The opening race in the European Le Mans Series 2022 was run in 18 degrees temperature and bright sunshine at Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France.
TDS Racing x Vaillante #31 with Mathias Beche, Philippe Cimadomo and Tijmen Van der Helm had taken Pole Position, which was also the LMP2 Pro/Am Pole. United Autosports #22 with Tom Gamble, Phil Hanson and Duncan Tappy would start second, while Prema Racing #9 with Louis Deletraz, Lorenzo Colombo and Ferdinand Habsburg would start in P3.
Malthe Jakobsen, Maurice Smith and Michael Benham started from LMP3 Pole for COOL Racing #17, ahead of RLR MSport #5 with Alex Kapadia, Michael Jensen and Nick Adcock, while COOL Racing #27 with Antoine Doquin, Nicolas Maulini and Jean-Ludovic Foubert started third.
Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #32 with Memo Gidley, Pierre Ehret and Nicolas Varrone started the GTE category from Pole Position, ahead of Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin #69 with Ahmad Al Harthy, Marco Sørensen and Samuel de Haan, while Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 with Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey started in P3.
COOL Racing #37, Algarve Pro Racing #47 and Graff Racing #40 would start the race from the last three positions, since they didn’t set any laptime under the qualifying that ended with a red flag before they could do a flying lap.
It was a chaotic start of the race, where the leaders came four ways down the start-finish straight. Prema Racing #9 got a huge advantage toward Turn 1 but had to drive over the run-off area since there was no space enough for all of them in Turn 1.
United Autosports #3 spun in the last corner, which created a domino effect down the field, where Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin #69 got hit from behind and had to retire. #3 with Jim McGuire could crawl back to the pits with damage on the car’s rear.
It triggered a Safety Car since #69 held still on the start-finish straight, and had to be towed. At the same time, the stewards were investigating the incident that also involved Europol Competition #14. #14 ended up getting a Drive-through for the contact, in all the confusion around #69 and #3.
Luckily, the race got restarted again. United Autosports #22 took the lead from TDS Racing x Vaillante #31, when Tijmen van der Helm made a little mistake.
Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 took the lead in GTE, after fighting with Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #32 through several laps. Sarah Bovy ended up placing herself on the outside of Pierre Ehret, and finally drove past after several attempts.
Eurointernational #10 spun off the track in Turn 9 but quickly recovered.
Inter Europol Competition #13 took the lead in the LMP3 category, when Charles Crews overtook Maurice Smith in COOL Racing #17 in the last corner.
There was another Safety Car when RLR MSport #15 went off the track in Turn 8. Horst Felbermeyr Jr lost control of the car, and was about to regain control but the car changed direction again and hit the concrete wall so hard that the car couldn’t continue.
It took them around ten minutes behind the Safety Car, before it got restarted.
The LMP2 cars began to have an intense battle down the Mistral straight, where COOL Racing #17 ended up dropping down to fourth place, while 360 Racing #6 and DKR Engineering #4 both got past.
One lap later, there were activities in the GTE category, where they drove three ways down the straight. Proton Competition Porsche #93 got the best advantage and won a couple of positions in that duel. Proton Competition Porsche #77 came up to the second place, while Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 had built some gap to the competitors.
Something that caused some confusion was that United Autosports #3 who wasn’t up to speed yet, went down between LMP3 and GTE field, even though they were several laps behind. While Eurointernational #10 was on the way up after the earlier spin, and tried to fight their way through the GTE field, who was already busy.
Slowly but slowly, the teams began to get warnings about Track Limits, that could potentially turn to penalties later in the race.
Michael Fassbender had a solo spin in Turn 2 with Proton Competition Porsche #93, but could quickly recover even though he lost several positions. He pitted almost straight away to get fresh tires.
A few teams also began to pit to refuel and put on new tires. United Autosports #22 had some problems getting one tire off the car, which cost them about fifteen extra seconds compared to the competitors. It sent them down to fifth place after leading the race previously.
COOL Racing #27 went off the track in the ultra-fast Turn 8, after contact with Nielsen Racing #24. It resulted in a puncture for #27, which spread lots of debris all over the track. It triggered a Safety Car, so that all the small parts could be removed. The team had to push Jean-Ludovic Foubert back into the garage, since the damage on the car’s rear was severe.
After a longer clean-up period, the race got restarted.
There was chaos between Algarve Pro Racing #47 and Team Virage #51 in Turn 9, where the two of them had contact and spun around, but both could continue without having to pit.
DKR Engineering #4 got en Drive-through for overtaking under a yellow flag earlier in the race.
Eurointernational #11 had to pit with a puncture, which cost them an extra longer pitstop.
JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 got a 15-second pitstop penalty for overtaking under one of the earlier Safety Car periods.
