Thiriet by TDS Racing led the 4 Hours of Le Castellet at the halfway point thanks to an early pit stop under the safety car.
The French squad suffered a puncture and even disciplinary action early on but soon managed to re-assert its ORECA 05 Nissan at the head of the field when the safety car was deployed just after the hour mark.
As the clock ticked three it was Tristan Gommendy who held the lead ahead of Gary Hirsch in the Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S.
The start of the race was a frantic affair, with pole-sitter Simon Dolan (Jota Sport) coming under immediate pressure from the two AF Racing BR01 Nissans. However, it was the Pegasus Racing Morgan of Leo Roussel that surprised everyone with a daring lunge on the inside of the Jota driver at turn one. Roussel, who had started fifth, soon lost the place to the two BR01s but remained in the top three at the halfway mark.
Much of the opening two hours was dominated by the BR01 pairing of Mikhail Aleshin and Nicolas Minassian, with Aleshin in the #21 car setting a blistering pace in P1. Minassian kept in close touch, while Dolan had recovered from a troublesome first lap and was chasing in third. Thiriet by TDS Racing’s Ludovic Badey had jumped to third after three laps, but the stewards handed him a corner-cutting penalty that forced the surrender of two places.
Badey’s day got even worse when he unexpectedly came into the pits for a tyre change. The reason for such an off-kilter stop was a puncture, which nearly cost the Frenchman a lap.
Meanwhile, Aleshin and Minassian were looking imperious at the head of the field, until LMP3 leader Gaetan Paletou rotated at turn six. The #2 Ginetta refused to restart, despite Paletou’s best efforts, resulting in a brief but key safety car period that allowed the Thiriet by TDS squad a free pit stop.
The LMP2 class bunched up after the second round of pit stops which saw the BR01s drop to fourth and fifth overall, while the Thiriet ORECA emerged as the leader.
Paletou’s dramatic retirement did have positive connotations for some drivers, especially new LMP3 leaders Charlie Robertson and Chris Hoy who are now one step closer to clinching their maiden international sportscar titles. Hoy led the class at halfway and currently has a one lap advantage over the Villorba Corse machine of Roberto Lacorte, while SVK by Speed Factory’s new addition Mirco van Oostrum lies third.
The LMGTE championship-leading Formula Racing Ferrari held sway at the two hour mark, with AF representative Andrea Rizzoli circulating just ahead of Andy Priaulx in the BMW Team Marc VDS Z4. Gulf Racing UK made it three different manufacturers in the top three, although the situation could have been different had erstwhile leader Alex Talkanitsa Jr not made contact with the Algarve Pro Racing Ligier and spun after 48 minutes.
In GTC, TDS Racing led the way after Dino Lunardi found a way past the pole-sitting #63 Ferrari in the pit stops. In third was the Massive Motorsport Aston Martin GT3, which has been making steady progress all afternoon despite starting from the back.
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