The #7 Nielsen Racing Ligier of Tony Wells and Colin Noble won Round 2 of the 2021 Michelin Le Mans Cup at Le Castellet in a drama-filled 2-hour race.
Noble took the chequered flag just a second ahead of Matt Bell in the #69 Cool Racing Ligier after the Scot moved up the field rapidly in the closing stages. After a race that featured multiple incidents and a myriad of differing strategies from the teams, the #23 United Autosports Ligier took the final podium position.
The 33 car field was led at the start by the pole sitting #37 Cool Racing Ligier of Antoine Doquin.
Behind the #66 Rinaldi Racing Duqueine of Alexander Mattschull overtook the #5 Phoenix Racing Ligier of Hamza Owega for second at T1 but soon afterwards there were multiple contacts as the #73 TS Corse Duqueine (Pietro Peccenini) ran wide and there was contact with the #15 RLR MSport Ligier (Mike Benham) who continued but would later need a longer stop to replace the nose section.
There was worse still for the #73, turned around by the clash it ran across the track as cars went left and right in avoidance with the unsighted Black Falcon Ligier clipping the TS Corse car and wiping off the rear wing. Peccenni got the Duqueine to the pits to retire.
The #71 Team Virage Ligier of Rob Hodes meanwhile was forced wide after contact, the damage causing a left rear puncture on Lap 3, Hodes making it back to the pits but losing time in the process.
The #37 Ligier held a slender lead of 0.6 seconds over the #66 Duqueine, with the #5 Ligier in third just ahead of the #18 Muehlner Motorsport Ligier of Mathieu de Barbuat.
The next drama came on lap 10 as the #17 Idec Sport Ligier of Patrice Lafargue spun across the track at T14 after getting on the kerbs the Ligier clattering the barriers on the inside.
The Safety Car was almost immediately deployed to recover the car but there was more drama to come as the #6 ANS Team JSE Management Ligier of Jonathan Brossard spun off at T6 and hit the barriers, Brossard seemingly caught off guard by the slow Safety Car queue ahead of him.
Many teams opt to change strategy during the Safety Car and pit early. The #66 Duqueine left it very late and when they tried to rejoin the pit entry was closed as the Safety Car was withdrawn, and they dropped back down the order together with the #33 CD Sport Ligier with Adam Eteki now at the wheel.
After 15 minutes the Safety Car was withdrawn, and the race went back to green.
The #5 Phoenix Racing Ligier was now leading the race from the #18 Ligier and the #11 WTM Powered by Phoenix Duqueine.
The #55 Rinaldi Racing Duqueine of Dominik Schwager was making progress up the field and went into the lead in the second part of the race though the mix of strategy under the Safety Car would see the #55 needing to pit twice more, any hope of a reasonable result was further dissipated by a pair of post-race penalties that dropped the car out of the top 10.
Josh Skelton was now behind the wheel of the #37 Cool Racing Ligier but the British driver pitted out of sequence with an issue that the team struggled to diagnose, tyres were changed but the car pitted again next time around but seemed to have a problem during the stop. He rejoined but then had to pit again, this time with a fire in the engine bay that was quickly extinguished by a fire marshal, Team Manager Nico Lapierre later telling pitlane reporter Hayley Edmonds that he believed the fire may have been caused by a power steering fluid leak onto the hot exhaust.
Colin Noble at the wheel of the #7 Nielsen Racing Ligier was, by now making rapid progress up the field. On lap 36 he was up to 4th place and 7 laps later passed Matt Bell in the #69 Cool Racing Ligier for 3rd.
A lap later Noble passed Schwager for 2nd, which became the lead with the demise of the #37 Cool Racing Ligier.
There was inter-team drama for United Autosport’s as the #32 United Autosports Ligier of Andy Meyrick was clipped into a spin when the #23 United Autosports Ligier of Wayne Boyd tried to pass him on the inside.
The final set of pitstops in the final few minutes saw the #69 Cool Racing Ligier of Matt Bell emerge from the pits just 0.6 seconds behind Colin Noble’s Ligier, the Scot having stopped a lap earlier. The pair were battling for the lead when they came up to a pair of battling GT3 cars. Noble managed to find a way round the squabbling cars and Bell was unable to challenge for the lead before the chequered flag was waved.
The gap between the leading cars was just 1.050s at the end of the 2-hour race, with the #23 United Autosports Ligier in third 42 seconds further back up the road.
The #91 Herberth Motorsport Porsche of Robert Renauer and Ralf Bohn was the first car in the GT3 class across the line on the German team’s Michelin Le Mans Cup debut after starting from the back of the grid but the result would change post-race after a race peppered with strategic input.
Whilst the #91 initially finished ahead of the sister #92 Herberth Porsche the provisional winner was docked 1 minute and 32 seconds after it emerged that Robert Renauer had failed to complete the required minimum 55 minutes at the wheel.
That dropped the Porsche back to 6th in the 7 car field and elevated the sister #92 Porsche to the win, Alfred Renauer and Daniel Allemann taking the win despite pitting three times to the second-placed #8 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Rino Mastronardi and Logan Sargeant’s one-stop.
The penalty for the #91 also saw the second Iron Lynx Ferrari, the #9 488 Get elevated to the final podium slot for Series debutants Sarah Bovy and Doriane Pin.
Because the Herberth Motorsport Porsches were race by race entries, the 25 championship points go to the #8 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Rino Mastronardi and Logan Sargeant, with 18 for the #9 Iron Lynx 488 of Doriane Pin and Sarah Bovy, the all-female crew finishing just 1.1 seconds ahead of the #2 Porsche of Wolf Henzler and Nicolas Leutwiler, who gain 15 points.