Friday, 19 April 2019

FIAWEC: Stoffel Vandoorne to race with SMP Racing at Spa and Le Mans

SMP Racing has announced Stoffel Vandoorne as their third driver in the #11 BR1 prototype for the upcoming 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Stoffel Vandoorne will replace Brendon Hartley, who was initially announced for Spa, and Jenson Button, who was believed to be back in the BR1 at Le Mans.  He will join Mikhail Aleshin and Vitalky Petrov in the #11 BR1.  Rumours are going round about Hartley getting a drive at Toyota next year if Alonso leaves the team, at Le Mans he is already tied to RLR Msport in the LMP2 class.  Hartley agreed to give way to Vandoorne in order to let him and the team be better prepared for the 24 hours race in June.   

The talented Belgian driver won the GP2 title in 2015 before racing with McLaren in Formula for 2 seasons from 2017 to 2018 besides Fernando Alonso. Vandoorne now races in the Formula E championship with HWA Racelab and is one of the simulator drivers for the Mercedes FA team, scoring his and the teams' first pole position in the series in Hong Kong and his first podium in Rome last weekend.

Stoffel Vandoorne said: “I am very pleased to join SMP Racing and drive the BR1 №11 prototype in my home race in Spa-Francorchamps and in the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. The LMP1 cars are really demanding and their performances are very close to Formula 1. I will have the opportunity to re-join ART Grand Prix and a lot of people that I’ve been working with during my succesful campaign in GP2. Also, it´s great to work alongside such experienced drivers as Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. My objective is to contribute to the Team’s performance and work in collaboration with all drivers to develop the BR1 prototype and to make a good impression.”

SMP Racing driver Vitaly Petrov said: “I understand the decision of Jenson and I wish him and his family all the best. Our SMP Racing Team now needs a driver who will be able to successfully drive in the final two rounds of the FIA WEC and I'm happy that Stoffel has joined us. The race in Spa-Francorchamps will help him to get used to the championship and to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I hope he will adapt quickly and we will support him along the way”

SMP Racing driver Mikhail Aleshin also commented: “I welcome Stoffel to our team. He is a professional of the highest class and has a good experience, including in Formula 1, where he drove for the McLaren Team. It is great that Stoffel will spend with us several races. We thank Brendon who helped our team to finish on the podium at Sebring. Brendon drove perfectly and his input into the work on the BR1 was very valuable”

There are more changes due in the entry list for the upcoming 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.  More about that in an upcoming article next week. 

Kristof Vermeulen. 

Thursday, 18 April 2019

ELMS: Dragonspeed wins 4 Hours of Le Castellet

The opening race of the 2019 European Le Mans Series gave us 4 hours of uninterrupted racing under sunny French skies and more than a few interesting battles over all three classes.  Dragonspeed scored their first overall win since Spa 2016 in the LMP2 class, while Ultimate scored their first ever win in the LMP3 class.  In LMGTE it were the series debutants who took the top 2 spots of the podium with the Luzich Racing Ferrari on top, followed by the all female Kessel Racing Ferrari.

Roman Rusinov started from pole in the #26 Aurus G-Drive with Paul Lafargue in the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca and James Allen in the #21 G-Drive close behind him.  Allen had a flying start and went on from fifth to third in the first round before taking over the lead from Rusinov in lap 10.  It took Allen only 5 laps to ease away from the competition, building his lead already up to 20 seconds in lap 15. 

Rusinov dropped back to fifth place in his first stint, while Andrea Pizzitola stormed through the field from P12 to P2 in his #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca 07.  Behind him, Paul Lafargue held on to third place, followed by another Oreca, the #30 Duqueine Engineering of Pierre Ragues.  Ragues moved ahead of Lafargue and Pizzitola and after nearly 20 laps into the race, he got into second place, although 24 seconds behind Allen in the leading Dragonspeed. 

Henrik Hedman took over the leading car in the first round of pitstops but saw his lead over Ragues, who stayed in the car, dropping down quickly before Ragues took over the lead.  Hedman was up against some of the quickest drivers of the field, dropped back a bit in the order but managed to hold on to sixth place before handing the car back over to James Allen at the second stop. Meanwhile Job Van Uitert was in the G-Drive Aurus, making up lost time caused by a tyre problem Rusinov had in his first stint.

After the third round of pitstops, all was still to play for in the LMP2 class. Nicolas Jamin still lead the pack in the #30 Duqueine but had Ben Hanley now behind him in the Dragonspeed, who was in a different pitstop strategy.  When Jamin had to stop for fuel, Hanley got in the lead with a margin of 46 seconds on the #28 IDEC Sport of Paul Loup Chatin with Norma Nato in the G-Drive right on his tail. 

Hanley held on to the lead and scored the team’s first victory since Spa 2016. Chatin crossed the line in second place 16 seconds later with a comfortable margin over Richard Bradley in the Duqueine Engineering who went past Nato in the closing stages of the race.  Behind the leading pack, the #22 United Autosports Ligier was the first non-Oreca at the finish in sixth place, one lap down from Hanley & co. 

French team Ultimate scored their first victory in the series with their #17 Norma M30 LMP3 after 4 years thanks to a late race challenge over the #11 Eurointernational.  Mikkel Jensen went on from fifth on the grid to first in the opening lap, holding off Lucas Legeret in the #19 M.Racing Norma and Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in the #17 Ultimate. David Droux in the #9 Realteam Norma also had a strong opening stint, moving up to second place tailgating Jensen in the Eurointernational Ligier, but unable to take over the lead. 

