The big news at the head of the final hour was spots of rain being reported at various points around the circuit, but with equal parts sunshine in evidence, it wasn’t yet clear if there’d be a game-changing downpour. Giermaziak pitted twice, first to take a drive-through penalty in the Greaves Ligier and then to make a what initially seemed like a routine stop but turned into a visit to the garage. This promoted Coletti in the #32 SMP car to a podium position and a raft of other cars up a spot.
Coletti then had another spot handed to him when the Panis-Barthez Ligier, after a very strong run all race, attempted to pull into the International pitlane with a clear mechanical problem. Coletti’s team-mate Evans was now third, making it an SMP Racing 2-3 after running solidly in the top six but not quite on the pace of the leaders all race. That order didn’t last long, however: Evans briefly moved into second before making the #44 car’s third and final stop, allowing Olivier Lombard in the SO24! by Lombard Racing Ligier into second and restoring Coletti to third.
Krohn’s third driver Niclas Jonsson held fourth in the #40 Ligier, ahead of Briton James Winslow in the #34 Race Performance Oreca, which had enjoyed a tidy if unspectacular run so far and was reaping the rewards of keeping out of trouble.
Up front, Dolan’s superb stint finally wrapped, leaving about 40 minutes for newly recruited third driver Giedo van der Garde to secure the victory.
“It was a little bit tricky, the track was damp and it caught people out,” said Tincknell after the race. “I got the lead into brooklands. We were disappointed in Qualifying. It was nice to get ahead and drive away. I was impressed to see it was a really clean race. Simon and Guido did a great job too.
“It’s been an intense weekend. I just need to block everything out and know that in an LMP2 car Turn 1 is flat, and that I need to use the other pit lane.”
Lombard pitted with 34 minutes of the race remaining, shuffling Coletti once again up to second but over a minute adrift of the G-Drive car. Lombard himself rejoined third, with a 13-second lead ahead of Jonsson in fourth and Evans in fifth, the latter having caught and overhauled the Race Performance machine of Winslow.
The embattled Pegasus Racing machine, on the back foot ever since Roussel hitting the wall at the start, suffered further problems with 20 minutes to go as it shed its rear right wheel, wrapping up day to forget for both the French driver and the German team. The incident also prompted a full-course yellow to allow the wheel to be recovered and car parked at a safe location.
Christian England pitted with just over an hour to run, staying in the car to finish the race for the P3-leading United #2 Ligier. When the second-place #9 Graff Ligier pitted for its final scheduled stop, the rain began to come down to the point where wipers needed to be used – it didn’t last though and throw any sort of spanner into the works, though.
Enzo Guibbert climbed in the Graff car and when he rejoined, England regained the lead of the race with a 23-second advantage. The second United car which led early on in the race also had to pit and have Mark Patterson hand the car over to Wayne Boyd.
When Boyd came out the car had slipped from second in LMP3 (out of sync) to sixth. The extra time to change drivers causing the car to plummet.
The top three after everyone made their round of stops was the #2 United car from the #9 Graff and #3 United. Wayne Boyd in the third-place car though, was 90 seconds off the lead, but lapping considerably quicker than England and Guibbert ahead.
Boyd was reducing the gap by a couple of seconds a lap on occasion, and closing in quickly on Guibbert’s Graff Ligier. With 30 minutes left, Boyd had the French-run Ligier in his sights and the intention to ensure a United Autosports 1-2.
Boyd made the move look easy, with the rain starting to come down again, and dived up the inside going into Maggots. There was little Enzo Guibbert could do to hold him back.
Under the full-course yellow for the Pegasus incident, England pitted the leading United car, helping him retain the lead. Boyd was now a minute behind, but with too little time to catch the sister car barring an unforeseen issue.
And indeed England held onto the lead, and crossed the line to head a United Autosports 1-2 to start the year. The #9 came home third, in a great result for Graff. The #19 Duqueine and #6 360 Racing Ligiers ended up a distant fourth and fifth.
“Everything has a similar terminal speed, passing cars in the braking zones was difficult,” Alex Brundle said in the post-race presser. “You have to get your elbows out there. We managed to make our way through the Turn 1 melee, and we kept the lead from there.”
Darren Turner pitted the #99 Aston Martin from the lead of the class with just over 50 minutes of the race to run. Beechdean’s Andrew Howard climbed aboard to bring the car to the flag. That saw the class lead once again swing the way of the #66 JMW Ferrari, with Pier Guidi back in third in the AT Racing Ferrari and pole winner Richie Stanaway finally getting his chance at the wheel of the now fourth-place #96 Rofgo Aston Martin.
With just over 20 minutes to go, it became clear the Beechdean car wasn’t going to catch the Ferrari without a radical change in the weather or incident for the leader to shake things up. Third-place Pier Guidi in the AT Ferrari was lapping faster but ran out of time to close down the minute-plus gap. In the dying minutes of the race, he had to fend off a late charge from Stanaway for the final podium position, a battle that was resolved in favour of the latter after heavy contact at Vale left the Aston limping across the line with a damaged wheel. (STOP PRESS. after a post race stewards decision the #96 Aston Martin was dealt a 4 minute time penalty for avoidable contact on the Ferrari. Pier Guidi actually crossed the line 3 minutes and 24 seconds after the Aston had struggled home, their finishing positions were therefore reversed, the #56 AT Racing Ferrari classified third, the #96 Aston fourth)
A full-course yellow for an errant LMP2 wheel (that gave Butcher a heart-in-mouth moment when he came around the right-hander entry to the Complex) neutralised the race with 19 minutes left on the clock. The brief relaxation of the pace bought more time for Howard to fend off Pier Guidi’s attack, while the previously threatened rain shower was looking less likely by the minute. It also allowed the JMW car make its necessary splash-and-dash stop with less pressure than would otherwise have been the case.
“When we finished the race the left-front tyre was completely gone,” said Bertolini after the race. “The team had to just survive without changing tyres at the end. I felt like a passenger. It was a really really unbelievable race though, we are really happy. Winning with JMW feels like winning with a family team.”
Rob Smith after the race spoke about the chaos at the start of the race, shedding some light on the reason for the chaos: “Nobody was weaving on the warm up lap, and everyone went spinning off at Turn 1 as a result.
“It was like something out of Days of Thunder.”