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Graff Win Spa Thriller

ELMS - 24/09/2017 - Jeff CARTER

An exciting 4-hour encounter on the 7km Spa-Francorchamps circuit saw plenty of race action, with incidents causing two safety car periods and three Full Course Yellows. At the end of the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps it was the no40 Graff Oreca-Gibson of Gustavo Yacaman, James Allen and Richard Bradley which secured the team’s first LMP2 win in the ELMS.

An exciting 4-hour encounter on the 7km Spa-Francorchamps circuit saw plenty of race action, with incidents causing two safety car periods and three Full Course Yellows.  At the end of the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps it was the no40 Graff Oreca-Gibson of Gustavo Yacaman, James Allen and Richard Bradley which secured the team’s first ELMS win. 

Bradley took the chequered flag just 0.6 seconds ahead of the no22 G-Drive Racing Oreca of Ryo Hirakawa after the British driver had to serve a drive through with one minute of the race remaining.  He emerged from the pitlane just ahead of the Japanese driver and held on to win at the end of the lap.

The no9 AT Racing Ligier-Nissan took a debut LMP3 win for the team, with Alexander Talkanitsa Senior and Junior joining an exclusive club of winning in two different ELMS classes after their win in the LMGTE class in Imola in 2015.  Father and son were joined on the Spa podium by their Danish teammate Mikkel Jensen.

The LMGTE class was won by the no51 Spirit of Race Ferrari, a debut victory for the all Italian line up of Giorgio Roda, Rino Mastronardi and Andrea Bertolini after an epic battle throughout the LMGTE field.

LMP2: G-Drive Extend Championship Lead

Leo Roussel in the no22 G-Drive Racing took the inside line into the first corner to move ahead of Henrik Hedman in the no21 Dragonspeed Oreca which had started on pole position.  However Roussel ran wide on the exit which allowed the no32 United Autosports Ligier of Hugo de Sadeleer to move into the lead, with the no39 Graff Oreca of Jonathan Hirschi also moving ahead the G-Drive Oreca.  Roussel fought back and moved back into second place at Les Combes on lap two, quickly closing up behind the leading Ligier.

Hirschi headed to the pits as Timothe Buret in the no23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier moved up to join the battle for the lead.  The first Full Course Yellow was declared to recover some bodywork at T4 and Roussel dived into the pits for a strategic fuel stop, dropping the French driver back to 4th as the race went green.

Gustavo Yacaman in the no40 Graff Oreca had made progress up the field and was in 3rd place challenging Buret for second as the race approached the end of the first hour.

The no25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier of Andrea Roda went off the track at T11, spinning across the run off area at speed and clipping the tyre barrier, flipping the car onto its roof. Roda emerged unscathed but the Safety Car was deployed for nearly 20 minutes to allow the barrier to repaired and car moved to a safe place.  Almost all of the teams took advantage to head to the pits for driver change, tyres and fuel.

At the restart it was Buret in the lead of the race from Roussel, with Will Owen in third now at the wheel of the no32 Ligier, just ahead of Yacaman’s Graff Oreca.

A second Safety Car period was declared just six minutes after the restart when the no5 By Speed Factory Ligier and the no77 Proton Competition Porsche were stranded after a collision at T12.  The race restarted 22 minutes later with the no32 United Autosports Ligier now in front of the no23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier of Timothe Buret, with the no40 Graff Oreca of James Allen closing rapidly on Buret.  Allen passes Buret and then passes Owen for the lead of the race.

A second Full Course Yellow into the third hour to recover the stranded no11 Ligier from the inside of T1.  Which was quickly followed by a second FCY when the no19 M Racing-YMR Norma went off at the top of Raidillon.  The no23 Ligier headed to the pits but a longer than planned stop dropped the car out of contention.  The no22 Oreca also came in for Memo Rojas to hand over to Ryo Hirakawa for the final 90 minutes of the race.

The no27 SMP Racing Dallara had been making steady progress with Egor Orudzhev staying in the car for first three hours of the race.  By the time the Russian handed the car to Matevos Isaakyan, they were running in the top three.

In the final hour the final pitstops were going to decide who would be standing on the top step of the podium. With 30 minutes remaining teh no32 United Autsoports Ligier of Filipe Albuquerque headed in for his final stop allowing Richard Bradley in the no40 Graff Oreca to take the lead ahead of the no27 SMP Racing Dallara and the no22 G-Drive Racing Oreca.  With 22 minutes on the clock the no22 Oreca was given a drive through penalty for not respecting the safety car procedure, which Hirakawa served just as Bradley and Isaakyan pitted for their final stops.

Hirakawa was now in second, over 20 seconds behind Bradley’s Oreca when the British driver was served with a drive through penalty for exceeding the track limits when he overtook the no27 SMP Racing Dallara earlier in the race.  Bradley headed down the pitlane on teh penultimate lap and emerged just in front of the no22 Oreca.  Hirakawa chased Bradley to the chequered flag in an exciting final lap of a dramatic race but the no40 Oreca held on to finish less than a second ahead.  The no27 SMP Racing Dallara finished third, just ahead of Filipe Albuquerque in the no32 United Autosports Ligier to keep the American team’s title hopes alive going into the final race in Portugal.

