DragonSpeed secured its first European Le Mans Series victory in two-and-a-half-years as the team demonstrated strong pace throughout the four-hour encounter.
The American team, made up of Henrik Hedman, James Allen and Ben Hanley, powered its Oreca 07 up the order from the very first hour as Allen – who started fifth – quickly gained positions and, thanks to a bold move round the outside of Roman Rusinov in the polesitting G-Drive Aurus 01, ended his opening stint in the lead of the race.
Combined with Hanley – who is also running a part-time IndyCar campaign with DragonSpeed – the team were impervious to their LMP2 rivals’ advances and held the net race lead despite Duqueine Engineering running an alternative strategy to put it in the lead on track.
The French team held the lead in the final 30 minutes, but didn’t have enough fuel to complete the race so – with just 25 minutes remaining – Richard Bradley had to jump into the pits for a splash of fuel. That alternative strategy didn’t pay off for the squad, with the stop relegating it to third.
Making the most of Duqueine’s late stop was IDEC Sport. The Paul Loup Chatin, Memo Rojas and Paul Lafargue partnership had led the race for a small period but had no response to DragonSpeed’s pace, eventually crossing the line with a deficit of 16.655s.
The fastest of the non-Orecas (the G-Drive Aurus a rebadged Oreca 07) was United Autosports. Phil Hanson pulled off a mega stint in the British team’s Ligier JSP217 on the way to sixth, a lap down on the top five.
Eurointernational almost put its legal troubles in the build up to the 4 Hours of Le Castellet behind it as it looked to be on course for a dominant win in LMP3.
Mikkel Jensen had a stonking opening stint in the team’s newly-sourced Ligier JSP3 which looked to have set Jens Petersen on course for an easy win, but Mathieu Lahaye – sharing an Ultimate-run Norma M30 with brother Jean-Baptiste and Francois Heriau – had other ideas.
Slowly chasing down Petersen, Lahaye found a chink in the German’s armour and swept into the lead of the class to take the team’s first victory in the European Le Mans Series.
It was a late pass that secured the final place on the LMP3 podium as Asian Le Mans Series champion Nigel Moore, driving for Inter Europol, triumphed in a battle with Oregon Team’s 16-year-old ace Gustas Grinbergas which had initially looked to be heating the Lithuanian’s way before Moore turned up the heat.
LMGTE went to reigning champions Luzich Racing in a comfortable win for the squad which has upgraded to the Ferrari 488 GTE EVO for 2019.
Bronze-rated Fabien Lavergne was a class above the competition as he built up a comfortable lead in the opening two stints of the race before Nicklas Nielsen consolidated the lead in the third stint. All Alessandro Pier Guidi needed to was bring the car home cleanly to get the squad’s title defence off to the best possible start.
Kessel Racing ensured a Ferrari one-two at the head of the class, but it could have been a Ferrari podium lock-out if Matteo Cairoli hadn’t been stronger on the brakes in his Dempsey-Proton Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to push out JMW Motorsport.