Wednesday 25 April 2018

ELMS: Racing Engineering win thrilling first race of the season

Racing Engineering took the first win of the 2018 season when Olivier Pla took the chequered flag in the Spanish team’s Oreca-Gibson to claim their debut win. After four hours there was less than 8 seconds separating the top three cars. 

Victory in LMP3 went to the #15 RLR MSport Ligier, when Rob Garofall passed the chequered flag with fumes in his fuel tank after a 65 minute stint to take his first LMP3 win since Imola 2015. In LMGTE the win went to the JMW Motorsport’s #66  Ferrari, Miguel Molina taking victory on the very last lap from Matteo Cairoli in the #88 Proton Competition Porsche.

Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre made a good start in the #21 DragonSpeed Oreca of to take the lead from the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca of reigning ELMS Champion Memo Rojas, with the #24 Racing Engineering Oreca of Norman Nato and Pierre Ragues in the #29 Duqueine Engineering Oreca in 3rd and 4th respectively. 

The #17 Ultimate Norma of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye took the lead of the LMP3 category as pole position holder David Droux, in the bright yellow camouflage Norma, dropped back to 5th following the first corner melee, with the #15 RLR MSport Ligier of Job Van Uitert moving up from 4th to 2nd at the end of the first lap. Van Uitert put the pressure on Lahaye and on the third lap the Dutch driver took the lead.

The start of the LMGTE race saw the #88 Proton Competition Porsche head into turn 1 in the lead from Pole Position, Gianluca Roda opening up a good gap to the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari after Liam Griffin made a good start to move ahead of the #77 Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Ried. Mike Wainwright was making progress up the field from the back of the grid in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche.

The #22 United Autosports Ligier of Phil Hanson came into the pits after contact with another LMP2 car, which damaged the exhaust and punctured the rear left tyre. Another early casualty was the #8 DKR Engineering Norma of Jean Glorieux, the Belgian driver ending up in the barriers after contact with another car. Glorieux couldn’t restart the car and the Norma was retired after just 14 laps.

After the first set of pitstops Lapierre was still leading the race from Nato, with Pierre Thiriet in the #36 Signatech Alpine up to 3rd place. Job Van Uitert was still leading the LMP3 category in the #15 RLR MSport Ligier from the recovering David Droux in the #19 M Racing-YMR Norma. Droux handed over to Nicolas Ferrer but Ferrer spun at Turn 5, dropping the Norma down the field and out of contention.

Giorgio Roda had taken over the driving duties of the leading #88 Porsche, who now had Ben Barker in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche closing rapidly. The British driver passed the Italian and opened up a lead but then a fuel pressure issue brought the Gulf Racing 911 to a halt and the race had another retirement. The #21 DragonSpeed also hit trouble as Lapierre headed for the pitlane with a puncture. Henrik Hedman jumped into the car and rejoined the track but this allowed Norman Nato to take the lead. 

With the race approaching the 2 hours mark a full course yellow was declared when Hedman in the DragonSpeed Oreca and the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari F488 of Duncan Cameron collided, both cars hitting the barriers hard at Turn 9. Hedman recovered the Oreca back to the pits but the damage was beyond the ability of the mechanics to repair in time. The Ferrari was lifted onto the back of a flatbed while Cameron was given lift back to the pits. 

The Full Course Yellow turned into a Safety Car while the barriers were repaired but the FCY gave the teams plenty of opportunity to pit. The race went green again after 25 minutes with Paul Petit, now at the wheel on the #24 Racing Engineering Oreca, leading the race from the Signatech Alpine of Andre Negrão, with Nelson Panciatici in the 29 Duqueine Engineering Oreca in third.

John Farano had taken over from Job Van Uitert and soon had a comfortable lead over the #11 Eurointernational Ligier of Kay Van Berlo and the no2 United Autosports Ligier of John Falb.  Liam Griffin was leading the LMGTE class in the #66 Ferrari but the British driver was soon caught and passed by the #88 Porsche of Gianluca Roda. Griffin dropped back to third when he was again caught and passed by a Porsche, this time the #80 Ebimotors 911 of Riccardo Pera.

Andre Negrão caught the leading Racing Engineering Oreca of Paul Petit and battle commenced to see who would lead the race with 90 minutes remaining. Petit held off the challenge from the Brazilian until the next set of pitstops where he handed over to Olivier Pla for the final stint. Negrão handed the #36 Alpine back to Pierre Thiriet, who held the lead before Pla caught and passed on the outside at Signes Corner with just under an hour of the race remaining.

Thiriet was passed by the #29 Duqueine Oreca and then came under pressure from the #33 TDS Racing Oreca of Matthieu Vaxiviere. The two cars were side by side on the Mistral Straight but Thiriet held his nerve and his place as the final set of pitstops approached. Thiriet stayed out longer than his rivals but when he finally came in for fuel he rejoined in third place and was under pressure from Nicolas Jamin in the Duqueine Oreca. Jamin made his move with 25 minutes remaining to take the final podium position.

The LMP3 class was led by the #11 Eurointernational Ligier when Van Berlo came back in for his final stop. Rob Garofall in the #15 RLR MSport Ligier was now in the lead but there was some doubt if the British driver had enough fuel to reach the flag. The RLR MSport mechanics even looked like they were getting ready to bring Garofall, in but it was all a Ruse de Guerre and Garofall drove to the chequered flag to claim victory and the 25 championship points. After an eventful race the M.Racing Norma finished in second place with Lucas Légeret taking the chequered flag ahead of the Eurointernational Ligier of Kay Van Berlo.

The LMGTE battle came down to a duel between the Proton Competition Porsche 911 of Matteo Cairoli and the JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Miguel Molina. Molina was reeling the Italian in with every lap and with less than five minutes remaining the Spaniard was right on the rear wing of the leading Porsche. The pair crossed the line and on the final lap Cairoli ran wide at turn 7 allowing Molina to take the lead and snatch the victory on the very last lap of the race.

Relive the race here with a 52 minute recap:

Race results 

Words: Jeff Carter/FIA - Sportscarglobal - Club Arnage
Pictures: JellyBaby.Media & Kristof Vermeulen