Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and James Allen won the 4 Hours of Le Castellet to give DragonSpeed its first European Le Mans Series victory in two and a half years.
Hanley held the net advantage in the final hour but was running second behind the Duqueine Engineering Oreca 07 Gibson of Richard Bradley, Nico Jamin and Pierre Ragues which opted for a different pit strategy.
When Bradley needed to come in for a splash of fuel with 25 minutes to go, Hanley – who had pitted with the other front-runners with 40 minutes remaining – inherited the lead in the DragonSpeed Oreca and stayed there until the checkered flag.
The result marked the American squad’s first ELMS win as a standalone team since the 4 Hours of Spa in 2016, while it was also responsible for running the G-Drive Racing car that won at Monza two years ago.
Bradley dropped to fourth after his late-race fuel stop but made up a position on Norman Nato in the pole-sitting G-Drive Oreca-based Aurus 01 Gibson to plant Duqueine on the podium.
Paul-Loup Chatin came through to finish second, 20 seconds off Hanley, in the IDEC Sport Oreca that was also driven by Paul Lafargue and Memo Rojas.
DragonSpeed, IDEC Sport, Duqueine and G-Drive shared out the lead throughout a fast but clean race that ran without any major incidents.
Allen charged into first during the opening stint with a series of well-timed passes including a sweep around Nato’s co-driver Roman Rusinov at the penultimate turn to seize the lead after 15 minutes.
The order then shifted in the second hour as bronze-rated Hedman was dispatched by Ragues who went on to lead through halfway, but the momentum swung back again later on when Allen and Hanley took turns to push DragonSpeed back into the lead with respective double-stints.
Tristan Gommendy brought the Graff Oreca home in fifth, ahead of Paul di Resta in the No. 22 United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.
Oreca squad Cool Racing placed seventh on its ELMS debut, while fellow LMP3 graduate RLR MSport wound up eighth on its return to the LMP2 category.
First-Time Winners in Other Classes
In LMP3, Matthieu Lahaye’s late pass on Jens Petersen handed the Ultimate team its maiden ELMS victory despite Eurointernational controlling much of the season-opener.
Lahaye, who shared the No. 17 Norma M30 Nissan with his brother Jean-Baptiste and Frrancois Heriau, dragged past Petersen’s black Ligier JS P3 Nissan on the Mistral straight to secure the win.
In the battle for third, Nigel Moore got past 16-year-old Lithuanian Gustas Grinbergas to bump the defending champion Inter Europol Competition Ligier up to third, while Grinbergas and Oregon Team settled for fourth.
Reigning International GT Open champion Luzich Racing dominated the GTE class on its debut with the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.
Alessandro Pier Guidi finished off a commanding run set up by Fabien Lavergne and Nicklas Nielsen, crossing the line half a minute ahead of Michelle Gatting in the No. 83 Kessel Racing Ferrari.
Lavergne was by far the quickest of the bronze-rated drivers, opening up a huge lead in the opening two stints before handing over to Nielsen, who consolidated the gap.
Matteo Cairoli out-braked Matteo Cressoni into Turn 1 to grant the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR a third-place finish ahead of the JMW Motorsport Ferrari.
RESULTS: 4H Le Castellet