The joy at JOTA was dampened significantly two and a half hours after the race when a dramatic notification came through from the stewards that they had been given a 45-second penalty for Filipe Albuquerque exceeding the maximum amount of time at the wheel. The Portuguese was adjudged to have gone over the allotted time by 1m57.770s.
The post-race penalty demoted the JOTA Sport Gibson 015S-Nissan to third place and ensured that Greaves Motorsport is the official winners of the race. The No.20 AF Racing BR01 is now second.
The amended result means that JOTA still lead the points standings but now only by a single point from Greaves, meaning that the season finale at Estoril will now be the ultimate ‘Judgement Day’ for a genuine three-way battle between JOTA, Greaves and TDS by Thiriet.
JOTA Sport claimed a hard-won second ELMS victory of the 2015 season at Paul Ricard this afternoon to take a firm grip on the title fight with one round remaining.
Harry Tincknell took the chequered flag 30.290s ahead of fellow Gibson 015S-Nissan runners, Greaves Motorsport, to claim maximum points from a very fruitful weekend for the British team.
The result today ensures that Tincknell, Filipe Albuquerque and Simon Dolan enjoy an 18-point advantage, with 26pts to play for, as the ELMS now heads to Estoril for the final race next month.
It was an explosive start to the four-hour race, as the pole sitting JOTA Gibson 015S-Nissan, driven by Dolan, was swamped by the two AF Racing BR01’s, and also a flying Leo Roussel in the Pegasus Morgan-Nissan.
Mikhail Aleshin took the lead at turn one, with Roussel slotting in to second with Minassian’s No.20 BR01-Nissan immediately harrying the young Frenchman. Minassian was soon through but lost the place again, before finally despatching the maimi-blue Morgan after fifteen minutes of racing
Aleshin opened up a five second lead from the sister BR01. Holding a watching brief in P4 was Simon Dolan, who started to harry the Morgan during an impressive first spell at the wheel.
Aleshin continued to lead Minassian during the second stint, but the gaps between the leaders all shrank when the first safety car was deployed. Dolan gained approximately twenty seconds on the leading BR01’s, all be it with several GT cars between his Gibson 015S, and the leading AF Racing cars.
The Safety Car had been deployed to retrieve the stranded No.2 Team LNT Ginetta after 70-minutes, and the Thiriet by TDS ORECA 05 Nissan pitted, thus going further out of sequence to the rest of the field. Earlier, Badey had made an unscheduled stop with a suspected debris related wheel breakage.
After the Safety Car shakeout, the AF Racing cars were still running a comfortable 1-2, but the scrap for third place intensified with an impressive Dolan gamely repelling Hirsch’s Greaves Gibson 015S. That was until the JOTA driver, on increasingly worn tyres, spun at turn two and lost 12-seconds and several places.
However, with Albuquerque soon ensconced in the JOTA cockpit, the race would soon come back to JOTA. Soon after the Portuguese factory Audi driver took over, a second safety car was called, after Michael Lyons crashed heavily on the entry to Signes. Thankfully, Lyons emerged from a medical centre check-up with just a bruised leg and sore neck.
This bunched the field up again and Albuquerque soon scythed his way by Hirsch’s Greaves Gibson on the Mistral straight, and then started to rein Gommendy’s leading Oreca 05-Nissan in. With JOTA bringing their driver in to the pits with 90-mins to go for its penultimate stop, it meant this section of the race would set up an interesting final hour, as Albuquerque started significantly chipping away at Gommendy.
Gommendy relinquished the cockpit to Pierre Thiriet with 70-minutes remaining, handing Albuquerque a 17-second lead over the No.21 AF Racing BR01 of Victor Shaytar, with Thiriet emerging from the pitlane third, but right on the Russian’s rear wing.
The two then engaged in a thrilling battle which saw several overtaking moves as they scrapped for many laps, allowing a charging Jon Lancaster to move his Greaves Gibson-Nissan in to a position of attack, and make it a frantic three-way battle. All of this, was of course ‘manna from heaven’ for JOTA, as Albuquerque continued to extend his lead.
With 50-minutes remaining Lancaster put the move of the race on Thiriet, around the outside of Turn 11 in a brilliantly opportunistic move. A few corners later he was also despatched Shaytar, who then fell behind Thiriet, and down to fourth, before pitting and handing over to Kiril Ladygin for the final stint.
With Lancaster on one of his white-hot missions, JOTA watched a 20-second lead reduced to 14-seconds before the final stop, when Tincknell hopped in to the cockpit. With fresh rubber bolted on, as 45-minutes of racing was left to run, the works Nissan LMP1 ace was long gone and able to back off substantially in the final ten minutes of the race.
When Lancaster pitted a few laps later and took fuel only it had looked like a battle royal could rage to the flag, but the unlucky Greaves crew looked on in horror as the SVK By Speed Factory LMP3 car pitted at the same time and temporarily blocked-in Lancaster, costing him valuable seconds.
With Tincknell on fresh Dunlop’s the race to the flag was essentially straightforward, and a fourth ELMS win for the Kent based squad was sealed.
Lancaster, on older tyres, looked as if he was going to be forced to defend in the final 30-minutes from Kiril Ladygin for second position. But the Yorkshireman was able to sufficiently repel Ladygin and hang on to second, thus moving Greaves up to a runners-up position in the points standings.
A second consecutive podium for the BR01 was very well deserved after the still relatively new LMP2 showed both speed and reliability throughout the weekend. The cars creator Paolo Catone and the project co-ordinator Sergey Zlobin were delighted with the car’s breakthrough weekend.
Among the many happy faces after the race, there was relative gloom at Thiriet by TDS. The team suffered more misfortune after a long late stop for a suspected debris-triggered brake problem. As a result they fall back to third in the standings, 20-pts behind JOTA. They deserved more this weekend.
Nicolas Minassian continued to real back the years in the No.20 AF Racing BR01 and completed a typically committed double stint at the start of the race to set up a solid fourth place for he and his team mates Maurizio Mediani and David Markozov.
Olivier Pla’s final stint flourish garnered Krohn Racing another clutch of points with fifth place, while the delayed Thiriet by TDS Oreca came home a sombre sixth.
Pegasus Racing had another fine showing with a blistering few stints from Leo Roussel. David Cheng accompanied the French flair with his usual safe pair of hands contribution, before ill-luck once visited the Alsatian team, and a penultimate hour puncture ensured they came home seventh.
Algarve Pro Racing’s Ligier JSP2-Nissan was the final LMP1 runner. Michael Munemann, James Winslow and Andrea Roda claimed some reward from a tough race which was punctuated by a penalty after contact with the No.56 AT Racing Ferrari.
The Eurasia Motorsport Oreca 03R-Nissan suffered a late race suspension problem which could have been caused by the contact from the Murphy Prototypes car. They were thus not classified, which was a shame after both Nico Pieter De Bruijn and Richard Bradley showed useful pace, fighting back from an early race issue which dropped it to the back of the field.
The ELMS paddock re-convenes over the weekend of 17-18 October at Estoril.