to Michelle Gatting to compete the race.
With just over an hour of the race remaining the battle for the LMP2 victory was just as hot with Nicolas Jamin in the no30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca leading the race but with Ben Hanley closing in the no21 Dragonspeed. Jamin had to stop for fuel, putting Hanley’s Dragonspeed Oreca back in the lead with a 47 second gap to the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Loup Chatin, with Norman Nato in the no26 G-Drive Aurus and Richard Bradley in the no30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca right behind.
Hanley was able to hold the lead position until the chequered flag while Bradley passed the Nato in the final 20 minutes to take the final podium position behind Paul Loup Chatin, who finished second 16 seconds behind Hanley’s Dragonspeed Oreca.
The no11 Eurointernational Ligier, with reigning Michelin Le Mans Cup Champion Jens Petersen was being caught by the rapid Matthieu Lahaye in the no17 Ultimate Norma-Nissan. The German driver was unable to keep the more experienced Frenchman at bay for long and Lahaye swept into the LMP3 lead to take his, and his teams, debut ELMS class victory. Petersen finished just ahead of Nigel Moore in the no13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier.
Alessandro Pier Guidi completed a perfect afternoon for Luzich Racing, bringing home the no51 Ferrari one lap ahead of the no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Michelle Gatting, the first podium for an all female crew in ELMS history and 12 seconds ahead of the no77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche.
The next round of the 2019 European Le Mans Series will be the 4 Hours of Monza on Sunday 12 May.
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