With the grid for the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans already settled, it was time for the pro-am Michelin Le Mans Cup to take centre stage for the first leg of the annual Road to Le Mans support race.
Friday afternoon’s Road to Le Mans race was the first of two 13 lap sprints, with one pit stop for a driver change. No tyre changes nor refuelling are compulsory, even for the 2020-spec LMP3s which have proven thirstier than expected, hence the change in posted race distance after a season thus far that has seen the new breed of LMP3s needing a regulatory change to add in a further mandatory pit stop in the Le Mans Cup and ELMS
Polesitter Wayne Boyd led the field of 33 cars to the green flag in his #23 United Autosports Ligier JS P320, alongside Jean Glorieux in the #3 DKR Engineering Duqueine M30-D08. But for the likes of Niko Kari (#14 Eurointernational Ligier), Nicolas Schatz (#55 Rinaldi Racing Duqueine), and Julien Andlauer (#2 Pzoberer Zürichsee by TFT Porsche 911 GT3-R) three were asked to start one lap down after failing to set a time in Qualifying Practice.
Boyd led the first lap and pulled out a 2.8 second gap to the #37 Cool Racing Ligier of Nicolas Maulini, who headed up a queue of five cars running all the way back to sixth place. Amongst the GT3 class, it was the #63 FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo leading early, with bronze driver Hiroshi Hamaguchi taking charge and mixing it up in the LMP3 midfield, ahead of the two Iron Lynx Ferrari 488 GT3s – the #8 of Rino Mastronardi and the #77 of Andrea Piccini.
The #75 IDEC Sport Ligier of Stephane Adler was the first to hit trouble in the race, bringing out a yellow flag on the first lap. Nicholas Adcock came to a halt in the #5 CD Sport Ligier on Lap 2. Murod Sultanov brought his #9 Iron Lynx Ferrari to the garage after four laps.
On Lap 3, David Droux passed Maulini for 2nd in his #4 Realteam Racing Ligier, and hacked into Boyd’s lead. 17-year-old Belgian Ugo de Wilde in his #1 DKR Duqueine and James Winslow in his #12 Team Virage Ligier jumped to 4th and 5th. From here, Boyd and Droux began to break away from the queue behind them. Maulini and De Wilde ran tail-to-nose for 3rd, until De Wilde took the position from the Swiss Maulini on Lap 5.
Maulini pitted from 4th at the end of Lap 6, the first of a pack of cars coming in for their compulsory pit stops and driver changes. As did the GT3 leader Hamaguchi, who was stellar in his opening stint, and 2nd-placed Mastronardi. Edoardo Cauhaupe relieved Maulini, Giaccomo Piccini relieved Mastronardi, and Andrea Caldarelli took over for Hamaguchi, with the #63 Lamborghini still ahead of the #8 Iron Lynx Ferrari.
Those who didn’t pit on Lap 6 came in the next lap, Boyd, Droux, De Wilde, Winslow from LMP3, and A. Piccini from GT3.
When the pit window closed, the running order looked as follows: Esteban Garcia now had the lead in the #4 Realteam Ligier, 2.3 seconds ahead of John Schauerman in the #23 United Ligier. Cauhaupe was 3rd, ahead of Laurents Hörr in the #3 DKR Duqueine, Matt Bell in the #69 Cool Racing Ligier, and Wolfgang Triller in the #1 DKR Duqueine. In GT3, Caldarelli held the lead, and now the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing Ferrari (Christopher Froggatt) and the #74 Kessel Racing Ferrari (David Perel) had moved into 2nd and 3rd in class.
On Lap 9, the lead changed hands again when Cauhaupe overtook Schauerman and Garcia, who had a scruffy lap and moved into the lead. Garcia dropped to 2nd, Schauerman dropped to 5th, behind Hörr and Bell, and just ahead of a rapid Colin Noble in the #7 Nielsen Racing Duqueine. In GT3, Perel and Giacomo Piccini jumped Froggatt to move into 2nd and 3rd.
Cauhaupe had a 6 second lead after 10 laps. Hörr moved into 2nd, just ahead of Noble now in 3rd, Bell in 4th, as Garcia plummeted to 6th behind Schauerman. And the three-car tandem of Hörr, Noble, and Bell began closing right in on Cauhaupe: The next lap, Hörr’s gap to Cauhaupe had come down to just 1.3 seconds! Bell had taken 3rd off of Noble after a spirited scrap. In GT3, Giacomo Piccini overtook Perel for 2nd, but now they were over 16 seconds back of a carefree Caldarelli up front.
Hörr brought the gap to Cauhaupe down to just 0.6 seconds as the 13th and final lap began – and on the last lap, the 22-year-old German Laurents Hörr took the victory for he and Jean Glorieux in their #3 DKR Engineering Duqueine by just 0.590 seconds! The victory is their second of the season, after winning the season-opener at Le Castellet in July, and the #3 DKR Duqueine strengthens its lead on the LMP3 Championship table.
Cauhaupe & Maulini finished 2nd, and Bell was able to get within 1 second of the lead, finishing 3rd in the LMP2 class with co-driver Maurice Smith. Noble and Anthony Wells were just a further 2.4 seconds back in 4th, and then it was a massive gulf to the fifth-placed #24 United Autosports Ligier of Andy Meyrick (with Daniel Schneider) in 5th. The #23 United Ligier was 6th, ahead of the #1 DKR Duqueine in 7th, the #15 RLR MSport Ligier (Malthe Jakobsen/James Dayson) 8th, the #11 Racing Experience Duqueine (Nicholas Mélin/Gary Hauser) 9th, with the #4 Realteam Ligier of Garcia & Droux dropping to 10th.
In GT3, the 2019 SRO Triple Crown Champion Caldarelli closed the book on a clinical victory for he and co-driver (and fellow Super GT race winner Hamaguchi) with his fastest lap of the race, winning by 16.1 seconds.
The duel for second went the way of the #8 Iron Lynx Ferrari of championship leaders Giacomo Piccini and Mastronardi, edging out sim racing’s “Coach Dave” Perel by 1.4 seconds as Perel & Michael Broniszewski finished 3rd in class. With the #67 Kessel Ferrari (Nicola Cadei/Murat Cuhadaroglu) losing two laps in the pits, the #8 Iron Lynx Ferrari, with its fourth podium of the season, pulls away further in the GT3 Championship, while the #74 Kessel Ferrari now takes 2nd in the standings.
Froggatt & Jonathan Hui were 4th for Sky Tempesta Racing, and the #77 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Andrea Piccini and Schiavoni was 5th.