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ELMS-LMP: Dragonspeed Wins 4 Hour of Le Castellet

The #21 Dragonspeed Oreca 07-Gibson took the first victory of the 2019 European Le Mans Series at Le Castellet with Ben Hanley crossing the finish line ahead of the nearest rival, the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Loup Chatin. It was the first win for the #21 Dragonspeed, and Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley, since Spa in 2016

The LMP3 victory went to the no17 Ultimate Norma of Mathieu Lahaye, a debut ELMS win for the all-French team of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and François Heriau. The Ultimate Norma finished ahead of the #11 Eurointernational Ligier of Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen.

Four Hours of Uninterrupted Racing Action

The 4 Hours of Le Castellet started with the sun in the sky and the large 41 car field ready to give the large crowd a great afternoon of racing.  The #27 IDEC Sport Oreca had to start from the pitlane after missing qualifying with a gearbox issue and they were joined at the end of the pitlane by the #34 Inter Europol Competition Ligier, which slowed on the formation lap.

Roman Rusinov led in the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus into the first corner, with the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Lafargue and the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca of James Allen snapping at the rear wing of his car.  The Russian driver led for the first nine laps of the race before Allen went around the G-Drive Aurus on the outside of the penultimate corner to take the lead after passing Lafargue into Signes corner three laps earlier.

The #11 Eurointernational Ligier of Mikkel Jensen went from 5th on the LMP3 grid into the lead by the end of the opening lap, ahead of the #19 M Racing Norma of Lucas Legeret and the #17 Ultimate Norma of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye.  Lahaye lost two places on lap two with David Droux slotting in behind the two leading cars in the #9 Realteam Racing Norma.

By lap 5 the top five LMP3 cars were split by less than four seconds before Jensen managed to pull out a small gap to the battling pack behind him.

Back at the front, the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca continued to lead and by lap15 Allen was nearly 20 seconds ahead.  The #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca of reigning ELMS Champion Andrea Pizzitola, which had started the race in 12th place, was up to second, with a two-second gap to the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Lafargue.  Rusinov had dropped back to 5th place, behind the #30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca of Pierre Ragues, the French driver on a charge up the field.  Ragues moved ahead of Lafargue and then Pizzitola and by lap 19 he was second but 24 seconds behind Allen’s Dragonspeed Oreca-Gibson.

After the first stops Henrik Hedman took over in the no21 Dragonspeed but after the pitstops, the gap had shrunk to three seconds, with Pierre Ragues, who had stayed in the no30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca at the stop closing and passing the Swedish driver.  Roman Rusinov, who had handed the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus to Job Van Uitert, said that he had been losing grip in the front tires during his stint, with the team changing the front left tire at the pitstop.

Pierre Ragues started to pull out a 20-second gap to Paul Lafargue in the #28 IDEC Sport, with Hedman falling back to 6th.  The Swede handed the car back to James Allen on the next pitstop after completing the mandatory minimum driving time.

Mikkel Jensen continued to lead the LMP3 category after the first stop with David Droux in second and the #10 Oregon Team Norma back up to third in the hands of Damiano Fioravanti .  Droux and Fioravanti battled for several laps, swapping places a couple of times but ultimately allowing Jensen to open up a ten-second gap at the front of the LMP3 field.

Fioravanti’s race suffered a blow when the no39 Graff Oreca cut across his Norma to enter the pitlane, causing the Italian to spin and lose time.  The Graff Oreca was served a drive-through penalty for crossing the pit entry white line as a result of the incident.  The Graff team suffered a further blow when the rear bodywork had to be replaced when the rear light was not working, dropping the French team out of contention for the podium.

With just over an hour of the race remaining the battle for the LMP2 victory was just as hot with Nicolas Jamin in the #30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca leading the race but with Ben Hanley closing in the #21 Dragonspeed.  Jamin had to stop for fuel, putting Hanley’s Dragonspeed Oreca back in the lead with a 47-second gap to the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Loup Chatin, with Norman Nato in the #26 G-Drive Aurus and Richard Bradley in the #30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca right behind.

Hanley was able to hold the lead position until the chequered flag while Bradley passed the Nato in the final 20 minutes to take the final podium position behind Paul Loup Chatin, who finished second 16 seconds behind Hanley’s Dragonspeed Oreca.

The #11 Eurointernational Ligier, with reigning Michelin Le Mans Cup Champion Jens Petersen was being caught by the rapid Matthieu Lahaye in the #17 Ultimate Norma-Nissan.  The German driver was unable to keep the more experienced Frenchman at bay for long and Lahaye swept into the LMP3 lead to take his, and his teams, debut ELMS class victory. Petersen finished just ahead of Nigel Moore in the #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier.

The next round of the 2019 European Le Mans Series will be the 4 Hours of Monza on Sunday 12 May.

  • Source: European Le Mans Series
  • Photocredit: James Allen
Frank van Nunen

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