2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Le Castellet 2019, Le Castellet, France. Photo © John D Stevens.

The opening race of the 2019 European Le Mans Series gave us 4 hours of uninterrupted racing under sunny French skies and more than a few interesting battles over all three classes. Dragonspeed scored their first overall win since Spa 2016 in the LMP2 class, while Ultimate scored their first ever win in the LMP3 class. In LMGTE it were the series debutants who took the top 2 spots of the podium with the Luzich Racing Ferrari on top, followed by the all female Kessel Racing Ferrari.

Roman Rusinov started from pole in the #26 Aurus G-Drive with Paul Lafargue in the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca and James Allen in the #21 G-Drive close behind him. Allen had a flying start and went on from fifth to third in the first round before taking over the lead from Rusinov in lap 10.

#26, G-DRIVE RACING, RUS, Aurus 01 ? Gibson, Roman Rusinov (RUS), Job Van Uitert (NLD), Norman Nato (FRA) 2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Le Castellet 2019, Le Castellet, France. Photo © John D Stevens.

It took Allen only 5 laps to ease away from the competition, building his lead already up to 20 seconds in lap 15. Rusinov dropped back to fifth place in his first stint, while Andrea Pizzitola stormed through the field from P12 to P2 in his #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca 07. Behind him, Paul Lafargue held on to third place, followed by another Oreca, the #30 Duqueine Engineering of Pierre Ragues. Ragues moved ahead of Lafargue and Pizzitola and after nearly 20 laps into the race, he got into second place, although 24 seconds behind Allen in the leading Dragonspeed.

Henrik Hedman took over the leading car in the first round of pitstops but saw his lead over Ragues, who stayed in the car, dropping down quickly before Ragues took over the lead. Hedman was up against some of the quickest drivers of the field, dropped back a bit in the order but managed to hold on to sixth place before handing the car back over to James Allen at the second stop. Meanwhile Job Van Uitert was in the G-Drive Aurus, making up lost time caused by a tyre problem Rusinov had in his first stint.

After the third round of pitstops, all was still to play for in the LMP2 class. Nicolas Jamin still lead the pack in the #30 Duqueine but had Ben Hanley now behind him in the Dragonspeed, who was in a different pitstop strategy. When Jamin had to stop for fuel, Hanley got in the lead with a margin of 46 seconds on the #28 IDEC Sport of Paul Loup Chatin with Norma Nato in the G-Drive and Richard Bradley in the Duqueine Engineering right on his tail.

Hanley held on to the lead and scored the team’s first victory since Spa 2016. Chatin crossed the line in second place 16 seconds later with a comfortable margin over Richard Bradley in the Duqueine Engineering who went past Nato in the closing stages of the race. Behind the leading pack, the #22 United Autosports Ligier was the first non-Oreca at the finish in sixth place, one lap down from Hanley & co.

2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Le Castellet 2019, Le Castellet, France. Photo © John D Stevens.

French team Ultimate scored their first victory in the series with their #17 Norma M30 LMP3 after 4 years thanks to a late race challenge over the #11 Eurointernational. Mikkel Jensen went on from fifth on the grid to first in the opening lap, holding off Lucas Legeret in the #19 M.Racing Norma and Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in the #17 Ultimate. David Droux in the #9 Realteam Norma also had a strong opening stint, moving up to second place tailgating Jensen in the Eurointernational Ligier, but unable to take over the lead.

The top 2 remained the same after the first round of stops with Jensen still in front of Droux. Damiano Fiorivanti who had been quick all week and set Saturday’s pole time now was in the #10 Oregon Norma and up to third place right behind Droux. The two battled for several laps until Fiorivanti was cut off by the #39 Oreca who went into pitlane and sent the Italian into a spin. Luckily without any damage, but Fiorivanti lost precious time to the leading 2 cars.

Jens Petersen took over the #11 Eurointernational but was chased by the more experienced Matthieu Lahaye in the #17 Ultimate Norma who quietly got up into the order after the second round of stops. Lahaye quickly caught up with Peterson, passed him and never looked back. By the end of the race the French team had a gap of 1 lap over the rest of the field. Petersen managed to hold on to second place and a well deserved podium finish, despite being under pressure from Nigel Moore in the #13 Inter Europol Ligier who drove an impressive final stint from sixth to second. The #10 Oregon and #7 Nielsen Racing Norma’s completed the top 5 of an exciting race in the LMP3 class.

2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Le Castellet 2019, Le Castellet, France. Photo © John D Stevens.

In LMGTE it was ELMS debutants Luzich Racing who took the honours after dominating the race from start to finish. Fabien Lavergne got into the lead in the opening lap, passing the #77 Dempsey-Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Ried. The Frenchman stormed away from the rest of the field giving himself a comfortable lead. Behind him, Egidio Perfetti in the #56 Team Project 1 passed Ried and Felbermayr in the second Proton Porsche up to second place. By the end of the first stint, Wei Lu got up to the front in the #66 JMW Ferrari in third position.

By the end of the second stint, Lavergne had a gap of about a minute when he handed over the #51 Ferrari to Nicklas Nielsen. The second round of pitstop shook up the order quite significantly, with Rahel Frey now in second place in the #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari after passing Christian Ried in the #77 Porsche. Frey had a scare when she clipped the #8 Nielsen LMP3 into a spin but got away with a warning flag before she turned the car over to Michelle Gatting.

#83, KESSEL RACING, CHE, Ferrari F488 GTE, Manuela Gostner (ITA), Rahel Frey (CHE), Michelle Gatting (DNK) 2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Le Castellet 2019, Le Castellet, France. Photo © John D Stevens.

Alessandro Pier Guidi ran the final sting in the #51 Luzich Ferrari, bringing the car home with a one lap lead over Michelle Gatting in the #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari. 12 seconds behind her, Matteo Cairoli finished third in the #77 Dempsey-Proton after a late pass over the #66 JMW Ferrari. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari completed the top 5.

The second round of the 2019 European Le Mans Series is scheduled for Sunday May 12th at Monza.