As usual the first chicane proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for a couple of the LMP2 frontrunners with the Algarve Pro Oreca of Richard Bradley spinning after a hit at the rear after Henrik Hedman’s Dragonspeed car was swiped by the Racing Team Turkey car and was left unable to avoid the subsequent incident. Both cars resumed their races with a minimum of damage but with a lot of time lost.
Up front and away from the drama, Roman Rusinov held the lead from pole-position, the Russian dead set oo holding off United’s Phil Hanson and WRT’s Yifei Ye as long as possible, whilst in LMP2 Pro-Am Giedo van der Garde made one of his trademark rocket starts to catapult the Racing Team Netherlands car to fourth overall and into the class lead.
By lap 9 the leaders caught traffic for the first time but Rusinov showed both his speed and experience to keep out of the clutches of the chasing pack. That pack now also included Van der Garde who was starting to pressure the WRT car in third.
The relentless pace up front meant that the lead group of four cars quickly broke away from the field. Only Patrick Pilet in the IDEC Oreca was able to bridge the gap a far better start for the #28 than for the sister car as Dwight Merriman suffered multiple issues and fell off the lead lap.
G-Drive Racing has enjoyed great success at Monza and as Roman Rusinov’s opening stint wore on, it became appearant why. The Russian was never able to create a gap to Phil Hanson but the reigning ELMS, FIA WEC and Le Mans champion rarely looked poised to take the lead.
A surprisingly clean opening phase came to an end with the first penalty of the day a blow for one of the top teams in the LMP2 Pro-Am class as Salih Yoluc was given a stop and go penalty for a robust defensive move on John Falb.
It took Phil Hanson almost the entire first stint but the Briton eventually found a way past Rusinov who, having lost momentum, immediately had to concede second to the WRT team as the LMP2 field was gearing up for the first stops.
It was at this time a spun GTE car brought out the safety car and it was United that brought in Hanson just before neutralisation was called, handing WRT the lead but potentially ensuring United’s track position. Behind the United car only Panis Racing, Realteam Racing, BHK Racing and the second G-Drive Aurus 01 were able to dive into the pits before the Safety Car was scrambled and the pits closed. WRT followed suit the next lap around but for emergency service.
It meant Roman Rusinov was now back up front with Van der Garde and Sean Galeal in the Jota Sport entry as the only ones staying out meaning they would fall outside the top ten following their first stops
The Safety Car came in just shy of the one hour mark and as the teams prepared to restart the race, Roman Rusinov’s extended stint proved too long and his fuel tank too empty. As the green flag waved and the field passed by at speed it was without a leader as Van der Garde and Galeal also came in. The real drama though came from Rusinov who eventually made it to the pitlane but only courtesy of a long push from the sister #24 Algarve Pro car! The G-Drive team would incur a ten second stop and go penalty. This, together with the lost time on track, ensured the #26 would go a lap down.
This reset the race with Phil Hanson now firmly in the lead ahead of Julien Canal in the Panis car and Sergio Campana an incredible third in BHK’s home race (though they would later get a 60nsecond stop and hold for pitting and servicing whilst the pits were closed). Esteban Garcia followed in fourth, having taken the Pro-Am lead in the Realteam Racing car.
Midway through the second hour the race was again interrupted after an incident at Ascari, bringing in most of the field, including Phil Hanson who handed over to Jonathan Aberdein.
After normality had resumed it became clear that Panis Racing had jumped United Autosports in the stops, and James Allen, fresh in the car now became the third leader of the race and maintained a gap of about three seconds.
That lead grew to fifteen seconds courtesy of another well timed pit stop while the race was held under Full Course Yellow conditions. There was change about in the Pro-Am class as well with Antonin Borga taking the lead for Cool Racing just before the half-way mark.
It was at this moment that Team WRT’s Robbert Kubica made an immediate mark by passing Galael for fourth overall, the Belgian championship leaders seemingly on the back foot after electing not to pit during the first safetycar but quite clearly playing the long game.
The car then moved up to third courtesy of a slow stop for the BHK car, the Italian team seeing a potential podium evaporate in the Lombardian sun on the penultimate planned visit to the pitlane.
In the battle for Pro-Am honours Cool Racing was now firmly in control with teamboss Nico Lapierre taking the place of Antonin Borga and nursing a twenty-second lead over Ultimate Racing’s Matthieu Lahaye.
Overall Panis Racing led into the final hour but Will Stevens was being hunted down by Tom Gamble with United’s silver driver cutting down a twelve second lead to just a handful of seconds.
