A dramatic win in the Le Castellet 240 has given Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson an extended championship lead at the halfway point of the 2020 season.
The race was affected by heavy rain and saw so many changes of lead it was hard to keep up. But a last 20-minute race to pass the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus of Jean-Eric Vergne saw Albuquerque take the chequered flag in the #22 Oreca-Gibson to give United Autosports their third win of the 2020 season and the second for the #22 car.
The race started behind the safety car as the track was very wet, but the earlier rain had stopped. After two laps behind the safety car the race went green and Hanson, starting from pole position, led the field into the first corner. The British driver had a 3 second lead over Konstantin Tereshenko in the #30 Duqueine Team Oreca, who had passed the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus of Roman Rusinov.
Further back the #24 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca of Henning Enqvist was fighting off a determined challenge from Will Owen in the #32 United Autosports and Alexandre Cougnaud in the #39 Graff. The Swedish driver running wide at T1 on lap 9 and was passed by both cars for 4th and 5th respectively.
The track continued to dry and during the first stops most of the teams opted for intermediate tyres for the next stint but United Autosports took a gamble and switched both the #22 and #32 Orecas to slicks, which turned out to be a wrong turn because the rain returned within 10 minutes of their pitstop.
While the rain was just a shower, Hanson and Owen dropped down the order as they struggled for grip in the slippery condition. Nicolas Lapierre was #w in the lead in the #37 Cool Racing Oreca but was being chased down by Mikkel Jensen in the #26 Aurus-Gibson, the Dane taking the lead at the top of the first hour.
After 100 minutes of racing the second safety car was deployed when the rear tyre of the #5 Graff LMP3 Duqueine exploded after being damaged in a collision with the #16 BHK Motorsport Ligier spreading debris across the track on the Mistral Straight. Lapierre had lost his second place to Tereshenko in the #30 Duqueine Team Oreca but had to give the place back when it was judged to have been done just as the safety car period was declared.
However, at the restart, Tereshenko repeated the move and took second place from Lapierre and after the pitstops the #31 Panis Racing Oreca of Nicolas Jamin was now leading from Mikkel Jensen in the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus, who was holding off a determined challenge from the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca of Simon Trummer. The Swiss driver got past to take second as the second hour approached, but Jensen retook the place a few laps later in a great battle before handing over the car to Jean-Eric Vergne.
The #22 United Autosports Oreca of Phil Hanson had started to make steady progress up the field as the track dried and with just over 90 minutes of the four-hour race remaining, he took the lead when the next round of pitstops occurred. Hanson then handed the car over to Filipe Albuquerque for the final part of the race.
Nicolas Jamin was still leading in the #31 Panis Racing Oreca from the #26 Aurus of Jean-Eric Vergne and James Allen in the #39 Graff Oreca. Vergne dropped down the order to 5th when he went off and re-joined at T1 as the #24 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca of Loïc Duval was making progress up the field, setting the fastest lap of the race at that point. However, the French drivers race came to an abrupt end when two spinning LMP3 cars caused him to be tipped into a roll at T10 and his car end up in the tyre wall upside down, bringing out the safety car for the third time. Duval was unhurt and after 15 minutes the race resumed.
With the #31 Panis Racing Oreca in the pits for Jamin to hand over to Will Stevens, the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus went into the lead and a short stop for fuel put the French driver out in by 30 second ahead of Filipe Albuquerque and Thomas Laurent in the #39 Graff Oreca.
With race entering the last 20-minutes the #22 Oreca started to close the gap, with Albuquerque seeing the opportunity to take the win after all. In just three minutes the gap went from 8 second to 4 seconds and as the clock entered the last ten minutes the two cars were nose-to-tail.Vergne held on to his lead for several laps but on lap 116 the two cars were side by side on the Mistral Straight and Albuquerque swept into the lead at Signes.
At the chequered flag there were celebrations in the United Autosports garage as Filipe Albuquerque took the chequered flag 2.6 seconds ahead of the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus and 12 seconds ahead of the #39 Graff Oreca of Thomas Laurent.