Nyck de Vries, Roman Rusinov and Franco Colapinto chalked up G-Drive Racing’s first European Le Mans Series win of the season in the 4 Hours of Le Castellet at Paul Ricard.
The drivers of the No. 26 G-Drive Racing Aurus-badged Oreca 07 Gibson were flanked by the two United Autosports crews on the LMP2 podium, while Team WRT finished fifth to maintain its points lead after winning the opening two rounds of the 2021 campaign.
De Vries crossed the line six seconds ahead of Tom Gamble in the No. 22 United-run Oreca 07 Gibson that also featured Phil Hanson and Jonathan Aberdein at the wheel.
After flying to pole on Saturday, de Vries watched Rusinov take the start but the G-Drive stalwart couldn’t hold his position as WRT’s Yifei Ye swept around the outside at Turn 1.
The Chinese driver led from Rusinov and Hanson through the remainder of the opening stint, which ended under Full Course Yellow conditions for a stopped LMP3 car.
Ye held the lead but his Oreca’s advantage had been erased by the end of the first hour due to a safety car that brought Colapinto, in for Rusinov, onto the tail of the WRT car.
Robert Kubica restored part of the gap after taking over from Ye for the middle portion, but G-Drive managed to jump WRT at the penultimate round of stops with de Vries returning to the track in front of Deletraz with 90 minutes remaining.
However, both de Vries and WRT’s Louis Deletraz were trailing Job van Uitert’s No. 32 United Autosports Oreca coming out of that latest pit sequence.
De Vries then closed down van Uitert over the next few laps until he found enough room to pull off a smart braking move into the Turn 5 right-hander at the top of the final hour.
Within the next 15 minutes, Gamble had overtaken both Deletraz and van Uitert to set the No. 22 United car in second, while WRT’s bid for a hat-trick of wins evaporated when a Full Course Yellow occurred after Deletraz had come in to serve his final pit stop.
The Swiss driver also needed to sit through a five-second stop-hold penalty for an infringement at the start of the race. The events of that service dropped WRT to fifth, behind the Duqueine Oreca of Tristan Gommendy, Rene Binder and Memo Rojas.
De Vries stayed ahead after his car’s final stop during the FCY and managed to keep Gamble at bay to secure G-Drive’s first win since the 4 Hours of Portimao last November.
Gamble’s No. 22 United Autosports Oreca was running an alternate pit strategy to the other LMP2 front-runners after Hanson encountered a puncture in the early stages.
Gamble finished 18 seconds clear of van Uitert, who teamed up with Manuel Maldonado and Nico Jamin, with the Duqueine Oreca a further 19 seconds adrift in fourth.
Harry Tincknell, on his ELMS return after skipping the Red Bull Ring event due to an IMSA date clash, combined with Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc to score LMP2 Pro-Am honors for Racing Team Turkey and TF Sport in sixth position overall.
Algarve Pro Racing’s No. 24 entry finished seventh, with IDEC Sport eighth and the other G-Drive machine ninth after starting from the back of the three-category field.
LMP3 class honors went to Laurents Hoerr and Jean-Philippe Dayraut in the No. 4 DKR Engineering Duqueine D08 Nissan.
DKR kick-started its campaign after finishing off the podium in rounds one and two, with Hoerr bringing the car to the checkered flag 24 seconds clear of the championship-leading Cool Racing Ligier JS P320 Nissan of Nicolas Maulini, Matt Bell and Niklas Kruetten.
Cool was denied a third straight victory but still made a significant stride towards end-of-season silverware as their closest rivals at Inter Europol Competition retired.
Rob Wheldon, Wayne Boyd and Edouard Cauhaupe completed the podium for United Autosports.
In GTE, Iron Lynx led home a Ferrari one-two-three as Rino Mastronardi, Matteo Cressoni and factory driver Miguel Molina boosted their title credentials with a second win.
The 4 Hours of Barcelona winners ended up third at the Red Bull Ring, but rebounded in France to add more substance to the buffer between themselves and their competitors.
Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and David Perel were 15 seconds down the road in second for Spirit of Race, from AF Corse’s Emannuel Collard, Alessio Rovera and Francois Perrodo.
AF Corse finished narrowly ahead of the No. 77 WeatherTech-backed Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR-19, which was the best non-Ferrari entry in fourth.
RESULTS: 4H Le Castellet