G-Drive Racing are now 18 points ahead of United Autosports in the teams championship while Memo Rojas and Leo Roussel also hold an 18 point advantage over Filipe Albuquerque, Hugo de Sadeleer and Will Owen.

LMP3: AT Racing Blitz LMP3 for Debut Win

On the opening lap of the race the pole position holding no9 AT Racing Ligier of Mikkel Jensen was blocked by several LMP2 cars at the first corner, running wide to avoid any problems and dropping back to 5th on the opening lap.  Wayne Boyd in the no3 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan took the lead ahead of the no16 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier of Theo Bean.  The championship leading no2 United Autosports Ligier of Sean Rayhall also had issues on the opening lap and ended up 10th at the end of lap 1.

This set up a fight back by Jensen in the no9 Ligier and he quickly moved from 5th to 2nd on lap 2 .  By lap 8 he was past Boyd to take the lead just as the first Full Course Yellow was declared.  At the restart the gap quickly opened up to 13 seconds.  In the meantime Sean Rayhall was also making progress and was up to 5th in the second hour of the race and closing on the cars ahead of him, with the no15 RLR M Sport Ligier of John Farano the first target.

With the two Safety Car periods and two more Full Course Yellows the order rapidly changed at the front of the field but the no9 AT Racing Ligier with Alexander Talkanitsa was holding a healthy 44 second lead over the no15 Ligier and the no6 360 Racing Ligier.  Both the no15 and the no6 Ligiers dropped back when they were given a 2m 20s stop and go penalty for overtaking the safety car, allowing the no9 Ligier to pull even further ahead.

However there was a sting in the tail for the no9 car when Talkanitsa had to come in to serve a stop and go penalty for not turning off the engine while the car was being refuelled.  However the gap was now so large the AT Racing Ligier emerged from the pitlane still nearly 2 minutes ahead of the nearest LMP3 rival.

John Falb, now at the wheel of the no2 United Autosports Ligier, was lying in second place before the final round of pitstops.  He emerged behind the no7 Duqueine Engineering Norma of David Droux and the American started to catch the French driver as the race entered the final stages.  At the chequered flag the no9 AT Racing Ligier, with Alexander Talkanitsa Jr at the wheel, took the team’s debut LMP3 win, two years after their last ELMS victory in the LMGTE class at Imola in May 2015.  The no7 Ligier was second, with championship leaders John Falb and Sean Rayhall in 3rd place.

The 15 points for third has extended the championship lead to 19 points for John Falb and Sean Ryahall in the no2 United Autosports Ligier ahead of the no18 M Racing-YMR Ligier of Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci.

LMGTE: Ferrari Top The Spa Podium

The LMGTE category is usually one of the most exciting class to watch and the race at Spa-Francorchamps proved to be no exception.

The race started with the no77 Proton Competition Porsche of Joel Camathias getting a good start from pole position with the championship leading no90 TF Sport Aston Martin of Euan Hankey picking up some front end damage in an unseen incident on the opening lap.  Hankey was holding off a determined challenge from the no55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Aaron Scott and the no99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage of Ross Gunn.  Hankey was clearly struggling with the handling of his Aston Martin and the no55 Ferrari and no99 Vantage made their way past on the third lap.

Now it was the turn of Camathias to come under pressure from Scott, who passed the Swiss driver on lap 7 at La Source just before the first Full Course Yellow.  At the restart the Porsche fought back and Aaron Scott was forced to defend allowing Ross Gunn to close up to the duelling pair.  Giorgio Roda also joined the party in the no51 Ferrari 488 and a four way battle ensued for the LMGTE lead.

Gunn made a move to overtake at Les Combes on lap17 but had to back out.  The former British GT4 champion learned from his mistake and successfully repeated the move on the next lap to secure second place.  He then caught up with the leader and started to challenge the leading Ferrari for the lead.  At the end of the first hour the first of the Safety Car periods saw the GTE field head into the pitlane for the first round of stops. 

At the restart the no99 Aston Martin, now with Darren Turner at the wheel, led the race from the no77 Porsche of Christian Ried.  Ried’s race came to an end when he was hit from behind by an LMP3 car, bringing out the second Safety Car of the race.  The Porsche was recovered to the pits and repaired but it was 21 laps behind the leading GTE car at the end of the race and classified in 6th place.

The lead battle was now between the no99 Beechdean Aston Martin and the no51 Spirit of Race Ferrari with Rino Mastronardi at the wheel.  This battle raged until the next ste of pitstops when Andrea Bertolini took over the Ferrari and builds up a healthy lead as the no99 Aston Martin, now with Andrew Howard at the wheel, falls into the clutches of the no66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Jody Fannin.

In the final hour the no51 Ferrari, now with Giorgio Roda back behind the wheel, built up a one lap advantage over the no66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari, now with Will Stevens in the cockpit.  It looked like it was going to be a Ferrari -1-2-3 at the chequered flag but Ross Gunn had other ideas and finished ahead of the no55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Aaron Scott to secure the final podium place.

With the no90 TF Sport Vantage being classified 5th, the championship couldn’t be closer with TF Sport holding 87 points and JMW Motorsport on 86 points, with Nicki Thiim, Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey holding a similar advantage over Jody Fannin and Rob Smith.

There is all to play for in the final race of the year at Portimão next month.

CLICK HERE to download all the results and see the classification after round 5 of the 2017 European Le Mans Series in Belgium.

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