Monday 24 July 2017

ELMS 2017 - 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring: Race report

Arriving at the track yesterday morning, it seemed like we were in for a wet - if not very wet - ELMS race in the afternoon.  With an ever changing weather forecast, going from rain all race to rain in the final hour, teams faced a tough decision going for a wet or dry setup. When the sun came trough right before the pitwalk and autograph session, the sky cleared out, temperatures went up and it seemed like we might stay dry out there.  Apart from a few raindrops in the final half hour of the session, the weather stayed dry until a few hours after the race, giving us a highly entertaining 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring.

Léo Roussel held on to the lead into the first corner, holding off Nicolas Lapierre in the #21 Dragonspeed and Hugo de Sadeleer in the #32 United Autosport. Lapierre would eventually fall back to fourth position in the first hour of the race, under pressure of Timothé Buret in the Panis-Barthez Competition Ligier. It was the start of an intriguing battle between the G-Drive racing Oreca an the United Autosport Ligier for the next four hours. 

1 hour into the race, Hugo de Sadeleer was in the lead in the #32 Ligier, with Nicolas Lapierre in the #21 Dragonspeed right on his tail. The #27 SMP Racing Dallara started strong in its first ELMS race of the season, Egor Orudzhev now up to third place & eventually leading the race after 66 laps. An early - extra - pitstop in the second hour, hydraulic problems and a post-race one minute penalty for not respecting the driving time of Orudhzev (0.525 seconds short !!) would drop them down the order by the end of the race.

After the second round of pitstops Will Owen took over the wheel of the leading #32 Oreca, but now had Nicolas Minassian in his mirrors.  Minassian drove a fantastic stint, getting the #26 Oreca back into the lead two thirds into the race. He got held up though by Matt McMurry in the #27 Algarve Pro Racing, losing him at least 15 seconds Mnassian declared after the race. McMurry got a drive through penalty for not respecting the blue flags during the race. That delay got the #32 back in contention, closing up the gap again. Meanwhile both Graff Oreca's slipped into third and fourth position. James Allen tird in the #40 ahead of the #39.  

3 hours into the race and Roussel was back in the lead again in the G-Drive Oreca 07 with the United Autosports Ligier just above 10 seconds behind him. Filipe Albuquerque was in the #32, trying to chase down the Frenchman.  Henrik Hedman got back into fourth place in the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca, but saw its chances for a podium finish vanish away when he ran out of fuel. Hedman tried to crawl back in the pitlane, but stranded 2 corners before the end of the lap, causing the sole full course yellow of the race. 

The ultimate round of pitstops would again decide about winning or losing the race. United Autosport didn't change their, giving them a huge time advantage over the G-Drive, and more importantly getting back into the lead. Filipe Albuquerque brought the car home, able to fight of a late charge of Léo Roussel who came back up to 4 seconds by the checquered flag.  After 4 hours, the #39 Graff Oreca crossed the line in third place, a well deserved podium for Eric Trouillet, Paul Petit and Enzo Gibbert. The second Graff Oreca held on to fourth place, Panis-Barthez competition rounding out the top 5 after the post-race time penalty for SMP Racing.  Racing Team Nederland with Jan Lammers and Frits Van Eerd scored their best ELMS finish yet, crossing the line in seventh position. 

Victory in LMP2 but drama for United Autosport in the LMP3 class yesterday. John Falb & Sean Rayhall crossed the line in first place after 4 hours of racing, but got a 25 second penalty after the race for not reducing their speed fast enough under full course yellow during the race. This gave the crew of the #11 Eurointernational their first victory in the ELMS for Giorgio Mondini and Davide Uboldi. 

Mikkel Jensen in the #9 AT Racing Ligier had the best start in class, ahead of Sean Rayhall in the #2 United Autosport Ligier. Jensen held on to the lead after the first pitstops, but dropped down the order after the second round of stops. In the second hour of the race, the #11 Eurointernational Ligier of Giorgio Mondini took command of the race, trailed by the #7 Duquieine Norma who started from pole and - after falling back in the start - worked its way up the order again. 

Nicholas Schatz took the lead in the fast Norma but didn't enjoy it for a long time. Schatz spun off the track and lost valuable time, dropping down the order again. Mondini took charge again of the LMP3 field with the #2 United Autosport trailing behind. The Norma would lead again in the array of pitstops, but spun again and fell out of contention, eventually losing 3 laps at the end of the race. 

After the last round of pitstops, Uboldi in the #11 Ligier was into the lead but just six seconds ahead of John Falb in the #2 United Autosport. When Uboldi was involved in a contact with 2 other cars, the door was wide open for Falb to take the lead and immediately build up a comfortable gap. The #2 Ligier now seemed on its way to their second victory of the season. A drive through penalty for abusing track limits melted down Falbs lead, but he managed to get out again with just a few seconds in the lead and get on the top spot of the podium .... until 3,5 hours later the racestewards decided differently. Behind both contenders for the top spot, the #18 M.Racing-YMR completed the podium. 

Ferrari remains unbeaten in the GTE class at the Red Bull Ring.  For the fifth consecutive year a Ferrari was on the top step of the podium after a frantic 4 hour race. Christian Ried had the best start in his #77 Proton Competition Porsche, going from third to first place in the first lap. After three laps Aaron Scott in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari got into the lead with the #66 JMW Ferrari close behind him. It was the start of an exciting battle between the 2 Ferrari's, both leading the race several times. 

After the final round of stops, the gap between both cars was down to just a few seconds, Jody Fannin in the #66 now leading the #55 of Matt Griffin. Managing his tyres perfectly, Griffin slowly closed the gap to the leading Ferrari, to make his move in lap 131 and take the lead again. By the end of the race, the #55 of Griffin, Cameron and Scott had a gap of 17 seconds to the JMW Ferrari. 

Behind both leading cars, the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari seemed to give Ferrari a clean sweep on the podium, but Nicki Thiim spoiled the Italian party. Thiim was charging hard in his #90 TF Sport Aston Martin in the final part of the race with some frantic door to door racing against Giorgio Roda in the #51. The Dane found a gap in the last lap of the race and speared off to the final podium spot. Roda finished 4th ahead of the #77 Proton Porsche and the #90 Beechdean Aston. All GTE cars finished in the same lap, except the #90 Beechdean Aston Martin who came in one lap behind. 

The next race in the European Le Mans Series is the 4 Hours of Le Castellet in the south of France on August 27th. 

Race Results

Text & pictures: Kristof Vermeulen.