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G-Drive Aurus Dominates At Barcelona

Inter Europol wins LMP3 and Luzich cruises to GTE victory

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G-Drive Racing scored a second consecutive ELMS win with its Aurus 01 Gibson tonight at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with a dominant performance from Roman Rusinov, Job van Uitert and Jean-Eric Vergne.

The team took the lead early in the race when it opted to double-stint its Dunlop tyres while the cars in front changed their rubber and spent longer in the pits at the opening round of stops.

From there the Russian team led the way, Rusinov able to manage the tyre wear during his stint to start the race, before van Uitert and Vergne combined to control the second half and extend their lead in the championship with another victory. In the end Vergne finished a lap ahead of the Michelin-shod #39 GRAFF ORECA.

“It’s a couple of good weekends I’m very happy,” said recently-crowned double Formula E champion Vergne. “There was not a single mistake from my teammates. It was a straight forward race for me, but I had fun pushing.”

Behind the Aurus, it was a thrilling race for the remaining podium spots.

Richard Bradley in the #30 Duqueine 07 and Tristan Gommendy in the #49 GRAFF example were involved in a titanic tussle in the closing laps of the race in total darkness, which came to an end after Gommendy made a move stick and snatched second place for GRAFF. Bradley then dropped like a stone and lost third on the final lap of the race, after Antonin Borga muscled past in the Cool Racing ORECA.

Borga’s persistence at the end rewarded the Swiss-flagged team, which is new to LMP2 this year and looked good for a podium throughout, climbing as high as second during the race when Nicolas Lapierre was aboard.

Behind the Duqueine ORECA, fifth place was taken the pole-sitting IDEC Sport ORECA, which had to make an extra stop during the race and faded away on pace after looking like a podium contender early on.

LMP3 was a topsy-turvy race for most of the front-runners, the order in the top five changing frequently throughout. When the checkered flag came out, it was Inter Europol out front, taking its first win of the season, after a dramatic finish.

Once the green flag was waved, the pole sitter – Mikkel Jensen – kept the lead in the #11 Eurointernational Ligier JSP3. Behind the American-flagged Ligier, Jean-Baptiste Layahe in the #17 Ultimate Norma M30 (who was third on the grid) had a very poor start and dropped to last position overall.

Thirteen laps later, Jan Ehrlacher inherited second position as the #10 Norma M30 (who started the race from the grid’s front row) was garaged for lengthy repairs. The #6 360 Racing Ligier JSP3 driven by Kaiser followed in third place.

Once this first round of pit stops was over, the #11 was still in the lead, followed by the #3 United Autosport Ligier and Laurent Millara in the #19. Moments later though, Millara had contact with the #56 Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR driven by David Heinemeier Hansson. He had to stop for repairs.

Kaiser meanwhile spun at turn 7 and triggered another Full Course Yellow episode during which the #3 and the #11 pitted. Surprisingly, Christian England stayed at the wheel of the #3 United Autosport Ligier JSP3 for an iron man stint.

The second (#5) 360 Racing car meanwhile suffered a major drama in the pitlane, a fuel fire seeing several crew membrs, and driver Andreas Laskaratos suffering minor burns, the car dmaged and requiring garage time too.

After this sequence, the #3 led the #11 and the #15 RLR MSport Ligier JSP3. As the race reached its midpoint, the #3 finally pitted for its first driver change. The #11 inherited first place once again ahead of the #15 and the #17. But on lap 74, the #11 went off at Turn 7 after showing clear signs of a fatigued engine and then coming into contact with another LMP3. The #11 eventually retired while another Full Course Yellow episode kicked off.

On restart, the #3, the #15 and the #17 led the race, and stayed within a few seconds of each other. Francois Heriau in the #17 took second position during lap 81 while Rich (#15), Erdos (#2 United Autosport Ligier JSP3) , Wells (Nielsen Racing #7) and Guash (#3 United Autosport Ligier JSP3) fought for third place.

On lap 89, just an hour before the end of the race, contact occurred at Turn 1 between the #15 RLR MSport Ligier JSP3 and the #7 Nielsen Racing Ligier JSP3. The #7 was given a drive-through penalty as a consequence. All the other leading cars pitted during the related Full Course Yellow break.

Nigel Moore held onto the lead in the team’s #13 JS P3, but had to come in to serve a drive-through for a collision with the #10 Oregon Team Norma of Gustas Grindbergas, which dropped him to third. This forced him to have to fight his way back past the two United Autosports Ligiers to retake the lead and secure the Polish team its first win since the season finale last year.

On restart, the two United Autosport and the #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier JSP3s swapped positions repeatedly for first place.

As the race came into its final half hour, the #13 driven by Nigel Moore secured a short lead yet Race Control decided to penalize the Polish Ligier for an earlier contact with the #10 Oregon Team Norma M30.

As the #13 took its drive-through penalty, first and second positions seemed dedicated to United Autosport with the #3 leading the #2. This impression lasted only a few minutes as the #13 and the Mathieu Lahaye’ #17 rejoined the two British Ligiers in a matter of a few laps.

With less than 15 minutes left in the race, the #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier shared by Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore took a definite advantage and secured its first victory of the season. Meanwhile, Mathieu Lahaye in the #17 Norma M30 managed to overtake the two United Autosport Ligiers in the final moments of the race.

Behind the #17 Ultimate Norma stormed to second in the closing minutes. Mathieu Lahaye’s efforts at the end capped off a remarkable drive through the field for the French team which had a poor start and dropped to dead last on the opening lap.

United Autosports’ #3 Ligier took third, Thomas Erdos’ pace strong enough to hold off a late charge from the #7 Nielsen Racing Norma of Colin Noble, which climbed to fourth on the final lap at the expense of the #2 United Ligier, Mike Guasch running strongly but fading at the end.

Nigel Moore: “It was a really good race. We struggled all weekend – to be fair. We know we don’t have the highest speed amongst of the Ligiers or the Normas but we have consistency. We had a reasonably strong race and we were very good in the traffic too. Well done to Inter Europol Competition”

In GTE, Luzich Racing took a comfortable win and the class points lead, after Alessandro Pier Guidi, Nicklas Nielsen and Fabien Lavergne finished over half a minute clear of the rest of the field. The team’s Ferrari 488 GTE was untouchable after the #60 Kessel Ferrari’s challenge faded due to multiple incidents for Sergio Pianezzola during his stint.

“We did a very good job working together. We worked hard to get race pace sorted here. We knew tyre degradation would be key. Nicklas did a good job, I just had to manage the pace. Luzich Racing did an amazing job,” Pier Guidi said of the team’s second win of the year.

Once the race had settled down the battle for second was between the JMW Motorsport Ferrari and #55 Spirit of Race 488, the former taking second after a strong run from Matteo Cressoni, Wei Lu and Jeff Segal.

The all-female-crewed #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting had a quiet run to fourth.

More to follow…

Image courtesy of G-Drive Racing