Thrills and Spills On The Road To Le Mans

by Jean-Paul Hackett

The second 2018 Road to Le Mans races began on a dry track as the #39 Graff Norma-Nissan of Eric Trouillet led the fifty car pack towards the Dunlop Curves. The French driver spun at turn two with the race one winner, the #11 Eurointernational Ligier, also going off from third on the grid, allowing the #30 CD-Sport Norma of Laurents Horr to jump into the lead.

The #8 Kessel Racing Ferrari F488 GT3 of Sergio Pianezzola led the class from pole position, but went wide onto the dirty part of the track at the Michelin Chicane, the lack of grip forced the Italian’s car to flick sideways and hit the #71 AF Corse F488 of Marco Cioci, who was challenging for the lead. Cioci’s Ferrari, in turn, ran into the #65 Graff Norma, taking all three cars out of the race.

The Safety Car was deployed for 15 minutes to recover the damaged cars, and when the race went green again, the #30 LMP3 contender pulled out a good gap to the #25 Lanan Racing Ligier of Michael Benham, who had moved up from 6th on the grid to 2nd on the opening lap. Benham was coming under pressure from the #19 Ultimate Norma of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye. The British driver held off the challenge for a while, but at the Mulsanne Corner, Lahaye swept into second place.

The #3 DKR Engineering Norma of Jens Petersen and the #79 Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen Ligier of Colin Noble collided, with the Ligier ending up in the gravel at the Michelin Chicane, with a slow zone then being declared to move the car to a safe place.

The mandatory pitstops started, and Michael Benham was one of the first to enter the pitlane to hand over the car to Duncan Tappy. After the pitstops, the #33 United Autosports Ligier of ELMS champion Sean Rayhall was out in front, with Tappy’s Ligier snapping at his heels and challenging for the lead.

Credit: ELMS – Le Mans Cup

The #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari emerged from the pits in the lead of GT3 thanks to a solid stint by Christoph Ulrich, who handed the car to Maurizio Mediani, with the Italian well ahead of the remaining cars in the GT3 field.

Back at the front of the field, Duncan Tappy was close to the rear wing of the United Autosports Ligier, biding his time to pass Rayhall for the lead. On lap 10 Tappy got a run on the American into Mulsanne Corner and swept into the lead. He proceeded to pull a small gap, but then Rayhall closed it again as the race entered the final lap.

At the chequered flag, it was Duncan Tappy who took the win for Lanan Racing, 0.699s ahead of the United Autosports Ligier of Sean Rayhall. The #21 DB Autosports Norma of Jacques Wolff and Nicolas Schatz were third, 11 seconds behind the leaders.

A delighted Duncan Tappy said, “I think that race was just as exciting inside the car as it was for everyone outside. I have to say that Michael (Benham) made this victory possible.

“Watching that race, you wouldn’t be able to tell that this is only his third full season of racing. We were destined to win this and all credit to the team, they did a great job.”

Maurizio Mediani brought the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari home at the head of the GT3 field to claim the victory for himself and Christoph Ulrich. The #77 Kessel Racing Ferrari was in second place with Andrea Piccini crossing the line over a minute behind the lead car. The final podium place went to the #50 Kessel Racing F488 of Joe Hartshorne and Oliver Hancock.

Spirit of Race Ferrari driver Mediani had this to say following his win, “This is the best result after last year when we were leading, and we had some problems. So it is great to come back to Le Mans and win at the biggest event in the world.”

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