The #32 United Autosports Ligier JS P217 trio of Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer and Filipe Albuquerque scored their second win of the season at the Red Bull Ring, after a four-hour duel with the #22 Pole-sitting G-Drive Racing by DragonSpeed ORECA 07.
Both cars tussled throughout the race, each leading for long periods, but in the end, United took the lead at the final round of pit stops, after a quick splash and dash saved them enough time to leapfrog the ORECA which lost time in traffic and had a starter problem towards the end of the race at pit stops.
Nic Minassian, who was standing in for Ryo Hirakawa in the #22 this weekend, was particularly frustrated after being held up by the Algarve Pro Ligier of Matt McMurry during his middle stint – in which he charged to the lead from fifth.
“I don’t usually complain about traffic, but I lost at least seven seconds because of an LMP2 driver not obeying blue flags,” Minassian expressed. “He was weaving, brake testing me and held me up for multiple laps. Positively though, we had the best car in terms of performance, we showed that in practice, qualifying and the race, which is great news for the rest of the season.”
The loss of time brought. United back into the race and meant Albuquerque took the lead in the final half hour and had to hold of the hard-charging Léo Roussel behind, who reduced the lead gap from over 10 seconds to just 4.5 by the end of the race.
“Thanks to United for the great pit stop at the end,” Albuquerque said after the race. “They boys did an amazing job too. I was pushing hard and I had bad traffic, I worried that my tyres would be gone. The last five laps I knew I had it, it was pure pleasure!
“The car in sprint spec matches up well with the ORECA, which should bode well for the rest of the season.”
The result means that the United Autosports crew have reduced the points gap to the #22 G-Drive crew from 11 points to just four with three rounds remaining.
Third on the road, and a lap down by the end of the race, was the #39 GRAFF ORECA, which had a quiet race, climbing the order as other frontrunners fell by the wayside.
Rounding out the top five was the #40 GRAFF ORECA in fourth and #27 SMP Racing Dallara in fifth.
Two key cars to hit trouble, one of which was the #27 SMP Racing Dallara, the other the #21 10Star DragonSpeed ORECA. The Russian-entered Dallara led briefly, but was out of sync for most of the race after pitting early in the second hour. Thanks to great driving by ELMS debutants Mtevos Isaakyan and Egor Orudzhev the team battled for podium spots before it lost three minutes in the pits for an air-jack failure.
The #21 DragonSpeed 07 meanwhile, ran out of fuel with an hour to go while running fifth with Henrik Hedman aboard, bringing out the only Full-Course Yellow of the race, as the Swede ground two a halt at Turn 8.
Nicolas Lapierre in the early stages of the race battled for podium spots after falling to second to fourth at the start. But it wasn’t meant to be, as Hedman retired the car before Ben Hanley was able to climb aboard and make a late charge to the finish.
Falb & Rayhall win LMP3 despite late penalty
The battle for the lead in LMP3 also went down to the wire, with late drama for the eventual winners in the #2 United Autosports Ligier JS P3, who made it a double win for the Anglo-American team.
John Falb and Sean Rayhall in the #2 United Ligier had built a gap of nearly 25 seconds over the #11 Eurointernational Ligier JSP3 in second position with time winding down. Yet, in the final moments of the race, they received a drive-through penalty for Falb abusing track limits. Luckily for them, they were able to keep their lead after Falb rejoined the race in the final few minutes after serving the penalty. The winning margin in the end was just 1.7 seconds.
Giorgio Mondini and Davide Uboldi in the #11 had an excellent race and led several hours en route to second. They finished ahead of the #18 YMR Ligier JSP3 driven by Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci.
LMP3 Championship leaders Jean-Baptiste Lahaye, Mathieu Lahaye and Francois Heriau finished fourth in the #17 Ultimate JSP3. The #9 AT Racing Ligier JSP3 driven by Alexander Talkanista Jr, Alexander Talkanista Sr and Mikkel Jensen finished fifth after leading most of the first hour.
All LMP3 cars had a clean start. Michael Jensen in the #9 AT Racing Ligier JSP3 took the lead from the green light onwards. Pole sitter David Droux in the #7 slipped to third place while Sean Rayhall in the #2 United Autosport Ligier JSP3 jumped from sixth to second place. Rayhall was able to challenge Jensen for the lead during a few laps but then lost positions to David Droux on lap 12 and Giorgio Mondini in the #11 Eurointernational Ligier JSP3 on lap 30. At the top of the first hour, Jensen built a gap of 14 seconds over Droux and 31 seconds over Mondini.
On lap 45, top 4 cars pitted. Mondini and Rayhall took fuel only while driver changes occurred in the #7 and in the #9. Consequently, the #11 led the race ahead of the #2, the #7 and the #9. Top 3 positions froze during the second hour.
Right after the second round of pit stops, Uboldi in the #11 kept the lead temporarily before being overtaken by Nicolas Schatz in the #7 Duqueine Engineering Norma M30 at turn 1. The Frenchman kept the lead less than 5 laps before spinning and stopping extensively at turn 4. Uboldi returned in the lead of the category with an 18 second gap over John Falb in the #2 and Romano Ricci in the #18 YMR Ligier JSP3 (32S).
At the top of the final hour, cars pitted one last time. Uboldi in the #11 kept a short lead of less than 4 seconds over Falb in the #2. Uboldi resisted to Falb several laps but eventually lost the lead on lap 154 after a contact at Turn 4 with the #17 Ultimate JSP3 and the #23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier JSP217.
Uboldi was unable to match the pace of Falb who pulled away and built a gap of nearly 25 seconds. Yet, the Italian reduced it to a little less than three seconds as the American took a drive through penalty for constant abuse of track limits.
“I did not get any warning for abusing track limits until the very end of the race. I was just managing the traffic. I served my time and kept first place. I seem to like to turn on the drama !” said Falb after the checkered flag.
After winning at Siverstone last spring, it is the second victory this season for United Autosports.
Spirit of Race takes GTE victory
As usual, the GTE category made for a thrilling race. It was only in the last 30 minutes of the race that Matt Griffin was able to secure the win for the #55 Spirit Of The Race Ferrari 488 GTE after a lengthy fight with the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari driven by Robert Smith, Jody Fannin and Jonathan Cocker.
The Spirit of Race Ferrari’s move for the lead of the race was when Fannin took the wheel of the #66 at JMW’s final pit stop and built a small margin of less than five seconds over the #55 now driven by Matt Griffin. The Irishman then caught and passed Fannin through traffic.
“When I exited the pits, I could see the JMW and I knew I was quicker,” Griffin said. “I was very patient and I caught him up methodically.”
He overtook the #66 as Fannin struggled to lap the #7 Duqueine Engineering Norma M30. Griffin then cruised to the checkered flag and won ahead by 17 seconds over the JMW Ferrari.
The #90 TF Sport driven by Salih Yoluc, Euan Hankey and Nicki Thiim took the final podium position in the category after a fight until the very last lap of the race with the #51 Ferrari F488 GTE driven by Gianluca Roda, Giorgio Roda and Andrea Bertolini.
The Aston Martin Vantages were discreet for a large part of the race but in the last half hour, Nicki Thiim in the TF example attacked Georgio Roda in the #51 for third place. He managed to overtake the Ferrari on Lap 155 and kept third until the checkered flag fell despite relentless attacks from the Italian.
The #77 Proton Competition Porsche driven by Christian Ried, Joel Camathias and Matteo Carol finished fifth.
Featured image courtesy of United Autosports