Feature image credit: JOTA Sport. Other images European Le Mans Series
The chequered flag brought an end to one of the most thrilling races ever held at the Red Bull Ring with the whole of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) grid providing non stop action for over 12000 fans who travelled to Spielberg. With five safety car periods, for 19 laps in total, during the four hour race, the teams were forced to reconsider their race strategy and this certainly added to the excitement of the race in Austria.
The race win went to JOTA Sport’s #mighty38 Gibson-Nissan, with Harry Tincknell crossing the line to score the British team’s first ELMS win of 2015 and put them into the championship lead by just two points with two rounds remaining.
“It was an amazing race that was constantly changing.” said Tinknell. “Filipe twice had his lead eroded due to the Safety Car. Simon did a fantastic job in the middle stints to maintain our advantage. When I was in the car, I was pushing very hard. I thought it looked like a pretty comfortably victory but another couple of Safety Cars changed all of that”.
However JOTA Sport faced an intense challenge from the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan, with Tristan Gommendy leading by 20 seconds with 30-minutes left on the clock. But when the team were handed a stop and go penalty for ignoring the red light at the end of the pitlane and Gommendy was forced into the pits and relinquished the lead, emerging 1.7 seconds behind Tincknell and it was game-on for the last 20 minutes of the race.
The Nissan factory driver opened up a gap of 4.5 seconds and Gommendy’s challenge came to an end when he was tapped into a spin by a backmarker. Gommendy quickly got the car facing in the right direction and took the chequered flag in second place ahead of Kirill Ladygin in the #37 SMP Racing BR01, the Russian built LMP2 car taking its first podium.
While the action was fast and furious in the prototype class, the LMGTE front runners were providing an equally exciting battle for top honours. The #55 AF Corse Ferrrari of Matt Griffin had fought its way to the front of the field after starting the race at the back of the grid for a technical infringement in qualifying.
However the Irish driver was under immense pressure from the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari 458 of Mikkel Mac and the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Matteo Cressoni. Less than one second separated the three competitors and for lap after lap they battled for position.
With five minutes left on the clock Cressoni dropped back but Mac kept piling the pressure onto Griffin, hoping to force a mistake. On the last lap it looked like AF Corse Ferrari was going to take the win but the spinning Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca gave Mac an opportunity to make a move and the Dane went ahead with less than a lap remaining to take the chequered flag snatching victory for himself, Johnny Laursen and Andrea Rizzola.
In LMP3 it was another dominant class win for Charlie Robertson and Olympic cycling Champion Sir Chris Hoy in the #3 Nissan powered Team LNT Ginetta, their second victory of 2015. The Scottish teammates finishing five laps ahead of the #5 Villorba Corse Ginetta.
Robertson took the start in the #3 car after taking the LMP3 pole position earlier on Sunday morning. After a great run which saw him get into battles where cars were going three or four abreast into corners, he handed the car over in the lead to Hoy, who maintained the lead throughout a faultless double stint before handing back over to Robertson for the run to the flag.
“The whole team were faultless today,” said Chris. “The car never missed a beat, the stops were perfect, we can feel the progress that is being made with the LMP3 and it really sets up the Championship fight for Paul Ricard.”
The GTC podium was headed by the #62 AF Corse Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Stuart Hall and were joined by the BMW Z4 crew from TDS Racing and the trio of drivers in the Massive Motorsport Aston Martin.
The TDS Racing BMW of Franck Perera was leading the class and shortly after handing over to Eric Dermont the race hit another safety car period. At the restart Dermont had to take to the grass to avoid a slower car and the BMW spun off into the gravel at Turn 3. The marshals quickly pulled the BMW from the gravel and Dermont rejoined the race but not until the AF Corse Ferrari had taken the lead, which Stuart Hall held until the chequered flag.
With three races now completed, JOTA Sport lead the LMP2 title race with 60 points, two ahead of rivals Thiriet by TDS Racing (58 pts). The Greaves Motorsport team are lying in third place on 50 points after scoring a fourth place finish in Austria behind SMP Racing.
In LMP3 Charlie Robertson and Chris Hoy have accumulated 52 points from the three rounds and hold a 12 point advantage over Rob Garofall.
Victory for the Formula Racing Team brings the Danish squad and driver trio Andrea Rizzola, Johnny Laursen and Mikkel Mac’s points tally to 48 in the GTE category, a five point advantage over the #55 AF Corse trio of Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott.
Eighteen championship points for second in the GTC class for the #59 TDS Racing crew of Dino Lunardi, Eric Dermont and Franck Perrara has allowed the French team to retain their Championship lead with 56 points after three races compared to 51 points accumulated by the AF Corse duo of Francesco Castellacci and Stuart Hall.
The ELMS crews now take a well earned summer break and next round will be at France’s Circuit Paul Ricard on the 14/15 September for the 4 Hours of Le Castellet.