United Autosports started the European Le Mans Series season with a hard-fought win, after Filipe Albuquerque took the lead in the penultimate lap of Saturday’s Four Hours of Silverstone.
The Anglo-American team overcame a drive-through penalty to take the checkered flag with a six-second margin on the No. 22 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson of Toyota protege Ryo Hirakawa.
Albuquerque pushed the No. 32 United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson to the limit in the final hour to close down a 30-second gap to the DragonSpeed-run Oreca, which seemed to struggle with its tires.
The Portuguese driver shared the car with Hugo de Sadeleer and American Will Owen, who where battling for the top three in the first half of the race.
An overtaking maneuver under yellow by de Sadeleer resulted in a drive-through penalty, which put the Ligier on the back foot.
Leo Roussel was the standout performer in the G-Drive Oreca that eventually had to settle for second.
The Frenchman started the car in fourth, regained the time lost during Memo Rojas’ stint and went on to overtake the No. 40 Graff Oreca 07 of Franck Matelli and the No. 25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier in the space of two laps to take the lead and quickly build up a gap.
The No. 49 High Class Racing Dallara P217 Gibson of Dennis Andersen and Anders Fjordbach completed the podium almost 30 seconds down, making it three different chassis manufacturers in the top three.
Fjordbach briefly led the race at the end of the opening hour before an unleashed Richard Bradley moved the No. 40 Graff Oreca into P1 after starting only 28th on the grid.
Teammates Franck Matelli and James Allen could not consolidate the big lead built up by Bradley and brought the No. 40 car home in fourth.
The pole-sitting DragonSpeed Oreca was off to a promising start with Ben Hanley leading the opening hour, before a couple of spins by Henrik Hedman and gearbox troubles took the No. 21 entry out of the running.
The Algarve Pro Racing Ligier of Andrea Roda, Andrea Pizzitola and Matt McMurry was another front-runner, before a gearbox issue brought the car to a halt at pit entry.
United Autosports also took the LMP3 class win with the No. 2 Ligier JS P3 Nissan driven by John Falb and Sean Rayhall.
The American pairing dominated the race from start to finish, their lead was big enough to easily overcome a spin by Falb 30 minutes from the end.
The No. 6 360 Racing and No. 17 Ultimate Ligiers completed the podium in the LMP3 class, while the second United Autosports Ligier had to settle for fourth.
TF Sport dominated the GTE class on its debut in the series, with Nicki Thiim crossing the line with a one-lap margin in the matt blue Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE.
The 2016 Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup winning team started the race from pole, but Salih Yoluc lost P1 to Aaron Scott’s No. 55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE after the first couple of laps.
Euan Hankey retook the lead after the first round of pitstops, building up a 50-second lead before losing some ground again after a spin involving a back marker.
Thiim controlled the final part of the race, while Matteo Cairoli’s Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR and Ross Gunn’s Beechdean AMR Aston Martin battled it out for the remaining podium positions.
A quick pitstop by the Proton crew gave the Cairoli the advantage heading into the final hour, although Gunn closed down the gap to just 1.124 seconds.