The season opener of the European Le Mans Series 2020 was run at Paul Ricard, after just over three months delay.
The race weekend in France was run on the planned date, but the two previous race weekends in Barcelona and Monza has been pushed back to later in the year, due to the COVID-19 situation.
36 cars were entered for the race in the south of France near Le Castellet, in something that would turn out to be an amazing race, if you looked at all the excitement that already had been in the Qualifying.
United Autosports #22 with Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson started the race from Pole Position in the LMP2 category, ahead of G-Drive Racing #26 with Nyck de Vries, Mikkel Jensen and Roman Rusinov, while United Autosports #32 with Alex Brundle, Job van Uitert and Will Owen had third starting position.
United Autosports #2 with Wayne Boyd, Tom Gamble and Rob Wheldon had Pole Position in LMP3, ahead of DKR Engineering #4 with Laurents Hörr, Francois Kirmann and Wolfgang Triller, while RLR MSport #15 with Malthe Jakobsen, James Dayson and Ryan Harper-Ellam started third.
In GTE we had Pole Position for Kessel Racing Ferrari #74 with Michael Broniszewski, Nicola Cadei and David Perel, ahead of AMR #98 with Ross Gunn, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda, and Spirit Of Race Ferrari #55 driven by Matt Griffen, Aaron Scott and Duncan Cameron in third.
It was quite a crazy start to the race, especially further down the field, where Paul Dalla Lana in the Aston Martin Racing #98 almost got squeezed by some LMP3 traffic, mixed up with the Kessel Racing Ferrari #74 trying to overtake the Canadian.
Dalla Lana was in troubles shortly after once again, when he hit the rear of Graff #5, taking the Legality Panel of #5, so they had to pit and get a new rear end mounted.
Nielsen Racing #7 had a shocking experience, when the rear wing suddenly few off on the Mistral Straight at top speed. Tony Wells did several pirouettes but luckily didn’t hit anything.
Graff #9 had a solo spin, but quickly got going again.
Mikkel Jensen had started the G-Drive Racing #26 and did everything to stay with the leading United Autosports #22 with Phil Hanson, while trying to fend off the pressure from Will Owen in the UA #32.
Anders Fjordbach had a spin in the High Class Racing #20 in Turn 1, and quickly got the car facing the right direction again, but still lost a few positions.
IDEC Sport #28 ran into some technical issues, and had to drive very slowly back to the pits. Unfortunately, the issues were so big, that the team wasn’t able to fix them, and the day was over for them.
UA #32 and G-Drive Racing #26 had a fight for second, where #32 managed to find a way past.
The stewards had examined the recordings of the start of the race and started handing out penalties. AMR #98 got a penalty for hitting #5, while both United Autosports #3 and Kessel Racing Ferrari #74 got a Drive-through for a jump start.
Both United Autosports #32 and G-Drive Racing #26 managed to overtake United Autosports #22, who lost two positions at the end of the Mistral back straight.
Proton Competition Porsche #93 went off the track in Turn 1, when Realteam Racing #8 pulled out right in front of Michael Fassbender, so he had to jump and the brakes. He managed not to collect #8, but ended up in a crazy sin, and hit the Tecpro barrier on the outside of the corner.
He did manage to get the car going after a few minutes and had to return to the pits with just three inflated tires, since the right front had gone down due to the spin.
Mikkel Jensen jumped out of the G-Drive Racing #26 after just a single stint, and let team owner Roman Rusinov take the wheel. That pitstop was slightly delayed, so they lost some time in the pits.
Algarve Pro Racing #24 showed very good pace and managed to go past G-Drive Racing #26 on the track.
The Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 had a very changeable time in the GTE category, with Michelle Gatting going from 7th to third in just a few laps, and then dropping back again. She slowly worked her way forward once again and handed the car over to Manuela Gostner in the second position.
Malthe Jakobsen did an amazing job in the RLR MSport #15, where he quickly made his way into the second position, and kept hanging on the leading United Autosports #2.
The joy at APR #24 didn’t last long, since they got hit by a puncture, and had to drive slowly back to the pits.
Spirit Of Race Ferrari #55 went off the track at very high speed in the Signes corner, when Duncan Cameron and the Duqueine Team #30 collided in the braking zone. The front of the Ferrari was so damaged, after the heavy impact with the barrier, that the car was out on the spot. #30 was able to drive back to the pits itself, since it didn’t hit the Armco, but had to be pushed into the garage for repairs.
That resulted in a Full Course Yellow, so the Ferrari could be towed away.
Realteam Racing #8 received a Drive-through penalty for the incident with Proton Competition Porsche #93.
Panis Racing #31 went off the track, just when it was turning onto the start-finish straight. Julien Canal was unlucky that the rear suspension broke, just as he went on the gas, and he went into the tire barrier really hard. That resulted in a Safety Car, since they had to send a truck onto the track, to remove the car.
The Safety car period resulted in many teams going for a pitstop, where Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 was amongst the pit callers. Manuela Gostner wasn’t quite up to the same pace as the others, so had lost quite a few positions. Rahel Frey took over the car, with the aim of getting in further forward once again.
Dennis Andersen got into the High Class Racing #20, after Anders Fjordbach had raced the car into Top 5 overall.