The top 2 remained the same after the first round of stops with Jensen still in front of Droux.  Damiano Fiorivanti who had been quick all week and set Saturday’s pole time now was in the #10 Oregon Norma and up to third place right behind Droux.  The two battled for several laps until Fiorivanti was cut off by the #39 Oreca who went into pitlane and sent the Italian into a spin. Luckily without any damage, but Fiorivanti lost precious time to the leading 2 cars. 

Jens Petersen took over the #11 Eurointernational but was chased by the more experienced Matthieu Lahaye in the #17 Ultimate Norma who quietly got up into the order after the second round of stops. Lahaye quickly caught up with Peterson, passed him and never looked back.  By the end of the race the French team had a gap of 1 lap over the rest of the field. Petersen managed to hold on to second place and a well deserved podium finish, despite being under pressure from Nigel Moore in the #13 Inter Europol Ligier who drove an impressive final stint from sixth to second.   The #10 Oregon and #7 Nielsen Racing Norma’s completed the top 5 of an exciting race in the LMP3 class.  

In LMGTE it was ELMS debutants Luzich Racing who took the honours after dominating the race from start to finish. Fabien Lavergne got into the lead in the opening lap, passing the #77 Dempsey-Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Ried. The Frenchman stormed away from the rest of the field giving himself a comfortable lead. Behind him, Egidio Perfetti in the #56 Team Project 1 passed Ried and Felbermayr in the second Proton Porsche up to second place. By the end of the first stint, Wei Lu got up to the front in the #66 JMW Ferrari in third position. 

By the end of the second stint, Lavergne had a gap of about a minute when he handed over the #51 Ferrari to Nicklas Nielsen. The second round of pitstop shook up the order quite significantly, with Rahel Frey now in second place in the #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari after passing Christian Ried in the #77 Porsche. Frey had a scare when she clipped the #8 Nielsen LMP3 into a spin but got away with a warning flag before she turned the car over to Michelle Gatting. 

© ELMS/ Jakob Ebrey-JEP

Alessandro Pier Guidi ran the final sting in the #51 Luzich Ferrari, bringing the car home with a one lap lead over Michelle Gatting in the #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari. 12 seconds behind her, Matteo Cairoli finished third in the #77 Dempsey-Proton after a late pass over the #66 JMW Ferrari. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari completed the top 5. 

The second round of the 2019 European Le Mans Series is scheduled for Sunday May 12th at  the Italian temple of speed in Monza. 

 Kristof Vermeulen.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

MLMC: Lanan Racing wins incidentful opening race of the season

The Michelin Le Mans Cup season kicked off last Saturday in a grand style, filled with scrappy but great battles, incidents, safety cars, full course yellows and a raft of penalties applied!

In a race that was dominated by the speed of the Norma M30’s Duncan Tappy and Mike Benham in the #25 Lanan Racing Norma took the chequered flag for the win winners, the British duo keeping out of trouble after a penalty for the #3 DKR Norma pushed them into the lead late in the race. With the Lanan car on the top step the next seven places all went to the Norma M30 chassis, the first Ligier being the #24 United Autosports car of Boyd and Husain in ninth place.

Second on track was the #9 GRAFF Norma, however a 35 second post-race penalty for not reducing its speed to 80kph under FCY dropped them to fifth overall. The car was in contention throughout and led the race in the second half, before Tappy made a bold move up the inside past Eric Trouillet into Signes corner for second place. The #39 sister car which originally finished fourth received the same penalty dropping it to sixth overall. The two Graff penalties pushed the #3 DKR Engineering Norma of Kirmann and Horr to an eventual second place.

Fifth on the road was the #2 Nielsen Racing Norma of Tony Wells and Colin Noble 12 seconds behind the leader. Despite taking advantage of the two safety car periods Noble was unable claim a podium on a race result only but posthumously got to taste the champagne for third following the Graff penalties.

The first safety car period came after John Schauerman lost control of the #4 Cool Racing Ligier at the final corner, which sent him flying backwards into the inside armco hard. The second SC period came shortly after the race restarted, following contact between the #5 DKR Norma and #12 Eurointernational Ligier of Jean-Marc Littman at the same corner, ending Littman’s race and earning the DKR car a penalty. Penalties were handed out across the board for all sorts of infractions, including a 12 cars that had to head to the pits for two-minute stop and go for passing through a red light in pit lane resulting in a massive shake-up of the final positions. Finally, a Full Course Yellow (FCY) was thrown due to the RLR Msport Ligier of Tom Olsen hitting the barriers at the exit of Signes hard ending the team’s race.  

In the GT3 class the #8 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 of Sergio Pianezzola and Giacomo Piccini won with an enormous lead after the Luzich Racing Ferrari was one of the cars handed a two-minute penalty for jumping the pitlane red light. However, the #8 were handed a penalty for a drive time infringement in the final minutes but their lead was so big that even after serving it, they finished over a minute ahead.

The #54 SPS Automotive Mercedes crossed the line second, benefitting from the penalties and various dramas in the class, ahead of the Luzich car which salvaged third. Two cars had late-race issues, the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari, which suffered a puncture and eventually fell to seventh and the #7 Scuderia Villorba Corse Mercedes which lost a wheel in the closing laps and retired from fifth.  The Krypton Mercedes also promised a strong result but an early collision with the BHK Ligier damaged its front-end terminally meaning #83 SVC Lamborghini finished fourth and the #99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage took fifth.

John Stevens