No 27 SMP Racing, Dallara P217, LMP2, Matevos Isaakyan, Egor Orudzhev, ELMS Le Castellet 2017. Image © 2017 JellyBaby.Media

The Russian backed SMP Racing scored an historic victory in today’s running of the 4 Hours of Le Castellet. 

In only their second race in an LMP2 the young Russian pairing of Matevos Issakyan and Egor Orudzhev put in a faultless performance to take the chequered flag 1m 27.817s ahead of #22 G-Drive Oreca of Memo Rojas, Nicolas Minassian and Léo Roussel, giving both SMP it’s first ever LMP2 victory and Dallara the first win for its new P217 LMP2 chassis. 

Isaakyan took the SMP car to the head of the pack after the first set of pitstops and from then on the pair never really looked to be challenged, lapping every car with the exception of the #22 G-Drive. 

“It feels amazing, we did everything right, we didn’t make any mistakes. That’s the result we were aiming for, really happy we got it,” said Isaakyan.

“The FCY periods at the end helped us too, as we only had to pit four times and didn’t need a splash. It was a gamble but it worked.”

Following a costly spin (30 seconds) for Hugo de Saedeleer in the opening lap caused by contact with Andrea Belicchi in the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara, United Autosports never really got fully back into the race and the 2nd place for G-Drive means the crew of the #22 have now extended their championship lead to seven points. 

“I was just concentrating on the SMP car ahead and taking the corner,” said de Sadeleer “I didn’t know what happened, I just got smashed.

“I thought maybe it was my line, but after looking at the replay he just went too fast into the corner.”

Belicchi got a drive through penalty for causing a collision, but that didn’t help the United Autosports crew who had to fight their way back to the top from dead last, hwever, the third spot did go some way to limiting the championship damage overall. 

PODIUM UPDATE: 3 hours after the race United Autosports lost their podium spot when the stewards handed them a 30 second penalty for not slowing down quick enough to the 80 km/h speed limit under a Full Course Yellow period. This promotes the #39 Graff Oreca of Eric Trouillet, Paul Petit and Enzo Guibbert to third and the #23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier to fourth place. The penalty drops the #32 United Autosports car to fifth place in the final classification. 

No 2 United Autosports Ligier JS P3 – Nissan, LMP3, John Falb, Sean Rayhall, ELMS Le Castellet 2017

In LMP3, after starting from fifth in class the American pairing of John Falb and Sean Rayhall pushed their #2 United Autosports Ligier JS P3 hard through the pack and by the second round of pitstops the Americans took the lead of the race, where they would eventually finish 2.418s ahead of Jakub Smiechowski and Martin Hippe in the #13 Inter Europol Competition car. 

The Polish team started 27th and Smiechowski and Hippe had a perfect race and steadily climbed up the order to score their best result ever in the European Le Mans Series and their first podium finish. 

After having to serve a drive through in the opening stages of the race, Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci fought back to take the final podium spot in the #18 M. Racing – YMR Ligier, 26.733 seconds behind Falb and Rayhall.  Completing the top 5 in class were the Ligiers of Eurointernational (#11) and Panis-Barthez Competition (#16). Only 10 out of 17 LMP3’s made it to the finish today. 

The GTE class was dominated by the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott. Griffin put the green and white Ferrari on pole yesterday and the trio very nearly took a lights-to-flag victory today had it not been for Christian Ried who muscled his #77 Proton Competition Porsche to the front early in the race.

Scott soon passed the ageing Porsche and began to ease away from the rest of the GTE field. From this point the crew of the #55 car never really looked challenged, Griffin taking the final stint earn the team their second consecutive victory. 

Ross Gunn chases down Christian Reid for first place. ELMS Le Castellet 2017

Ross Gunn had a blistering start in the #99 Beechdean Aston Martin, climbing to second after starting from the back of the field. A spin by Andrew Howard however damaged the Aston Martin, giving it some serious handling issues causing any hopes of a podium finish to disappear. 

It was Nicki Thiim who saved the day for Aston Martin, beasting the #90 TF Sport Vantage into second place following a long fight with the #66 JMW Ferrari. After the final pitstops it was up to Euan Hankey in the Aston and Jody Fannin in the Ferrari in the sprint for second and third. Fannin was handed an extra 10 seconds in the pitlane during their final stop for an earlier pitstop infringement, and Hankey pushed hard in the Aston aiming for the second step. Despite a late charge in the final laps of the race Fannin could not reel in Hankey’s Aston and brought the yellow Ferrari home 1.054 seconds behind to claim the final podium spot. 

All six GTE entries finished the race with the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari taking fourth, Beechdean’s #99 Vantage fifth and despite Reid’s early lead the #77 Proton Porsche closed out the group in sixth place.