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4H Le Castellet Preview: The Title Race Heads To France

35 cars set for this weekend's ELMS race in the South of France

The European Le Mans Series season continues this weekend, with round four of the season at Circuit Paul Ricard. With all three classes featuring tight battles in the standings, Sunday’s race in the South of France could prove to be pivotal for some of the aspirant teams battling for their respective championships.

For the 4 Hours, 35 cars are on the entry with only a few notable changes scattered across the two prototype classes. The main news in fact, is that the circuit’s layout is different this year, with the organisers choosing to utilise a chicane down the Mistral Straight this year.

In LMP2, G-Drive Racing by DragonSpeed’s #22 ORECA 07 Gibson will be looking to get the better of the United Autosports Ligier JS P217, the two crews set to go head-to-head once again in what is turning into a thrilling duel between the two teams, racing with different chassis.

This time around, Nic Minassian will race for G-Drive Racing once again, in Super GT-tied Ryo Hirakawa’s seat alongside Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel. The veteran Frenchman showed in Austria, that he’s still more than capable of racing with the best the ELMS has to offer, despite racing less. United’s line-up of Filipe Albuquerque, Hugo De Sadeleer and Will Owen meanwhile, remains unchanged, the trio proving to be a perfect blend of youth and experience, de Sadeleer showing great form last time out.

As it stands, G-Drive Racing’s full-season duo of Rojas and Roussel are on 62 points, while the United crew are on 58.

DragonSpeed’s other ORECA, that of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre, will be using this weekend as an opportunity to bounce back after the confusion caused by a power cut at the Red Bull Ring during the race caused the team to run too long on fuel and retire.

Of the other teams, Danish outfit High Class Racing, will be looking to close the gap to the top two, with Anders Fjordbach and Dennis Andersen – who have impressed mightily in their debut season together – 28 points off the leaders in third place in the standings. A good result this weekend is key if they are to stay in the title race in the final two rounds.

The only omission from the field is the Tockwith Motorsport Ligier, the team will take no further part in the championship after Simon Moore and the Hanson family parted ways.

In LMP3, it’s a tighter situation in the championship race, the top four teams within 10 points of each other.

At present, the #2 United Autosports Ligier of John Falb and Sean Rayhall are tied with the #17 Ultimate Ligier of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye, Mathieu Lahaye and Francois Heriau with 45 points. In third with 43 points are Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci for Y. Racing YMR, ahead of Davide Uboldi and Giorgio Mondini from Eurointernational a further eight points adrift.

It’s set to be a close race once again this weekend, with the title race now closer than it could have been after the #2 United crew lost its Red Bull Ring win after a post-race penalty.

In the class, there’s one major change, that of the #8 Duquiene Engineering car changing from a JS P3 to a Norma M30. It means that the French team will now race with two Normas, bringing the total number of M30s on the grid to four, as the raw pace of the car against the JS P3 continues to attract customers. Even with the chicane on the mistral, the Paul Ricard circuit should favour the M30, which is at its best in a straight line.

The #8 will also race with a refreshed driver line-up this weekend, Frenchman Nicolas Melin joining full-season driver Vincent Beltoise and Lucas Légeret who joined the team at Monza.

In LMGTE, there’s no changes to the entry, with all six cars racing with their line-ups from Austria for this one.

TF Sport’s Salih Yoluc, Euan Hankey and Nicki Thiim are currently on 59 points at the head of the championship table in the team’s Aston Martin, six points clear of the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari F488 of Jody Fannin, 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Am winner Rob Smith, and Johnny Cocker.

For the other four teams, this weekend is an opportunity to make up some ground. The nearest competitors to the top two are the Spirit of Race Ferrari of Aaron Scott, Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron after winning last time out and the #77 Proton Porsche, the two teams tied in the points standings, 21 points off the TF Sport boys.