The #28 JOTA Oreca 07 Gibson of Tom Blomqvist and Sean Gelael fought back from a near car destroying accident yesterday and a start from the back of the LMP2 class, to win the first 4 Hour race of the weekend at Yas Marina Circuit after a fight from the rear of class that took the #28 to a lap lead at the flag.
The hero of the hour, after a pair of issue-laced and confidence bruising races in Dubai, was Sean Gelael, who took over the #28 just after the start of the second hour and drove a faultless race to the finish, emerging battered, bruised and happy, the JOTA car passing the #26 to take a full lap lead in the closing stages, their advantage extended after Yifei Ye had an off-track moment at the end of the back straight in the closing stages of the race.
There was a battle for the lead in LMP2 from the beginning. Rene Binder in the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 Gibson took the lead ahead of Matthias Kaiser in the #5 Phoenix Racing Oreca 07 Gibson early on, as sister #25 G-Drive pole-sitting entry dropped through the field. Repaired from its accident on Thursday, the #28 JOTA was soon into the lead battle with Blomqvist behind the wheel.
Safety cars, pit stops and full course yellows played a part with on-track battles which saw Gelael captilise on a well-timed stop under a caution period to take control of the race and victory ahead of #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 of Binder, Yifei Ye and Ferdinand Habsburg. John Falb, Franco Colapinto and Rui Pinto de Andrade in the #25 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 finished in third, the car seemingly struggling with straight-line speed for a sizeable chunk of the race.
The #18 Era Motorsport Oreca 07 Gibson of Andreas Laskaratos, Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman took LMP2 Am class honours to make it three victories from three races, and take the title after their class opposition, the #11 Eurointernational Ligier JS P217 withdrew after testing at Yas Marina.
At the front of the LMP3 field, a very strong drive from the #15 RLR M Sport Ligier JS P320 Nissan of Malthe Jakobsen controlled the class from the start until an incident with #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport in the midst of an otherwise strong run from Bashar Mardini saw them given a Stop and Go penalty and drop to fourth.
Jakobsen had led through his opening run as two of the United Autosports Ligiers hit trouble very early on, Ian Loggie’s #2 car stalling and needing a power re-cycle but, since it happened on the start-finish straight there was rapid intervention from safety workers, the car was pushed into pit-lane, the outside assistance saw the car excluded.
That brought out a brief Safety Car period and very soon afterwards there was a second, and astonishingly it was for a second terminal problem with a United Autosports Ligier, the Championship leading #23 car pulling off the circuit and into retirement with an apparent alternator failure.
With two major players out very early it was a very different look to the pack with the #33 CD Sport Ligier in the mix until very late in the race, Adam Eteki again impressing until a gearbox actuator issue put the car out.
The DKR Duqueine too was on impressive form but dropped out of the leading group with an enforced stop to repair rear lights deep into the race.
Whilst never in the hunt the still very new ARC Bratislava Ginetta showed flashes of pace in the hands of Charlie Robertson but there is clearly work to do to unlock the potential of the package, the team opting here to set up the car in very conservative fashion rather than ‘attack’ mode!
Through it all, victory went to the defending class Champions Colin Noble and Tony Wells in the #9 Nielsen Racing Ligier, the final stages of the race seeing Noble, on very old tyres, fending off the ever closer attention of Rob Bell in the sister #8 car who charged up to the rear of the #9 but was unable to make a pass stick.
Both pros had been well served by their Bronze-ranked team-mates, Tony Wells in the #9. well on form and Rodrigo Sales in the #8 having his best race of the Series thus far – post-race the team were adamant that team orders had not been a factor, “We let them race but made it clear that contact between them was not an option” said a very tired but very happy ‘Sven’ Thompson afterwards, a one-two a much-needed tonic after a trying ten days.
The #3 United Autosports Ligier JS P320 Nissan of Jim Mcguire, Duncan Tappy and Andrew Bentley salvaged the team’s day to finish third, the team saving Tappy’s pace until the end of the race, the charge back falling just short of an opportunity to make it a three-car battle for the win.
Garage 59s Aston Martins dominated the GT class early having opted to start Pro drivers Maxime Martin and Marvin Kirchofer with Jonny Adam joining in the fun in the Oman Racing by TF car and making it an Aston 1,2,3 in the first hour.
Both Garage 59 cars had time in the lead but the #97 moved forward as the Pro drivers handed the cars over to their team-mates with he #97 in particular looking very strong until an incident with the #27 Kessel Ferrari, for which the #27 was adjudged at fault, saw the Aston Martin suffer a broken radiator, out on the spot, a disappointing end to a very encouraging run.
There were contact problems too for the #7 Inception Racing Mclaren, they too caused cooling problems and saw the team unable to push forward.
The race-ending incident for the #97 allowed race 2 winners, the #40 GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Julien Andlauer, Axcil Jefferies and Alain Ferte into the lead, Andlauer finishing the race at pace and seeing off a challenge from Race One winners #99 Precote Herberth Motorsport in their #99 Porsche 911 GT3 R, Robert Renauer though would finish a strong second.
Behind there were more dramas, this time for the #1 Hub Auto AMG as Raffaele Marciello, having pushed hard to give himself an edge over a chasing pack for the final podium slot, was dealt a drive-through penalty for track limits violations that saw him drop back to fifth at the flag.
That left Nicklas Nielsen to profit from the AMG man’s misfortune and misadventure, the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari taking third.
Christian Hook, Manuel Lauck and Patrick Kujala in the #66 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 were able to take victory in GT Am, despite significant contact from the #57 Kessel Racing by Car Guy Ferrari 488 GT3. They have secured the GT Am title courtesy of three consecutive wins.
The #27 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Giorgio Roda, Francesco Zollo, and Tim Kohmann finished second ahead of #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 of Henry Walkenhorst, Jorg Breuer, and Sami Matti Trogen which rejoined after repairs to rear-end image inflicted by the #15 Ligier.