It took just three races (including its one-off WEC run at Spa) for G-Drive Racing to score Russian limousine manufacturer Aurus its first class win in LMP2 competition. Norman Nato, Roman Rusinov and Job van Uitert combined to take a somewhat dominant victory at Monza, the second round of the young ELMS season, after a flawless run in the second half of the four-hour race.
The team’s Dunlop-shod Aurus 01 (a re-badged ORECA 07) crossed the line 2.1 seconds ahead of the chasing pack at the end of the race, the near hour-long dual between the #28 IDEC Sport ORECA of Paul-Loup Chatin and #32 United Autosports Ligier of Alex Brundle nearly became a three-way battle for the lead, but Nato prevailed.
While all three contending cars, which emerged in the top three places after a Full-Course Yellow period during the third hour, came within a few seconds of each other at one point, Chatin and Brundle were unable to challenge Nato before pitting for a last time in the final hour.
Nato held station in the closing stages of the race, unfazed by the pace from the pair behind and took the victory, mimicking his teammates’ performances before him to score the Russian team its first win of the season. Like Nato, van Uitert should be commended here, as the young Dutchman played a big part in his first ELMS overall win during the middle portion of the race with a rapid and faultless stint.
“Great race not an easy one as we had a different strategy,” Rusinov said after. “The team were excellent. I’m glad Aurus won its first race here in Monza. We won here last year, it’s a strong circuit for us. We try for the big one now (Le Mans next month).”
Behind the winners, the hard-charging Chatin finished second in the #28 IDEC Sport ORECA, which started at the back of the LMP2 field after its Qualifying times were deleted, and Brundle, after a valiant effort to hold second in the final hour, had to settle for third.
Brundle, after strong stints from Ryan Cullen and Will Owen, did his best to keep Chatin behind. But he couldn’t hold on and dropped to third when the Frenchman made a brave move around the outside at Parabolica, after the pair ran side-by-side down the back straight. That was just one of the numerous on-track battles in LMP2, which as a class delivered hard, (mostly) clean racing for the entire contest.
Just off the podium was the second United Autosports Ligier of Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson. The #32 gradually climbed its way into contention, but finished a distant fourth, in front of the #39 GRAFF ORECA which led from the start (making light work of the pole-sitting Cool Racing ORECA into Turn 1) after a storming drive from Alex Cougnaud, but faded after FCYs and a safety car in the second hour shook up the order.
First LMP3 win for Ligier in 2019
In LMP3, Eurointernational came from the back of the grid to take a convincing win with its #11 Ligier, benefitting from various dramas that affected other contenders in the class. A great run from Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen here.
Lucas Legeret took a very prudent start in the #19 M Racing Norma M30 – the pole sitting car – and let Colin Noble take the lead in the #7 Nielsen Racing Norma M30 Nissan. The #10 Oregon Team Norma M30 starting third on the grid also lost a position to the championship-leading car, the #17 Ultimate Norma M30 Nissan driven by Jean-Baptiste Lahaye.
On lap 24, under pressure from the #10, the #17 went straight at the end of the Start / Finish line and dropped a place. Moments later, the #10 took second place after overtaking the #19 at the end of the Start / Finish line despite an aggressive defence of Lucas Legeret.
Race positions were then reshuffled significantly at the back end of the first hour as only a part of the LMP3 grid managed to pit during a first Full Course Yellow episode. After this event, the #9 Realteam Racing Norma M30 shared by Esteban Garcia and David Droux led the #11 Eurointernational Ligier JSP3 driven by Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen. That car had started from the very back of the grid after failing to qualify on Saturday. Third was the #7 Nielsen Racing Norma M30 Nissan driven by Tony Wells and Colin Noble. Meanwhile, the #17 and the #19 swapped positions repeatedly for fourth place.
During the second hour of the race, the safety car entered the track after Yamanaka in the #8 Nielsen Racing Ligier JSP3 went off at the exit of Ascari. Unlike most of its immediate contenders, the #11 took again a decisive advantage of the event and pitted. After mid-race, the #7 retired in the pits after slowing down significantly on track over two laps.
The #11 and the #9 kept on swapping first position given their different pit strategies. The #11 finally securing first place when the #9 took its final pit stop at the top of the fourth hour while pitting one last time during a third and final full course yellow. That episode was the result of the #17 colliding with the #60 Kessel at Ascari. The #17 Ultimate Norma M30 retired on track, the Kessel car in the garage.
The #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier JSP3 shared by Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore, as well as the #2 United Autosport Ligier JSP3 driven by Wayne Boyd, Garett Grist and Tommy Erdos took advantage of this high attrition and inherited second and third position in the final half hour of the race with strong drives from Moore and Erdos. The #9 meanwhile lost ground and took the chequered flag just off the podium in fourth position.
“Yesterday we lost the car completely with a big crash, it’s crazy to win here,” Petersen said. “But Mikkel had a fantastic opening stint, I had a clear double stint, here we are!
Proton wins GTE
GTE was also action packed, and eventually won by the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, another convincing win by the German outfit.
The first hour saw plenty of door-to-door action. After the green light, the pole-sitting car – the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR shared by Christian Ried, Riccardo Pera and Matteo Cairoli kept the lead. Behind that car, the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Egidio Perfetti lost two positions to the #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari F488 GTE Evo and Duncan Cameron in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari F488 GTE Evo.
But on lap 4, the #55 span, faced the wrong way on the track and held back other LM GTE cars such as the # 83 Kessel Racing Ferrari F488 GTE Evo driven by Manuela Gostner.
On lap 5, as the #77, the #51 and #56 were pulling away, Ried collected Lavergne and collided with the #20 High Class Racing. In turn, the #77 stayed on track but lost the lead to the #51 and #56.
Later on in the first hour of racing, the #56 easily overtook the heavy #51 (30kg success ballast) at the end of the Start / Finish straight and edged away. “It’s the first time we felt good with this car” said Perfetti. “I did a double stint… that was not our initial plan. I took advantage of the 51 [easily]. That car [with a 30kg ballast] was heavier, you could see it.”.
Both cars pitted at the top of the second hour while Geoff Segal in the #66 JMW Motorsport shared by Jef Segal, Matteo Cressoni and Wei Lu overtook Ried for the lead. Later on when the safety car was released, all cars pitted again except the #83. This reshuffled positions one more time with the #66 leading the #83 and the #77.
During the third hour of the race, the #83 had to stop for a full lap in order to repair its front end and lost all chances to win the race. The #66 and the #77 meanwhile kept battling for the lead: during the second full course yellow episode, the #77 eventually overtook the #66 in the pits and cruised to the chequered flag.
“The key was managing the tyres in the best possible way,” said Cairoli. “I was struggling a bit with the rear left but in the end I managed the situation pretty well. I was stuck sometimes behind the LMP3 cars so I also lost some time. I was a bit under pressure but I am good at keeping on going without any problem. The last 1.5h was great. Winning in Monza as an Italian is just amazing”
The #56 lost third place to the #51 in the final hour of the race after a late driver change.