Silverstone ELMS: G-Drive wins season opener


G-Drive Racing won the first round of the 2016 European Le Mans Series with a dominant display at Silverstone.

The orange Gibson 015S, driven by Harry Tincknell, Simon Dolan and Giedo van der Garde, took victory by 1 minute 35 seconds ahead of the #32 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan of Stefano Coletti, Julian Leal and Andreas Wirth.

Tincknell, starting fourth on the grid, worked his way to the lead on the opening lap and proceeded to pull away from Pierre Thiriet in the TDS Racing Oreca 05 and Wirth in the BR01. All three managed to evade the carnage on the second row, as the Pegasus Racing Morgan-Nissan of Leo Roussel spun at the rolling start and collided heavily with the pit wall.

Much of Tincknell’s pressure was relieved in the first stint when Thiriet and the Eurasia Motorsport Oreca 05 of Tristan Gommendy retired within minutes of each other. Both cars retired on the spot, leaving Tincknell to hand the Gibson over to Dolan with a healthy advantage. The only car to keep in touch with the Gibson was the Panis-Barthez entered Ligier JS P2, which in the hands of Paul-Loup Chatin set the fastest lap of the race at 1:50.428.

Despite Chatin’s evident pace, the only threat to G-Drive’s position came during the change-over pit stop at the halfway point. An ill-timed full course caution played into the hands of Panis-Barthez Racing, which was able to execute a full service under yellow flags. That gave Dolan the task of chasing Fabien Barthez, the former goalkeeper, who had over a minute on the Gibson.

Dolan was quick to work away at the gap, eventually passing Barthez with a clean move on the Frenchman’s inside at Stowe. Nearing the three hour mark, Dolan’s tyres – and times – began to wane as the Panis-Barthez and Greaves Motorsport cars cut into his lead.

However, the final hour signaled drama for the Panis-Barthez car as Timothe Buret reported an electrical problem and was forced to pull off the road. That prompted a reshuffle of the order, with Olivier Lombard now second and in charge of a brilliant stint aboard the So24! By Lombard Racing Ligier. Former GP2 star Coletti moved up to third, with Mitch Evans fourth in the guest SMP entry.

The field sprints away as Roussel (foreground) spins (Credit: Adrenal Media)

With 45 minutes to go, G-Drive swapped Dolan for Van der Garde, who continued his team-mate’s good work at the front of the field. The ex-Formula 1 driver was unopposed in his maiden LMP2 race stint, taking the flag and ensuring a key victory for G-Drive. Coletti passed Lombard in the closing stages to take second, while Evans lost ground in his BR01 and was caught by the Krohn Racing Ligier of Nic Jonsson.

“It’s always nice to win on our home track,” said Dolan after the race. “We’ve had some bad luck at Silverstone in the past but we put it behind us today.”

“Simon and Harry did a mega job in their stints – I just had to finish,” added van der Garde. “I had to get used to the traffic, but when I did the car felt really good. It’s mega to win straight away with G-Drive after not racing last year.”

In LMP3, United Autosports began its ELMS account with a hard-fought one-two finish. Christian England finished the job for the #2 Ligier JS P3 crew that also starred Alex Brundle and Mike Guasch, while the sister car of Wayne Boyd, Mark Patterson and Matt Bell ran a lap down. Third in class was the #9 Graff Ligier which had challenged early on but ended 40 seconds behind the second placed car.

LMGTE saw Aston Martin Racing take an early hold, with Stuart Hall (#96 car) building up a huge lead in the opening stint. He and Alex MacDowall (#99 Aston Martin) survived a hectic opening stanza that saw two of the AF Corse Ferraris collide, although their initial lead would be reduced later on. Using the pit stops as a guide, JMW Motorsport emerged in front and with Rory Butcher behind the wheel for the final stint made no mistake of sealing victory at its home track.

With round one of the European Le Mans Series complete, attention now turns to the second event of the season – featuring official ELMS and Renault supports – at Imola on July 17.