Tuesday, 17 May 2016

European Le Mans Series - 4 Hours of Imola race recap

Sunny weather at the start of the second round in the 2016 European Le Mans Series in Imola past Sunday. Dark clouds filled with rain were expected by the end of the race, but they might pass by without losing a drop ... at least that's what the weatherforecast looked like. After two pretty eventful practice sessions and a nailbiting qualifying on Saturday afternoon, expectations were high for the race on Italian soil.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
In LMP2, Dragonspeed started from pole after a thrilling qualifying session with the top four within 44 thousands of a second. Nicolas Lapierre put in the fastest lap, ahead of Mathias Beche in #46 TDS Racing Oreca 05. Paul Loup Chatin qualified third in the #23 Panis-Barthez Competition Ligier, which was fastest in both practice sessions.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
Lapierre took the start on Sunday and managed to keep his first place, slightly driving away from the competition. Behind the Dragonspeed Oreca, Chatin got into second after passing the Thiriet Oreca. The battle for fourth was fierce between Simon Dolan in the #38 G-Drive Racing Oreca03, Bjorn Windheim in the #40 Krohn Ligier and Gommendy in the #33 Eurasia Oreca05. Meanwhile the #41 Greaves Ligier of Memo Rojas lost was out of the running for the podium after a puncture due to a contact with the #48 Murphy Oreca03. Rojas rejoined at the back of the field, but was out of contention for the podium.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
During the first pitstops, Lapierre handed the car over the Hedman. Both chasing cars didn't do any driver change, allowing them to get out again before the Dragonspeed Oreca. Chatin got to the lead in the #23 Ligier, Thiriet following close until the second round of pitstops. Fabien Barthez now took over the #23, but wasn't able to hold off Ryo Hirakawa in the #46.

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2 Full course yellows were deployed when an LMP3 car spun or got off the road and ended into the gravel trap. Both times, Hirakawa eased away and built up a comfortable lead before handing over the car to Mathias Beche for the final stint. Now it was the Gibson #38 of Simon Dolan, Harry Tincknell and Giedo van der Garde who was up to second. Tincknell took over from Dolan in sixth position, quickly got up into the order but was ultimately stopped by the saftey car. Behind him, polesitters Dragonspeed were still locked in third.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
With just over an hour to go, dark clouds gathered over the track. Moments later the rain started to fall down, initially only on some parts of the track, but pretty soon the whole circuit was wet. Several cars struggled with the conditions, spinning off. One of them was Mathias Beche in the leading Thiriet Oreca, luckily for him, he managed to recover without losing the lead. After a while, the full course yellow went over into a safety car period, which went all the way untill the chequered flag.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
Thiriet by TDS took its first victory of the season, ahead of the G-Drive Racing Team in the #38 Gibson and the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca 05. SMP Racing, Eurasia Motorsport and Krohn Racing rounded out the top 6.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
Second race in the LMP3 class, second win for the United Autosports #2 of Alex Brundle, Mike Guash and Christian England. The #3 United Autosports sister car started from pole ahead of the #11 Eurointernational Ligier and the #2. Right at the start, Brundle got ahead of the #11 and settled into second place. Behind them Roman Rusinov, reigning LMP2 champion with G-Drive Racing made his first appearance in LMP3 and seemed to enjoy himself in the #12 Eurointernational Ligier.
© ELMS - Adrenal Media
He was quickly into third and took the lead during the first pitstops when both United Autosport Ligiers came in and changed drivers. Mike Patterson, who took over the #3 lost time after a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane, losing contact with the top 3. Both Eurointernational cars were leading the race now, Rusinov building up comfortable lead. Behind him, Mike Guash was closing in on the #12. After the next round of pitstops – due to 3 full course yellows, strategy started playing its role in the race – the #16 Panis Barthez competition took the lead. Guash was still second, but took over the lead when the leading car came in for his third stop.
© ELMS - Adrenal Media
A few laps later, the race was neutralised with the full course yellow and safety car, freezing all positions. United Autosports took its second win in a row, ahead of the #12 Eurointernational and the #19 Duqueine Engineering.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
Proton Competition was impressive during the race in the GTE class, bouncing back from a disappointing race in Silverstone last month. Starting from pole the Porsche 911 RSR driven by Robert Renauer, Wolf Henzler and Mike Hedlund drove the perfect, faultless race in Italy. Eventually finishing an impressive 13th overall, ahead of all the LMP3 cars.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
The yellow #66 Ferrari of JMW Motorsport took second place, although it seemed to have the speed to compete for the win. The full course yellow and safety car at the end decided differently. Completing the podium is the #56 AT Racing Ferrari. Silverstone winners Beachdean Aston Martin took fifth place, just enough to keep the lead in the championship ahead of AT Racing.

No #60 Formula Racing Ferrari at the start of the race. Christina Nielsen went hard into the barriers in the second practice session, causing a withdrawal of the car.

© ELMS - Adrenal Media
Questions have been asked if it was the right call to keep the safety car out until the chequered flag dropped. Looking at the state of the track at a certain point, yes. But – on a personal note – I'd rather see the cars race to the flag instead of finishing a race behind the safety car. With a big grid of 40+ cars and in LMP3 still a lot of drivers who aren't used to prototype racing, lacking experience of driving inbetween faster LMP2 cars, this probably was the best decision. Looking at the full course yellows this race, all of them came after a situation with an LMP3 car. In a few weeks the Le Mans frenzy starts with a lot of ELMS teams driving. It would be a shame to see an LMP2 or GTE contender miss the race after an accident in a 45' or 30' shootout in wet and tricky conditions.

The next race in the European Le Mans Series is the 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring in Austria, mid July.

Kristof Vermeulen.



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