SMP Racing won the 4 Hours of Le Castellet in dominant fashion, storming to a famous victory with the #27 Dallara in just the team’s second race since returning to the European Le Mans Series.
The Russian team made the most of an opportunistic strategy in the opening hour, stretching out the first stint with Matevos Isaakyan behind the wheel to pit under a full-course yellow on the first hour.
The polesitting #21 DragonSpeed Oreca retained the lead off of the line, with Ben Hanley seeing off the fast-starting fellow Orecas of the #22 G-Drive Racing team and #39 Graff squad at the braking zone for the first corner.
The #39 – with Enzo Guibbert behind the wheel – neglected to take tyres at the first stop, winning track position ahead of the two DragonSpeed-run cars, which both lost further time battling against each other as Memo Rojas and Henrik Hedman enjoyed a fiery scrap for third – with Isaakyan assuming the lead in the #27 having yet to pit.
Under the full-course yellow brought out for the stricken Alexander Talkanitsa Jr. in the #9 AT Racing, Guibbert changed tyres as Isaakyan took advantage to make the #27 team’s first stop, giving the team an 18-second advantage over the #39 after the green flag restart.
After the #39 made a long-awaited driver swap, the #22 assumed second place with Nicolas Minassian in the car, but at half-distance had a thirty-second disadvantage behind the #27, with Egor Orudzhev assuming driving duties from Isaakyan.
The gap remained relatively stagnant, with Minassian unable to make inroads into Orudzhev’s lead. After Léo Roussel took over in the #22, the Frenchman was able to eat into the Russian outfit’s lead; after the final set of stops, Isaakyan climbed back into the #27 Dallara with a thirty second lead, with Roussel continuing to chip away.
A full course yellow for Ross Kaiser – whose #6 360 Racing Ligier was stranded off the track – offered Isaakyan some breathing space, and the #22 squad’s decision to pit once more helped the SMP Racing squad to its first win of 2017, crossing the line by over a minute-and-a-half from Roussel.
The #32 United Autosports Ligier finished third, having been forced into a spin at the Chicane Nord on the opening lap – Hugo de Sadeleer was hit from behind by Andrea Belicchi in the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara, dropping to the back of the LMP2 class.
Following a pair of glacial stints from Hedman, the #21 DragonSpeed team could only manage seventh overall, behind both Graff cars and the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier.
LMP3: United Autosports holds off from Inter Europol Competition
The #2 United Autosports Ligier took its second LMP3 category victory of the season, ensuring the duo of Sean Rayhall and John Falb extended their leads atop the LMP3 standings.
Slowly making progress through the pack from fifth on the grid, the #2 team had sacrificed qualifying pace for race performance, allowing Rayhall to take class lead from the #15 RLR Msport team in the first hour; Alex Kapadia had taken the early lead in the #15 Ligier as polesitter Kaiser in the #6 dropped back at the start.
In the hands of Falb, the #2 continued to extend its advantage after the challenging #19 M.Racing-YMR Norma dropped back following a number of penalties for speed infractions. Although the Ligier of the #17 Ultimate team made a challenge for the lead following a strong opening stint from Jean-Baptiste Lahaye, penalties for a few driving standards infractions put an end to the French team’s challenge for LMP3 honours.
Following an impressive stint in charge of the #13 Inter Europol Ligier, Martin Hippe began to catch Falb in the final thirty minutes of the race, closing the gap to nine seconds with ten minutes remaining. However, a pair of full-course yellows in the final half-hour proved to be unlucky for the #13, with Hippe running out of time to make a pass on the #2 and finishing 2.5s behind.
The #18 M.Racing-YMR Ligier finished third, 26 seconds back on the winning LMP3 car having perhaps benefitted from the penalties awarded to the team’s rivals.
LMGTE: Spirit of Race keeps title hopes alive with the #55
Spirit of Race’s #55 Ferrari 488 took its second GTE win on the trot, with the trio of Duncan Cameron, Aaron Scott and Matt Griffin heading the class in dominant fashion.
The #77 Porsche of Proton Competition took the early lead, but under ten minutes later, the #55 reclaimed the advantage as the Porsche started to drop, losing second to the #99 Beechdeen AMR Vantage and coming under attack from the #66 JMW Motorsports Ferrari.
Pitting under the full course yellow at the hour mark, the #55 was able to increase its advantage as Cameron proceeded to build a large lead, leaving Andrew Howard in the #99 in the clutches of Robert Smith in the #66, who took second place.
After a penalty for a full course yellow infraction, the #66’s hopes of catching the #55 were dashed, and instead dropped back into the clutches of the #90 TF Sport, with Nicki Thiim making the pass on Jonny Cocker for second.
The #77 dropped to the back of the class, following a slow stint with Joel Camathias behind the wheel, before Matteo Cairoli stalled the Porsche 911 at his final pitstop to encapsulate a difficult afternoon for the Proton team.
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