Reigning champion Colin Noble grabbed pole position for the opening 2018 LMP3 Cup Championship race at Donington Park for himself and Tony Wells.
Noble’s best effort, a 1:02.494 edged out the debuting Mechtech Motorsport’s Norma M30 of Duncan Williams, the car set to be shared with Bradley Smith.
“This is still a test session and we’re still understanding the car”, said Williams. “It was the last lap, but we could have even had another two tenths. The Norma is great; I found that when I’m on the limit, it is very quick. Everything is controlled and when Bradley gets in the car, I’m sure we’ll come away with a good result.”
Switching from GT Cup, where he is the current GTA champion, Dominic Paul enjoyed an equally entertaining start with Speedworks Motorsport to grab third place.
“I’m learning the limits of the car and myself”, said Paul. “Overall, I’m pleased with third. I think I could have gone a little bit quicker and there’s still a little bit more to come under braking. It’s very different to what you get in a GT4 car, but it’s great. I think really it’s important to get to the finish, so this weekend is still a learning weekend.”
United Autosports also brought an all-new Ligier JS P4 to the championship’s season opener, Matt Bell enjoying a trouble-free run on the showcase outing for the new car.
1. Colin Noble / Tony Wells, #1 Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen Racing (Ligier JS P3) 1m 02.494s
2. Duncan Williams / Bradley Smith, #21 Mectech Motorsport (Norma M30) 1m 02.830s
3. Dominic Paul / Jack Butel, #96 Speedworks Motorsport (Ligier JS P3) 1m 02.870s
It was a debut to remember for young Danish driver Christian Olsen, as he came through the field to grab victory and seal a podium lock-out for Nielsen Racing in Saturday’s Race 1.
The rookie started fifth on the grid as drizzle left teams pondering their tyre choice for the opening hour-long encounter.
Climbing to third place on slick tyres, solo driver Olsen moved into the lead in drying conditions ahead of team-mate and erstwhile leader Colin Noble after mandatory pit stops took place.
“It was a great feeling to win, and a great race too,” Olsen said. “The track was wet at the start, but drying, so we opted for slicks on the car. That made it tough for the first 20 minutes or so, but I was able to still climb the order and battle for podium spots with Colin and Johnny ahead.
“Then in the stops, the leading car had an issue with getting its door shut, which gave me some breathing room for the end of the race. The track was fully dry by the end, and I was able to get into a rhythm and put in some consistent times.
“The track time has been great, I’ve built on the confidence I gained in the race at Paul Ricard driving the JS P3, and now feel even better ahead of Monza. It’s time to start looking ahead to Race 2 tomorrow now!”
Team-mate and pole-sitter Colin Noble held onto his lead for over half of the race duration after fending off Duncan Williams’ attacking Norma M30 with a strong start in the sister Ligier JS P3. Tony Wells took the wheel in the second half of the race, batting off fellow series returnee, Bonamy Grimes.
“I worked my tyres hard at the start and got some heat into them”, said Noble. “It was the team’s call to go on slicks, but it turned out to be right and the decision paid off. When you’re doing 130-140mph it looks like it is raining heavily and every corner you’re trying to predict the grip levels. You’re otherwise testing yourself every lap. We were consistent with our lap times and managed to get a one, two, three for Nielsen Racing.”
Wells added: “We lost time in the pits so that put us into a battle for second and third rather than coming out in front of Christian, but he was quicker anyway so it would have been a long stint to hold him behind. I managed to get comfortable and get my head down and find a lap time good enough to pull away.”
That delay in the pit stop was a door on the then leading car that refused to close properly, the Nielsen pit crew member attempting to make it do so eventually trying a little too hard and ending up with a wound on his hand requiring stitches after impaling himself on a fastener!
Starting from the back of the field, the experienced Johnny Mowlem enjoyed a superlative start as he completed a charge to second place by the time he completed lap two. After handing over to Grimes, the Red River Sport car, prepared by Nielsen Racing, rounded out the podium after twice fending off the charging 360 Racing entry of Jamie Spence and Jason Rishover.
Heading into the final corner, Spence launched his attack heading out of Coppice but out-braked himself heading up the inside into the final chicane, losing out on the run to the flag to Grimes despite emerging with his nose ahead initially.
“I’ve done a lot of rolling starts in my time,” said Mowlem. “I always try to time it by hanging back and getting a really good run. Because it was greasy – and no one else did this – I hung back on the warm-up laps and did a ‘race’ run into there and found there was a lot more grip there than I realised, so I left and go around the outside of everyone.
“The real hero is Bonamy, because twice he held off Jamie Spence, I raced against Jamie 20 years ago and he’s a fantastic racing driver. Bon was awesome, his last lap was his fastest, despite the pressure.”
Grimes added: “I pinched him [Spence] a little bit and I knew he was on the inside, so I was waiting for him to come through, but knew he was taking too much speed. I thought that was the end of it and I could breathe again, but I had to keep on top of my game for the whole race.
“I was told to do 1m 04s or 1m 05s laps and Ive only done one 1m 04s in this car! On the last lap I kept the inside line, he outbraked himself and went through the gravel but I stayed on the track, so I managed to get the traction down to get back past him.”
It was a successful debut for the all-new Ligier JS P4, finishing its first ever race in reliable fashion with the experienced Matt Bell bringing the car home in unpredictable conditions.
1. Christian Olsen, #7 Nielsen Racing (Ligier JS P3)
2. Colin Noble / Tony Wells, #1 Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen Racing (Ligier JS P3)
3. Johnny Mowlem / Bonamy Grimes, #2 Red River Sport (Ligier JS P3)