Nielsen Racing comfortably won the opening round of the 2022 Asian Le Mans Series at Dubai Autodrome, while Inception Racing prevailed in the GT class battle.
Ben Hanley, Matt Bell and Rodrigo Sales took a dominant outright victory in Nielsen’s No. 4 Oreca 07 Gibson, which finished four laps ahead of its nearest LMP2 competitor at the end of Saturday’s four-hour contest.
The result marked Nielsen Racing’s first LMP2 win, at the start of an Asian LMS campaign that consists of two double-header events at Dubai and Yas Marina Circuit.
Sales started the season-opener from pole position but dropped to third in the early stages when he rotated under braking into the final corner of the 16-turn circuit.
That handed the upper hand to Eric Trouillet in the Graff Oreca, while Dennis Andersen slotted into second for High Class Racing.
A recovering Sales overtook Andersen with 18 minutes on the clock and was on the tail of the leading Graff car when the LMP2 field came in for their first pit stops.
Graff had a quicker service as Trouillet remained behind the wheel, but newly-installed Nielsen driver Bell wasted little time erasing the deficit and had returned the No. 4 Oreca to the front by the end of the opening hour.
Nielsen then had a trouble-free run over the next three hours, with Bell gaining two laps on the Pro-Am LMP2 entries during a triple stint before handing over Hanley who increased the gap further to secure the British squad’s maximum points score.
Graff took Pro-Am honors in second with Trouillet, Droux and Sebastien Page finishing 42 seconds clear of High Class Racing’s Andersen, Anders Fjordbach and Kevin Weeda.
ARC Bratislava finished fourth and two laps off the podium with its Ligier JS P217 Gibson driven by Miro Konopka, Neale Muston and John Corbett.
With Graff, High Class and ARC Bratislava all running Pro-Am lineups with multiple Bronze-rated drivers, Nielsen’s Gold/Silver/Bronze crew proved to be unmatched when delivering a largely trouble-free performance in the No. 4 Oreca.
Inception McLaren Wins GT Contest
Ben Barnicoat, Ollie Millroy and Brendan Iribe won the more populous 23-car GT class race sharing the Optimum Motorsport-run Inception Racing McLaren 720S GT3.
Barnicoat made a well-timed braking move at Turn 1, down the inside of Rinaldi Racing Ferrari driver Davide Rigon, with just over an hour and a half remaining and kept ahead of the Italian through a pair of Full Course Yellow periods to seal the victory.
The opening stages of the GT contest were led by AF Corse Ferrari driver Conrad Grunewald, who had Rinaldi’s Rino Mastronardi and Iribe for close company.
Mastronardi found a way past Grunewald late in the starting stint, when the Bronze-rated drivers went up against each other.
Perel took over the leading Rinaldi Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 at the end of the first hour, while Millroy rose to second after Grunewald was penalized 10 seconds for being out of place on the grid, the American also dropping behind Garage 59’s Alexander West.
Millroy slightly reduced the gap to Perel over the next stint but remained behind the leader, as Grunewald’s co-driver Louis Prette moved past West’s McLaren for third.
The third hour saw Rigon and Barnicoat step into the arena, with the Inception driver closing down his rival and making the crucial pass for the lead. Rigon, in turn, had plenty of room back to Vincent Abril who had taken over the AF Corse Ferrari from Prette.
Rigon’s second place was secure as Abril came under intense pressure from Joe Osborne in the Optimum Motorsport McLaren.
The pair battled throughout the final hour, with Abril at one point taking a tight defensive line into Turn 1, but he managed to keep ahead to secure the final podium spot.
Defending champions Robert Renauer, Alfred Renauer and Ralf Bohn finished fifth in their Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R, one place ahead of the Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 shared by Nicky Catsburg, Jon Miller and Chandler Hull.
The first of two FCY periods occurred with just over one hour to go, after the LMP3-class Konrad Motorsport Ginetta stopped at Turn 6.
The final hour was then briefly interrupted by a second FCY due to a stoppage on the back straight for LMP3 class leader Laurents Hoerr.
The DKR Engineering Duqueine D08 Nissan that Hoerr shared with Mathieu de Barbuat and Sebastian Alvarez dominated proceedings until its unknown technical issue struck.
That gifted a one-two result to the CD Sport team, led by the winning No. 3 Ligier JS P320 Nissan of Michael Jensen, Nick Adcock and Edouard Cauhaupe.
A late pit stop for the Rinaldi Racing Duqueine cost the German squad a double class podium and handed third place in LMP3 to the G-Drive Racing Ligier run by Graff.
RESULTS: 4H Dubai (Race 1)