COOL Racing #37 had driven themselves up to P5.
Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #33 and JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 got both a Drive-through for breaking Track Limits too many times. Shortly after that, there was the same penalty to COOL Racing #17, for the same offence.
Nielsen Racing #24 drove slowly on the track with a puncture on the left rear tire, but could continue to the pits without further damage.
COOL Racing #37 took third place when Yifei Ye overtook both Algarve Pro Racing #19 and United Autosports #22 in the same manoeuvre down the Mistral straight.
On the other hand, things went badly for Algarve Pro Racing #47 which had to be repaired for eleven and a half minutes in the pits, before Alex Peroni could come back to the track.
Spirit of Race Ferrari #55 suddenly drove slowly on the track when they got a puncture, and Duncan Cameron had to slow down in order not to damage the car.
There was a Full Course Yellow when there was debris in Turn 14 that had to be collected.
It started a pitstop round, where many teams pitted. Prema Racing #9 did it the fastest and thus took the lead of the race.
Luckily, it didn’t take long before the race got restarted.
Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #32 came in front in the GTE category, after getting their super-bronze rated driver Memo Gidley in the car, while the other teams still drove around with their primary bronze-rated driver, who also started the race. Gidley was a bronze-driver, since he was out of the racing world for some years, after a horrible accident under Daytona 24 Hours in 2014. Now he has ambitions to drive again, and he can do it as a bronze-rated driver in 2022.
Team Virage #51 got a Drive-through, for having contact with Eurointernational #11 earlier in the race, which resulted in the puncture.
COOL Racing #37 came up to second place in LMP2 when they overtook TDS Racing x Vaillante #31. #31 had put their Am driver in the car, and Phillippe Cimadomo wasn’t as fast as the Pro drivers around him. That was why, the car slowly but surely fell down through the LMP2 field, which was only natural.
United Autosports #3 had a spin in the last corner, when Andrew Bentley came too close to some competitors, and had to brake hard.
Sophia Flörsch had handed over Algarve Pro Racing #19 to Bent Viscaal, and the combination had worked so well that the car was currently in P4, right behind United Autosports #22. Panis Racing #65 also came from behind and ended up overtaking #19, before Viscaal did something.
Mühlner Motorsport #21, TDS Racing x Vaillante #31, BHK Motorsport #35 had a battle for P9-11 in the LMP2 category, where the three cars almost drove outside the white lines as much as inside.
Rinaldi Racing #33 got a Drive-through for driving over the white line in the pit exit in an earlier pitstop.
Halfway in the race, Prema Racing #9 was ahead in LMP2, Racing Team Turkey #34 in LMP2 Pro/Am, Inter Europol Competition #13 in LMP3, and Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 with Michelle Gatting in GTE, since Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #32 pitted a few minutes before the two-hour mark. But #32 was the real leader in GTE.
There was contact between Kessel Racing Ferrari #57 and COOL Racing #37, but luckily it didn’t damage any of the cars. Frederik Schandorff in #57 brushed the rear of Niklas Krütten’s #37 in the last corner combination, since the two cars braked at different spots, and had different lines through the corner. The stewards gave Schandorff a warning for the contact.
Team Virage #51 got a Stop & Go for contact with Algarve Pro Racing #47 earlier in the race.
Malthe Jakobsen had overtaken COOL Racing #17, after Michael Benham and Maurice Smith had finished their stints. The Dane was in P3 and had to try to chase United Autosports #2 and Inter Europol Competition #13, who were ahead of them, with one and a half hours left of the race. However, there were still pitstop strategies in play, some minimum pitstop times that had to be followed.
Proton Competition Porsche #93 got past Iron Lynx Ferrari #83, by having a better exit down the Mistral straight, where Richard Lietz overtook Rahel Frey.
COOL Racing #17 had caught up with United Autosports #2, in the battle for second place in the LMP3 category. Jakobsen overtook Finn Gehrsitz in #2, and then he had about thirteen seconds up to the leading Inter Europol Competition #13.
With a bit over an hour left, there was about half a minute from the leading Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #32 and Absolute Racing Porsche #18 in P6. That was why a lot of things could still happen in this class.
360 Racing #6 got a Drive-through for Track Limits abuse.
DKR Engineering #4 was in trouble, with 58 minutes left. Sebastian Alvarez stalled in the gravel in Turn 7 – one of the few corners in the run-off area. It resulted in a Full Course Yellow, so the car could get removed.
The FCY wasn’t particularly good news for the teams, depending on whether they had pitted before or after the slower drive. One of the big losers was COOL Racing #17, who had pitted just before the FCY started, and they were suddenly one whole minute behind the leading car, instead of a few seconds where they were before. Jakobsen, however, was still third in the class.
