The 2018 European Le Mans Series kicked off in earnest today with newcomers Racing Engineering taking the win after an enthralling four hours at Le Castellet.
Under a sunny sky at Circuit Paul Ricard, we were treated to an excellent opening round for the European Le Mans Series, as Racing Engineering became the first winners of the season. The Four Hours of Le Castellet boasted a bumper 45 car grid, including four guest entries from the FIA World Endurance Championship – Signatech Alpine Matmut and a second G-Drive Racing entry joined LMP2 growing the category to a record 19 entries, while a second Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE and Gulf Racing made an appearance in the GTE class.
Saturday’s qualifying session saw the #28 Oreca 07-Gibson in the hands of Frenchman Paul-Loup Chatin claim pole position, the first for IDEC Sport in the European Le Mans Series. The LMP3 qualifying session was incredibly close, with the top three drivers within a tenth of each other. Ultimately it was David Droux in the #19 M.Racing YMR Norma M30 who took the top spot. In GTE, Matteo Cairoli put his #88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR on pole ahead of Ben Barker in the blue and orange Gulf Racing Porsche. However, Gulf were handed a post-qualifying penalty, due to a technical infringement with the diffuser on the Porsche, meaning the WEC regulars started at the back of the grid.
All three classes were hotly contested throughout the four hours, with plenty of excellent overtakes as well as mistakes up and down the order. Following an excellent start by Nicolas Lapierre in the #21 Oreca 07, it looked like Dragonspeed’s race to lose for a while. The Frenchman quickly stole the lead from polesitters IDEC Sport and put in a stellar performance. Unfortunately, a collision between Henrik Hedman and Duncan Cameron in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE ended the race for both teams. This left the sharp end of the field open for the taking, and ultimately it was Olivier Pla in the Racing Engineering Oreca that took the chequered flag and the team’s first win. The team barely put a foot wrong throughout the four hours (they almost had a pitstop time penalty, but successfully appealed the decision) and some excellent driving from Norman Nato, Paul Petit and of course Pla resulted in a brilliant debut for the team.
— Racing Engineering (@REOfficial) April 15, 2018
Second place went the way of Matthieu Vaxiviere, Francois Perrodo and Loic Duval in the TDS Racing Oreca, ahead of the Nicolas Jamin, Pierre Ragues and Nelson Panciatici in the #29 Duqueine Engineering Oreca – a great recovery for the team following a drive-through penalty early in the race.
Elsewhere in the LMP2 field, it was a double points finish for the G-Drive twins, the two cars sandwiching the Signatech Alpine Matmut entry in 4th and 6th. Despite a cracking qualifying lap, the #28 IDEC Sport squad couldn’t capitalise on Chatin’s performance and finished in 7th with the sister car #27 finishing its race in the garage. The #23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier, #32 United Autosports Ligier and #39 GRAFF Oreca rounded out the top ten.
In LMP3, it was British outfit RLR MSport who came out on top. After qualifying 5th, the team strung together a great race, with Rob Garofall, John Farano and Job van Uitert holding off the Norma M30 of polesitters M.Racing YMR to take the win.
— RLRMSPORT (@RLRMSPORT) April 15, 2018
Third place in LMP3 went to the #11 Eurointernational Ligier JSP3 in the hands of Giorgio Mondini and Kay van Berlo. The American team had a rather mixed day with the sister Ligier finishing 14th in class. Defending champions John Falb and Sean Rayhall in the #2 United Autosports Ligier JSP3 managed a 5th place finish, and the sister car of Tony Wells, Matt Bell and Garret Grist finishing 7th.
The GTE class gave us action right up to the final lap – JMW Motorsport’s Miguel Molina and Proton Competition’s Matteo Cairoli provided a nail-biting finish, with Molina passing Cairoli to take the lead (the only lap that JMW led throughout the race) and eventually the win.
Great start for @ProtonRacing into the 2018 @EuropeanLMS season. @Cairoli96 #GiorgioRoda and #GianlucaRoda took P2 #GTE with the No 88 #911RSR. #ChristianRied @Olsen_Dennis and @MarvinDienst came in fifth in the No 77. Well done, guys! @Porsche pic.twitter.com/PZ2XsfpecL
— Proton Competition (@ProtonRacing) April 15, 2018
Newcomers EBIMOTORS took third place in their ELMS debut thanks to some great driving from Fabio Babini and Riccardo Pera and Raymond Narac. Despite having started from the back of the grid, Ben Barker in the Gulf Racing Porsche 911 put in a stellar drive to take the lead for the team on lap 46. However hopes for the team’s maiden victory were dashed as the 911 RSR ground to a halt out on the circuit, and despite Barker’s best efforts, the fuel pressure issue was unfixable forcing the team to retire the car.
The European Le Mans Series takes to the track again next month for round two – the Four Hours of Monza. Racing action is scheduled to kick off at 2pm local time on May 13th.