ELMS: Thiriet takes championship lead with victory in France

Thiriet by TDS Racing won a thrilling 4 Hours of Le Castellet to take the lead in the European Le Mans Series standings.

The #46 ORECA-Nissan 05, driven by Pierre Thiriet, Mathias Beche and stand-in Mike Conway crossed the finish line one lap ahead of the SMP Racing BR01-Nissan.

Race result by class

A full course caution after 1 hour 45 minutes sowed the seeds of victory for the French outfit.

With all the other LMP2 teams having completed their pit stops, race leader Thiriet came in just after the caution was called, which saved him time and so increased his lead to a big margin.

An impressive anchor stint from the 27 year old set up Beche for a straightforward run to the flag. Crucially, the result means Thiriet by TDS Racing overtakes G-Drive Racing at the top of the LMP2 championship.

SMP Racing finished second at the Paul Ricard circuit after a race-long battle with G-Drive and DragonSpeed.

The G-Drive Gibson-Nissan 015S, which was started by Harry Tincknell and shared between Simon Dolan and Giedo van der Garde, had to recover from ninth on the grid after tyre issues in qualifying.

An inspired opening drive from Tincknell saw the Jota-run team move up to third behind Conway and DragonSpeed’s Nicolas Lapierre. Tincknell’s charge included a bold overtake on the outside of the SMP car at turn one, but throughout the race the Gibson struggled for straight line speed and ultimately dropped to fifth near the end.

Third place went to DragonSpeed, with the stars and stripes liveried ORECA-Nissan 05 setting the fastest lap but not being able to supersede the SMP entry in front of it.

Close behind in fourth was the Eurasia Motorsport ORECA-Nissan 05 driven by Tristan Gommendy and Nico Peter de Bruijn.

Graff won LMP3 after Tockwith lost time (Credit: Adrenal Media)

In LMP3, a final hour spin for the Tockwith Motorsports Ligier-Nissan saw the British team’s lead slip away dramatically.

Nigel Moore had dominated the opening stint, with team-mate Philip Hanson running third during the middle portion of the race. Moore retook the lead with a slipstream pass on Eric Trouillet in the #9 Graff Ligier-Nissan, but Hanson’s late rotation in sector two meant the series debutants couldn’t execute a dream start to their ELMS account.

Instead, it was the Graff car that took the spoils, becoming the first non United Autosports entry to win a race in 2016.

Paul Petit crossed the finish line with a four second margin to the #19 Duqueine Engineering Ligier-Nissan of Dino Lunardi, ensuring a double victory for French teams in the prototype classes.

Third place went to the #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan driven by Alex Brundle, Christian England and Mike Guasch, which retains its lead in the championship.

The fight for LMGTE honours was equally intense, with JMW Motorsport winning a three-way fight to the flag.

The British squad, with its distinctive yellow Ferrari 458 Italia, had sparked concerns near the end of the race when it brought Rory Butcher in for a splash of fuel.

That promoted the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari 458 (the car that won the 4 Hours of Le Castellet last year) to the lead of the race, but the Danish squad also spotted a fuel light and had to pit shortly after.

In a nervy end to the race, and with the #99 Aston Martin of Alex MacDowall/Darren Turner/Andrew Howard looming, the two Ferraris exited the pits with mere seconds between them. But despite the pressure, Butcher was able to hold a 13 second gap to take the first win of the season for himself, Robert Smith and Andrea Bertolini.

Victory means JMW Motorsport takes the lead in the LMGTE championship, with Aston Martin Racing moving clear in second ahead of the AT Racing Ferrari crew which arrived in France at the top of the standings.

The ELMS teams can now enjoy a month long break as the series prepares to make its debut at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on September 25.