Thiriet by TDS Racing emerged victorious at the ELMS 4 Hours of Imola, giving the ORECA 05 its maiden race win.
Tristan Gommendy crossed the line 12 seconds ahead of Nathanael Berthon in the Murphy Prototypes ORECA 03R after an intriguing contest at the famous Italian circuit.
JOTA Sport finished third overall, with pole man Filipe Albuquerque recovering from a late stop to secure a podium place.
Despite starting ninth on the grid after Gommendy spun on his flying lap, Pierre Thiriet managed to work his way through the field to the point that he was dicing for second place with the Murphy car, as JOTA’s Harry Tincknell scurried into the distance.
Tincknell’s advantage was soon nullified by a lap 19 safety car, which was caused by an errant Henry Hassid in the MarcVDS BMW Z4. The French gentleman driver had a brief excursion at turn three, which scattered gravel across the track, although it didn’t affect the team’s progress.
Tincknell resumed his lead after the full course yellow before handing over to Simon Dolan. The JOTA Sport silver driver was then forced to make an unscheduled pit stop after a chunk of his front-left bodywork detached itself. The resulting debris, coupled with the Villorba Corse LMP3 car that had stopped at pit entry, prompted a second caution period.
Dolan’s stop gave Ludovic Badey, who had taken over from Thiriet, the overall race lead, with Gary Hirsch sitting behind in the Greaves Motorsport Gibson that won the opening round at Silverstone.
Badey was pressurised by Hirsch at the restart, although his position at the head of the field was made more pronounced by a spin for the Greaves driver at the end of the lap. This allowed the Murphy Prototypes ORECA, in the hands of Michael Lyons, to close in on Hirsch.
With Hirsch and Lyons scrapping for second Badey was able to maintain his advantage until the final hour and half, as he swapped for platinum driver Tristan Gommendy.
Gommendy held his ground at the head of the field for the final portion of the race, despite a late charge from Berthon, who was now back in the Murphys car.
Thiriet by TDS Racing’s overall victory was its first in the ELMS since Silverstone last year, and was enough to place the team at the top of the LMP2 standings, two points ahead of Greaves and six ahead of JOTA.
While the LMP2 lead battle stabilised in the latter stages, the dramatic fight for LMGTE honours kept the spectators guessing until the final lap. In the end it was pole sitter Alessandro Pier Guidi (driving the AT Racing Ferrari) who prevailed by three seconds over the Proton Competition Porsche 911.
Pier Guidi took the lead in the closing stages, as he drafted past Formula Racing’s Andrea Rizzoli on the run into Tamburello. Proton’s Marco Mapelli, who delivered one of the standout performances of the weekend, also usurped the Italian but was unable to catch Pier Guidi before the race’s conclusion.
BMW Team MarcVDS recovered from Hassid’s early off-track moment to finish fourth, with the talismanic Andy Priaulx coming within half a second of Rizzoli on the final lap. The final member of the train, the #55 AF Corse Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott, finished comfortably in sixth after drifting away from the lead battle.
In LMP3, the University of Bolton squad recorded its maiden victory in ELMS competition after a bruising class contest. Rob Garofall and Morten Dons were the least troubled of the six runners, finishing two laps ahead of the SVK by Speed Factory Ginetta.
Lanan Racing completed the top three, while the two Team LNT entries were halted by separate issues, including a pit-stop problem for the #3 Charlie Robertson/Sir Chris Hoy crew.
AF Corse executed a domination of the GTC field on home soil, as the #62 car of Francesco Castellacci, Stuart Hall and Rino Mastronardi led home the sister #63 and #64 machines. The Thiriet by TDS Racing BMW finished fourth in class, although like the Massive Motorsport Aston Martin it suffered from issues throughout the race.
With the 4 Hours of Imola wrapped up attention now turns to the non-championship 24 Hours of Le Mans. 11 ELMS entries, including nine from LMP2, will tackle the event, which begins with the official Test Day on May 31.