The #22 United Autosports ORECA 07 Gibson of Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque converted pole position to a race win, and confirmation of a historic Championship double at Monza today but it was far from straightforward.
The ELMS title is then added to the Le Mans 24 Hours win and a confirmed FIA WEC Championship win for the United Autosports team and for Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque. With the track still damp from overnight rain there were multiple incidents at T1, including an error from Hanson that saw his car contacted at the rear, sustaining damage and running wide dropping way down the order.
With the title-contending efforts from G-Drive Racing effectively over at T1 after their #26 Aurus 01 suffered a split radiator after contact from the #39 Graff Oreca it was a matter of whether the #22 could finish ahead of the other major contender, the sister #32 United car. The #26 would later retire as a result of damage suffered in the lap 1 incident.
With early race tyre choice a lottery between inters and slicks, Anders Fjordbach called it correctly and led for much of the first half of the race in the #20 High Class Racing Oreca, the car having started 14th, a lead stoutly defended by team-mate Dennis Andersen until just after the halfway point when a recovering #2 made its way by courtesy of a slick pit stop for United and sustained pace from Hanson and then Filipe Albuquerque.
They overhauled the sister car in their push to the front but thereafter were tracked closely by first Owen, then van Uitert who had an excellent duel with Albuquerque as he pushed to keep the Championship fight alive.
The final stint saw Hanson working hard to fend off an attack from Alex Brundle, the gap just 3 seconds at the flag – the result though secured 1,2 in both the race and the Championship for the Yorkshire-based team.
The High Class car had hung on in there and with Fjordbach back at the wheel, we were treated to a fine battle for effectively, the final podium slot between the Dane and a charging Ben Hanley in the #27 DragonSpeed car, after excellent pace, nose to tail, from both, Hanley finally managed to get by with 30 minutes to go, taking the overall lead as the United cars made their final stops before he stopped for the final splash.
Fjordbach meanwhile was being closed by Nico Lapierre in the Cool Racing car but in the closing minutes he was also closing back in on Hanley to make it a fine three-car battle for the final podium slot, the trio finishing within a single second, Hanley, from Fjordbach and Lapierre.
STOP PRESS: The #27 has been excluded after a post-race technical inspection found the rear diffuser height was 6mm outside the regulatory maximum, High Class racing is elevated to the podium, their first since 2017!
Amongst the other LMP2 runners perhaps the least likely podium contender was the #34 Inter Europol Ligier, rebuilt overnight and the sole Ligier runner, despite that though a super-clean easy run saw the car climb up the order as others faltered, running fifth early on and as high as second as others pitted, then a little later up to fourth before disaster struck, not once but twice – the engine cover coming astray in spectacular fashion, bringing out a full-course caution before the #34 pitted for repairs, but the same failure happening again half a stint later! The car would finish but the team were clearly gutted that its strongest run this year had been ruined.
The #50 Richard Mille racing Oreca ran strongly and steadily again, as it had at Le Mans – Particular motion should be made here of the efforts of Sophia Floersch, her pace was excellent in the prevailing conditions, tussling with much more well-established players and beginning to show flashes of real potential.
There was plenty of early pace too from both Algarve Pro Oreca and the Panis racing car too, the Goodyears on all three coping well with track surfaces that several Michelin runners struggled with, whilst the Panis car dropped back after a somewhat self-inflicted wound, the car running into the back of the ten-leading #30 Duqueine car under the Safety Car and requiring a stop for a replacement nose, the Algarve cars stuck around the leading order for longer, John Falb leading the race at one point as others pitted, but both running in the top 5.
The #39 Graff and #30 Duqueine cars had pace too but both suffered incidents that cost time, this was a race that rewarded consistency and, in truth, that was at a premium today!
LMP3 emerged as a three way fight between the championship-leading #2 United car which was left to fight back against the attack of both the #11 EuroInternational Ligier and the #13 Inter Europol JS P320.
The Polish car got by the #11 to lead at the 90 minutes to go mark and pulled away as Tom Gamble drew closer to make it a three car battle, Dino Lunardi was left to defend a substantial lead but then made an error at the second chicane and risked a penalty that left the team chewing fingernails.
The penalty never came and the #13 took the win by just 20 seconds from a fast closing pair behind – Niko Kari in the #11 EuroInternational Ligier fending off Wayne Boyd in the Championship-leading #2 United Ligier for the last 40 minutes – the young Finn edging the second place by just 0.062 of a second on the line.
But the Championship battle goes to Portimao.
As for the remainder of the field, the #15 RLR MSport Ligier was one of a number of class contenders in trouble on Lap 1, James Dayson suffering damage that would blunt the car’s charge for the remainder of the afternoon, Gustas Grinbergas and Malthe Jakobsen unable to recover the ground lost.
Also in trouble early on was the #7 Nielsen Duqueine, Tony Wells hit in the rear and requiring a stop for repairs that left Colin Noble with too much to do. The sister car meanwhile had a frightening moment into the first chicane deep into the race, Garett Grist was pushing on when the Inter Europol LMP2 car lost its rear bodywork two cars ahead, the Duqueine Oreca swerving into his path in response just as the #10 reached its braking point.
The #3 United Ligier had issues of both the self-inflicted and unfortunate types that saw Jim McGuire penalised and the car out of contention after a clash with the #60 Ferrari, and there were contact-related issues too that counted both the #9 Graff and #8 RealTeam efforts out of the hunt for top slots.
GTE went the way of a rapid and almost fault-free drive from the #74 Kessel racing crew, David Perel, Niki Cadei and Michael Broniszewski fending off the attack from the #77 Porsche that was hampered by at least two significant contacts from LMP runners.
The Iron Lynx #83 Ferrari fended off a spirited challenge from early race leaders the #55 Spirit of race crew to complete the podium. Duncan Cameron started very strongly and led well, holding off the attack from Alessio Picariello and Niki Cadei for a while into the second stint for the three leading cars.
Rahel Frey pushed hard to get into the mix in the #83 Iron Lynx Ferrari as the sister #60 488 GT3 Evo was eliminated in an incident with the #3 Ligier, a double contact that broke the rear suspension of the pole-sitting car, Sergio Pianezzola was not a happy man as he stalked away from the car and communicated that via the medium of internationally recognisable manual gestures!
The class Championship will be decided at Portimao, the top two finishers here came into Monza equal on points.