Team Endurance Challenge FLM Oreca were the winners in the LMPC category in the European Le Mans Series race in Italy.
Reigning ELMS Champions Thiriet by TDS Racing returned to the top step of the podium when Pierre Thiriet crossed the line in the team’s Oreca-Nissan to take maximum points in Italy for himself, the team and co-driver Mathias Beche. The gap of 46 seconds to the second placed nr36 Signatech Alpine Alpine-Nissan of Nelson Panciatici didn’t reflect the hard fought victory which saw a race long challenge from round 1 winners Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey in the nr38 Jota Sport Zytek Nissan that ended in disappointment for the British team when Dolan was unsighted by a backmarker, which caused a collision spinning him into the gravel.
By contrast the LMPC victory went to the pole position holders in the nr49 Team Endurance Challenge FLM Oreca of Gary Hirsch and Paul Loup Chatin, who were never challenged by the other two cars in the class. However the Franco-Swiss duo were able to run in the top 10 for most of the race, running comfortably with some of the more powerful LMP2 cars.
The race started with a five way battle for the overall lead with the nr38 Jota Sport Zytek Nissan of Oliver Turvey heading the 28 car field followed closely by Brendon Hartley in the nr18 Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan, Mathias Beche in the nr1 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca, Nelson Panciatici in the nr36 Signatech-Alpine and Franck Mailleux in the nr43 Morand Racing Morgan-Judd. The top five cars were covered by just 3 seconds for most of the first hour but the order was static until the pitstops changed things round.
At the pitstops Brendon Hartley handed the Murphy Prototypes Oreca to Mark Patterson but disaster struck when the car failed to start and Patterson lost nearly 60 seconds before he could regain the track, but now in 7th place. Turvey and Beche stayed in their respective cars but the order changed when TDS Racing performed a better stop with Franck Mailleux now up to 3rd place ahead of Tom Kimber-Smith in the nr3 Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan.
The LMPC class Formula Le Mans Oreca of Gary Hirsch was running well ahead of the other competitors in the class, with the French driver up to 9th overall by lap 45 and running behind the LMP2 class HVM Status GP Lola.
Back at the front Beche was unable to shake off the attentions of Turvey as the pair negotiated the slower GTE and GTC backmarkers. On lap 53 Turvey set the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1m34.992 just before the next set of pitstops. Beche pitted first and handed the car to Pierre Thiriet and Turvey came in a lap later to hand over to Simon Dolan.
The order changed again as Dolan emerged in the lead just 0.5 seconds ahead of Thiriet. The two battled hard with Dolan defending his position hard but then a backmarker unsighted the British driver and Thiriet pounced and swept through to take the lead. However the race wasn’t over as Dolan fought back and latched onto the back of the leading Oreca-Nissan.
Meanwhile behind the two leaders Pierre Ragues in the nr36 Signatech Alpine was ahead of Natacha Gachnang in the Morand Racing Morgan who was coming under pressure from David Heinemeier Hansson in the nr3 Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan. The Dane was soon challenging and then went ahead into fourth place.
Back at the front the Thiriet and Dolan were nose to tail across the line and into the first line a GTC car forced the nr1 TDS Racing Oreca wide but Dolan was alongside the French car and had to take to the grass in avoidance delaying his progress and allowing Thiriet to open up a comfortable lead.
Ragues headed to the pits to hand the Signatech Alpine to Panciatici for the final stint but a problem delayed the departure and allowed Heinemeier Hansson in the nr3 Greaves Motorsport Zytek to exit the pits at the same time. Panciatici exited the pitlane with the Greaves Zytek right behind but Heinemeier Hansson decided to cross the pit exit line to get around the slower car. This was a mistake that cost him a 60 second stop go penalty and a possible podium finish.
On lap 82 the nr38 Jota Sport Zytek’s race ended in the gravel at Turn 7 with a collision with a backmarker while lying in second place.
As the race entered the final stages Pierre Thiriet was holding a comfortable 60 secon dlead over Panciatici in the Signatech Alpine and the nr43 Morand Racing Morgan of Natacha Gachnang. Gachnang had to take a quick splash and dash pitstop for more fuel but she was still able to take the final podium position at the chequered flag.
Victory in Italy means Pierre Thiriet (40 points) now leads the LMP2 Drivers Championship by 10 points ahead of Nelson Panciatici, Michel Frey and Pierre Ragues who are all tied on 30 points. Thiriet by TDS Racing also enjoy a 10 point lead over Signatech Alpine and Race Performance who are both tied on 30 points.
The LMPC class win has put Gary Hirsch and Paul Loup Chatin at the top of the LMPC drivers points table, two points ahead of Anthony Pons and Soheil Ayari.
Pierre Thiriet nr1 Thiriet by TDS Racing, ORECA 03-Nissan "It’s great to win again with Mathias. To be honest, we didn’t expect to be in the lead so quickly. Mathias was very good, as usual. As for me, I’m satisfied with my stint and being able to retake the lead. Afterward, I focused on avoiding mistakes, which wasn’t easy to do in traffic. The car was well balanced, maybe slightly more physically demanding than usual. I’m thrilled to have taken the win on Mathias’ return. With a double program for us, it was complicated but we were able to do it."
Mathias Beche nr1 Thiriet by TDS Racing, ORECA 03-Nissan "Brendon Hartley was very intelligent at the start and I preferred not to take any risks. I was quick during my stint, but I was unable to pass. The team performed well in the pits, and we were able to take the lead of the race. Then we started to widen the gap: here the traffic is difficult to deal with and you have to be aggressive, and that’s what we did. To take the win for my return to the team is really very special. I’m very proud of Pierre, who was excellent today and who took it to another level."