United Autosports was the first to make the final stop but right after Tom Gamble took the #2 car out again an incident in the LMP3 class brought out a Full Course Yellow and saw Gamble run off track in avoidance. Panis Racing got the chance to pit partially under yellow and re-establish a useful lead over the United car while Jaazeman Jafaar in the Jota car jumped the Team WRT car. Some robust driving earned both the Malaysian and Deletraz black and white warning flags and the team had to settle for fourth.
In LMP2 Pro Am yet another team managed to use strategy to hit the front with G-Drive Racing’s #25 car working its way forward to lead the Racing Team Turkey car home. John Falb, Roberto Mehri and Diego Menchaca earning their second victory of the season to strengthen their championship lead.
The final podium place would go to the #29 Ultimate Oreca, Matthieu Lahaye chasing down other contenders to claim third alongside his brother Jean Baptiste and Francois Heriau.
In the fight for the overall win Tom Gamble did all he could to hunt down Will Stevens but just came up short as Stevens pulled out all the stops to stay ahead. The Panis car had a margin of just three seconds but it was enough for the team and its drivers Will Stevens, James Allen and Julien Canal to take their first victory of the season and the first ever in the ELMS from the Tech 1 operated squad of Simon and Sarah Abadie, plus team co-owner Olivier Panis, the team performing faultlessly with long-serving driver Will Stevens coming home to secure the win together with Julien Canal and James Allen.
The #4 DKR Engineering Duqueine Engineering D08 Nissan driven by Laurents Horr and Mathieu de Barbuat continued the run started at Le Castellet last time out, a second consecutive win for the team and for Horr, this time with an exciting – and very new team-mate.
After the green flag was waved, Martin Hippe in the #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier JSP320 took the lead ahead of Wayne Boyd in the #2 United Autosports Ligier JSP320 Nissan and Mathieu de Barbuat in #4 DKR Engineering Duqueine M30 D08 Nissan.
That order changed when the #13 and the #2 swapped position right at the restart of the first safety car episode. It was soon to be followed by a first round of pit stops for most contenders and a first FCY episode where the #2, the #19 Cool Racing Ligier JSP320 Nissan, the #4 and the #7 Nielsen Racing Ligier JSP320 Nissan decided to take their long pitstop early on. This allowed the #13 to stay in the lead or within reasonable distance from it for a good part of the second hour of racing.
At the top of the third hour, the #4 now driven by Laurents Horr got closer to the #13. Meanwhile, the #19 and the #2 re-joined the list of potential contenders for the win as the multiple Full Course Yellow and Safety Car episodes evened out pit stop strategies. Right before the start of the race’s third hour, Horr eventually took the lead. The #13 took it back occasionally when timing of pit stops allowed but as the race drew toward its end, it became clear that the victory would either land in the hands of the #4 or the #2 drivers.
In the final hour of the race, the gap between the two cars came down dramatically from nearly a full minute to less than 30 seconds. It was the result of the combination of the #4 losing time while avoiding the #6 Nielsen Racing Ligier JSP320 at Turn 6 and Wayne Boyd showing impressive speed in the #2.
In the end, the #4 DKR Engineering Duqueine M30 took the win. Wayne Boyd, Rob Wheldon and Edouard Cahaupe in the #2 United Autosport Ligier JSP320 Nissan took second place while the fight for the last spot on the podium lasted until the checkered flag with Ugo de Wilde in the #13 overtaking Niklas Kruetten in the #19 in the ultimate lap of the race.
GTE saw a battle royal amongst the Ferraris that ended with a straight-up fight between David Perel in the #55 Spirit of race 488 GT3 and the chasing #80 Iron Lynx car of Ferrari factory man Miguel Molina.
The South African shows space and poise as he saw off a very spirited challenge from the Spaniard, the nose to tail battle lasting the better part of the full final stint with Perel bringing it home for a an emotional win alongside Duncan Cameron and late substitute Alessandro Pier Guidi, the Italian racer wearing Matt Griffin’s race suit for the weekend, Cameron dedicating the win that puts the team into real title contention, to Matt and his father who passed away earlier this week.
The race was intense from start to finish the #88 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO driven by François Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Alessio Rovera would eventually grab the final spot on the podium.
When the green flag was waved, Perrodo led a few laps in the #88 AF CORSE Ferrari 488 GTE EVO before going wide at Turn 5 on lap 10, losing the lead to Rino Mastronardi in the #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari 488 GTE EVO. That fight between the two cars lasted most of the first half of the race until driver changes occurred. Right after mid-race though, competition became even more intense as the #55 Spirit Of Race Ferrari 488 GTE Evo driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi joined the race for the lead. The Italian driver pushed hard and was even warned by race control for not respecting track limits (black and white flag at L83). The #55 eventually took the lead before the end of the third hour of the race and kept until the the end with only nine seconds separating the top three leading cars on the finish line.Panis Racing Take First ELMS Race Win first appeared on dailysportscar.com.