ELMS Le Castellet: DragonSpeed goes quickest in FP1

Round four of the European Le Mans Series began with DragonSpeed topping the timesheets in the opening free practice session.

The American outfit – featuring Nicolas Lapierre, Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman – led a dry afternoon run at the Paul Ricard circuit on France’s south coast.

Lapierre set the quickest time, turning in a 1:48.475s effort on his third tour in the #21 ORECA-Nissan 05.

The Frenchman edged out second-placed Mathias Beche in the Thiriet by TDS-entered ORECA 05 by 0.147 seconds.

Third overall went to the Greaves Motorsport Ligier-Nissan JSP2 driven by Nathanael Berthon who clocked a 1:48.906s time, less than half a second shy of Lapierre’s pace. He was closely followed by the G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan 015S of Gideo van der Garde, which currently leads the ELMS championship.

DragonSpeed had two reasons to be pleased on Friday, as Hedman set the fastest lap during the Bronze drivers’ collective test earlier in the day.

In LMP3, series newcomer Tockwith Motorsports surprised the field by topping the class order in free practice. The British team will use its Ligier-Nissan JSP3 chassis for the remainder of the ELMS season as well as the UK-based Prototype Cup.

Driver Nigel Moore, who is making his first appearance in prototypes since the 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans, recorded the fastest lap with a time of 1:54.669 seconds.

Second place, by a margin of three tenths of a second, went to Italy’s Giorgio Sernagiotto in the Villorba Corsa Ligier JSP3. Third was Simon Gachet of Panis-Barthez Competition, while Alex Brundle completed the top four in the points-leading United Autosports entry.

LMGTE saw Ferrari set the fastest lap with 2015 4 Hours of Le Castellet pole sitter Alessandro Pier Guidi coming off best. The Italian’s time of 1:58.080s gave the AT Racing squad confidence ahead of a key race for the class.

Second place went to the #99 Aston Martin of Darren Turner, who along with team-mates Andrew Howard and Alex MacDowall can overtake AT Racing’s crew with a good result this weekend.

Turner’s quickest lap fell just 0.027 seconds short of Pier Guidi’s, with Marco Cioci a further 0.142 seconds back in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari.