It was a very eventful opening race, when the European Le Mans Series drove their first race of the year at Paul Ricard in the south of France.
IDEC Sport #28 started from Pole Position in the LMP2 category while M.Racing – YMR #19 had been the fastest car in the LMP3 category. Proton Competition Porsche #88 had been fastest in GTE, grabbing the first place in their brand new Porsche 911 RSR.
The battle was on from turn one. DragonSpeed #21 grabbed second position going into Turn 1, and took the lead only a few turns later. Ultimate #17 was leading RLR MSport #15 in LMP3, while Proton Competition Porsche #88 kept the lead in GTE.
Shortly thereafter we saw RLR MSport #15 going into the lead of LMP3, outbraking Ultimate #17 going into Turn One.
While #88 had a small gap in GTE, Ebimotors Porsche #80, JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 and Spirit of Race Ferrari #55 were bumper to bumper, swapping places several times.
Harrison Newey in the APR – Rebellion Racing #31 had a bit of contact with some other cars on lap one, also picking up a corner marker, that he had to drag along during his first stint.
SMP Racing #35 and Graff #39 made a contact with each other down the Mistral straight. The Dallara #35 had higher top speed than the ORECA #39, resulting in it being able to drag past, while Victor Sheitar could re-pass only a few turns later. Thankfully there wasn’t any damage to any of the cars.
Just over 2o minutes into the race, we saw Ultimate #17 crawl down the straight very slowly. The DKR Engineering #8 crashed into the tire barrier on the exact same time, after making a contact with the M.Racing – YMR #18.
Racing Enginnering #24 had grabbed second position in the race early in the race, and was putting DragonSpeed #21 under a lot of pressure, so nobody was able to relax. When Lapierre was caught behind an LMP3 and a GTE car, Norman Nato in #24 was able to close within a few meters.
Duqueine Engineering #29 and Cetilar Villorba Corsa #47 made a contact with each other when #29 though there was a gap, which closed down before it was through. The two cars made some very nice synchronized spinning, but were soon heading in the right direction again.
IDEC Sport #27 lost the engine cover going down the Mistral straight. It departed the car going more than 250 kph, ripping off the rear wing at the same time. Fortunately no other car got hit, and the cover flew off the track and landing in one of the big asphalt run off areas.
The JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 had a solo spin, when trying to overtake the Gulf Racing Porsche #86, but decided to pull out in the very last second. That cost Liam Griffin in #66 a few seconds, before he was back on course.
BHK Motorsport #16 was lucky not to hit the armco, after a high speed spin during the braking into Turn 1. Except 4 flat spotted tires, the car remained intact.
Mark Patterson in the Algarve Pro Racing #25 had two spins within a few minutes of each other. He only avoided being collected by other cars by a few centimetres, since a whole group of cars came around the corner right at that time.
Nicolas Lapierre in the DragonSpeed #21 got a puncture after 75 minutes of racing. They lost the lead the Racing Enginnering #24, but used the misfortune to get Henrik Hedman into the car.
Panis Barthez Competition #23 had just grabbed third in the race, but then Timothe Buret went off the track at high speed due to a puncture. To his luck, there was plenty of run-off at that point of the track, so he didn’t hit anything.
Gulf Racing Porsche #86 grabbed the lead of the GTE category shortly before the 90 minutes mark. They had originally qualified second, but due to the right height on the diffuser not being correct, they were excluded from the qualifying. But does that really matter, when you can make it back to the front of the field – with a legal car. Mike Wainwright was happy that the team had opted to take this extra ELMS race, since the team didn’t know that the diffuser height could change, since nobody at Porsche had told them, when they bought the car.
M.Racing – YMR #19 had a solo spin, but could go on once the tire smoked had cleared.
Gulf Racing Porsche #86 had to retire shortly after the 90 minute mark. It just stopped on the track, due to problems with the fuel pressure.
The Safety Car was deployed just shy of the 2 hour mark, when DragonSpeed #21 and Spirit of Race Ferrari #55 crashed, and hit the armco in Turn 10. The two cars touched each other during the braking for the turn, and made a big dent in the barrier. Luckily both drivers were okay, and Hedman was even able to drive the car back to the pits, even though it was him having the biggest impact. That was however the last we would see of the #21 in the car – while #55 was out on the spot.
The barrier repairs took about 15 minutes, before the race went green again.
AVF by Adrian Valles #30 had a very exciting restart of the race. First they collided with EuroInternational #11 and latter on the same lap, Henrique Chaves himself was on a detour in the ultra fast Signes corner. Then he decided to pit for new tires.
With 90 minutes left of the race, the leading Racing Engineering #24 was under pressure from Signatech Alpine Matmut #36. The two cars was separated by only a few seconds. The Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 was only a guest starting this race, since their full season programme is in the FIA WEC.
Another guest starter, TDS Racing #33, had made its way all the way up to P5, and with Loic Duval behind the wheel, it was setting sights even higher up the results table.
Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 had grabbed the lead of race due to a faster pit stop than Racing Engineering #24. But with an hour left of the race, Oliver Pla in #24 was doing everything to pass Pierre Thiriet in #36. The pair was caught by Nicolas Jamin in the Duqueine Engineering #29. Pla did make it past with a fantastic overtaking manoeuvre around the outside of Turn 9, at the end of the Mistral straight.
A bunch of drive-through penalties was handed out for overtaking during the Safety Car to United Autosports #2, APR – Rebellion Racing #31 plus both IDEC Sport #27 and #28 cars.
There was excitement about the GTE victory all the way to the chequered flag, when Miguel Molina in the JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 caught Matteo Cairoli in the Proton Competition Porsche #88. Molina managed to overtake Cairoli on the very final lap of the race, with a very robust manoeuvre. Both drivers was pushing each other a bit forth and back, but it was close and exciting race all the way to the line.
Nobody was able to beat Racing Engineering #24 with Norman Nato, Paul Petit and Olivier Pla. TDS Racing #33 finished second in their guest appearance while Duqueine Engineering #29 finished third in LMP2.
RLR MSport #15 won the LMP3 category with John Farano, Rob Garofall and Job Van Uitert, while M.Racing – YMR #19 and EuroInternational #11 took the other spots on the podium.
JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 was able to beat the lightning fast Porsche cars, who finished second and third in the shape of the Proton Competition #88 and Ebimotors #80.
The next round of the European Le Mans Series will be run at Monza on 12-13 May.