Michelle Gatting had taken over Iron Lynx Ferrari #83, for the last stint of the race. The Dane was inches away from Zacherie Robichon in Proton Competition Porsche #93, under the entire FCY period, and continued to push when the race got restarted.
There was a fantastic five-way battle for the LMP2 lead, with Prema Racing #9 in front, ahead of Panis Racing #65, COOL Racing #37, Racing team Turkey #34 and IDEC Sport #28 – all within 17 seconds of each other. If you added 8 more seconds, Algarve Pro Racing #19 would also be included.
COOL Racing #37 was the first to pit for the last time, where they could drive to the finish for sure. #19 would have to need help from either Safety Car or FCY to finish the race without refuelling again.
Racing Team Turkey #34 and IDEC Sport #28 fought really hard on the way out of the pits, where AF Corse #88 and United Autosports #22 were also involved, within a few metres from each other. The four cars drove only inches away from each other through several corners. #28 dived on #34 in the ultra-fast Turn 8, where Charlie Eastwood had to give up and let Paul Loup Chatin and Nicklas Nielsen past, which meant that the Dane took the lead in LMP2 Pro/Am. On the next lap, Tom Gamble in UA #22 also got past #34, who had lost several positions. At the same time, COOL Racing #37 came flying from behind.
After having fought with Proton Competition Porsche #93, Gatting in Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 had no choice but let Gianmaria Bruni in Proton Competition Porsche #77 get past.
Inter Europol Competition #14 went off the track in Turn 3-4, but could quickly recover.
Jakobsen came up to second place in LMP3, with 18 minutes left of the race, since the COOL Racing #17 driver had caught up with United Autosports #2, and drove past it.
Algarve Pro Racing #19 pitted for the last time with 17 minutes left, for fuel. Thus they lost the lead to Prema Racing #9, but they came right ahead of Panis Racing #65.
The third place in GTE changed when Proton Competition Porsche #77 overtook their teammates in #93. Out in front, Iron Lynx Ferrari #60 was still leading but they needed to pit one more time before the chequered flag. Meanwhile, Bruni could potentially catch Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #32 with some fast laps, if everything went well. And indeed, #60 pitted with twelve minutes left on the clock, and fell down to P7 in GTE.
AF Corse #88 and United Autosports #22 had to pit for fuel with nine minutes left, so that they had enough fuel to finish the race. Thus, Racing Team Turkey #34 was back in the lead in LMP2 Pro/Am.
Duqueine Team #30 went off the track in Turn 8, but Richard Bradley could recover.
Mikkel Jensen in Kessel Racing Ferrari #57 was right behind Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin #95 with Jonny Adam behind the wheel.
COOL Racing #17 was catching Inter Europol Competition #13 in lightning speed, but time wasn’t on their side. Jakobsen caught Nicolas Pino with three seconds per lap, but it would be really close at the chequered flag.
Right as the cars started their last lap, COOL Racing #17 managed to take the lead in the LMP3 category, opening a gap to Inter Europol Competition #13.
It was a crazy last lap, where Proton Competition Porsche #77 had caught up with Rinaldi Racing #32, and was right behind Nicolas Varrone’s rear wing. The two cars crossed the finish line with 0,120 second between them.
After four hours of fantastic racing, Prema Racing #9 with Louis Deletraz, Ferdinand Habsburg and Lorenzo Colombo won the four-hour race. Algarve Pro Racing #19 with Bent Viscaal and Sophia Flörsch finished, and Panis Racing #65 with Job van Uitert, Nicolas Jamin and Julien Canal in third.
Racing Team Turkey #34 with Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluc and Jack Aitken won LMP2 Pro/Am (P6 overall), ahead of AF Corse #88 with Francois Perrodo, Alessio Rovera and Nicklas Nielsen (P8 overall), and with TDS Racing x Vaillante #31 with Mathias Beche, Philippe Cimadomo and Tijmen Van der Helm in P3 (P10 overall).
The LMP3 category was won by COOL Racing #17 with Michael Benham, Maurice Smith and Malthe Jakobsen. Inter Europol Competition #13 with Nicolas Pino, Charles Crews and Guilherme Oliveira finished second, while United Autosports #2 with Bailey Voisin, Joshua Caygill and Finn Gehrsitz was P3.
In GTE, Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #32 with Pierre Ehret, Memo Gidley and Nicolas Varrone won the race, ahead of Proton Competition Porsche #77 with Gianmaria Bruni, Christian Ried and Lorenzo Ferrari, while Proton Competition Porsche #93 with Richard Lietz, Zacherie Robichon and Michael Fassbender finished third.
The next round of the European Le Mans Series will be run on 15 May 2022 at Imola track in Italy.