RLR MSport #15 had grabbed the lead of the LMP3 category, where James Dayson had taken over from Malthe Jakobsen. United Autosports #2 was second, and Inter Europol Competition #13 was P3.
Proton Competition Porsche #77 took the GTE lead, with a very nice overtake on Kessel Racing Ferrari #74.
Mikkel Jensen was back in the G-Drive Racing #26, and posted the fastest lap of the race in LMP2. They were on a very different pit strategy than everybody else, so the Dane was all the way back in 7th, and almost a lap down.
Duqueine Team #30 was all of a sudden slow on track. Jonathan Hirschi had to drive very slowly back to the pits, since the front right suspension had collapsed, and the camber was all wrong.
Eurointernational #11 was off the circuit in Turn 8, but luckily made it back on track safely.
BHK Motorsport #35 was pushed into the garage with some technical issues, that the team wasn’t able to fix.
Jensen was all the way up in third in #26, and put a lot of pressure on United Autosports #32. Ironically that was Job van Uitert steering that car at that point of the race – the man who raced for G-Drive Racing #26 last year. After some intense battling, Jensen made it past.
High Class Racing #20 continued to race up front in 6th, which was right behind the Richard Mille Racing Team #50, which went from being an all-female crewed team, to be Tatiana Calderon and Andre Negrao, who had to substitute for Katherine Legge, who ended up in hospital earlier int he week, with a broken leg.
RLR MSport #15 was still in second, but the Bronze driver James Dayson couldn’t quite keep up with the laptimes from the other drivers, so the team had to hope for more pace from Ryan Harper-Ellam towards the end of the race.
Mikkel Jensen in #26 took the lead of the race with 1 hour and 6 minutes to go, when he went right under the rear wing of Phil Hanson in the United Autosports #22, and overtook him down the start-finish straight.
Jensen did, however, pit shortly after, and to hand the car over to Nyck de Vries. That stop came a bit too early for them to be able to go to the finish of the race, so they had to pit for another 2/3 of a tank of fuel later in the race.
The final hour of the race started with United Autosports #22 leading from #32 and Graff #39. United Autosports #2 led the LMP3 category, ahead of RLR MSport #15 and Inter Europol Competition #13, while Proton Competition #77 was the leading GTE car, ahead of Kessel Racing #74 and AF Corse #51.
BHK Motorsport #16 had a small spin, but nothing that changed the position for them, since they were already far back in 8th.
High Class Racing #20 had a brief off around Turn 8 and 9, but got the car under control again – but ended up losing out to Cool Racing #37 with Nicolas Lapierre. Fjordbach was still on a fine 5th place in the race.
DragonSpeed #21 was the first LMP2 car, to pit for the very last time. The former Champions in the ELMS wasn’t a factor at all in today’s race, and was all the way back in 10th, two laps down from the leaders.
That made all the remaining LMP2 cars to pit in the following laps, so they could race to the flag.
G-Drive Racing #26 would be disappointed, that Nyck de Vries was on this alternative strategy, since he was absolutely flying, posting the fastest lap of the race, and took the lead of the race with 32 minutes to go. They did however still have to do their final fuel stop, with both United Autosports cars being fueled to the end.
United Autosports #22 had to pit with a puncture with just about 30 minutes to go. That same thing could happen to some of the other cars too.
Inter Europol Competition #13 and United Autosports #2 had a tough battle for the lead of LMP3, with the two cars almost racing in tandem. UA #2 took the lead of the race, after several laps of battling.
G-Drive Racing #26 with 20 minutes to go, and dropped down to third.
Iron Lynx Ferrari #60 had to pit with just 12 minutes left on the clock, with a puncture.
Kessel Racing Ferrari #74 had to pit for fuel with just a few minutes left, while AMR #98 pitted too late, so they didn’t make it out of the pits. So #98 wasn’t classified due to that error from the team.
United Autosports #32 with Job van Uitert, Alex Brundle and Will Owen won the race, ahead of Graff #39 with Thomas Laurent, James Allen and Alexandre Cougnaud, while G-Drive Racing #26 with Nyck de Vries, Roman Rusinov and Mikkel Jensen finished third.
High Class Racing #20 with Dennis Andersen and Anders Fjordbach were not classified, since the car broke down on the very final lap. That was so unlucky for the team, who was heading for a 6th overall.
In the LMP3 category, it was United Autosports #2 with Wayne Boyd, Tom Gamble and Rob Wheldon as the winners, ahead of Inter Europol Competition #13 with Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore, while RLR MSport #15 with Ryan Harper-Ellam, James Dayson and Malthe Jakobsen finished an impressive third. Both Harper-Ellam and Jakobsen had their LMP3 debuts this weekend, while Dayson was new to the outfit.
Proton Competition Porsche #77 with Christian Ried, Michele Beretta and Alessandro Picariello won the GTE category, ahead of Kessel Racing Ferrari #74 with Michael Broniszewski, Nicola Cadei and David Perel, while Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 with Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting finished a very well earned third.
Due to the COVID-19 situation, it was only the winners being celebrated at an actual ceremony.
The next round of the European Le Mans Series will run in three weeks time at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium.
Update– Graff #39 got a post-race penalty of 6 minutes and 6 seconds due to Alexandre Cougnaud missing that time from his minimum drive time in the car. So that moves G-Drive Racing #26 into second, while United Autosports #22 with Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson moves into third.