United Autosports won the European Le Mans Series season opener at Paul Ricard after Job van Uitert, Will Owen and Alex Brundle benefited from a puncture for their sister car.
Phil Hanson was leading the 4 Hours of Le Castellet in United’s No. 22 Oreca 07 Gibson exiting the fifth and final round of pit stops, but the Brit was forced to return for an emergency tire change after encountering a front-left puncture two laps into his stint.
This promoted G-Drive Racing’s Nyck de Vries to the lead after the Dutchman overtook van Uitert at Turn 11, but the No. 26 Aurus-badged Oreca still needed to make a late stop for fuel due to it going off-strategy early in the race.
When de Vries came in for his car’s fifth stop with just over 20 minutes remaining, his compatriot van Uitert moved to the head of the field and stayed there until the finish.
De Vries rejoined in third, a few seconds ahead of Hanson and behind the Graff Oreca of James Allen, Thomas Laurent and Alexandre Cougnaud which finished second to the winning United car by a margin of 17 seconds.
Cool Racing’s Oreca of Nicolas Lapierre, Antonin Borga and Alexandre Coigny rounded out the top five while Richard Mille Racing was classified sixth on its ELMS debut with Tatiana Calderon and Andre Negrao, who was standing in for the injured Katherine Legge.
The two United Orecas dictated much of the race as Hanson led away from pole and Owen shot to second with a move on G-Drive’s Mikkel Jensen into Signes corner.
Owen then seized the lead from Hanson by drafting past his teammate on the Mistral Straight, moments before the first round of pit stops.
Jensen handed the G-Drive car over to Roman Rusinov at the earliest opportunity and the Russian driver briefly slipped to fourth behind Algarve Pro Racing’s Jon Lancaster, only for the returning 2015 ELMS champion to pick up a rapid puncture.
At the start of the second hour, a Full Course Yellow was called following a two-car collision at Signes that took out the GTE class-leading Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.
This prompted all but one of the top LMP2s to pit, with Rusinov staying out which crucially ensured G-Drive spent the race pitting several laps later than the rest of the field.
The only other notable incident was a safety car period midway through hour two after Julien Canal’s Panis Racing Oreca bizarrely veered into the final corner tire barriers.
The safety car erased the near 20-second lead that Brundle had established over Hanson’s co-driver Filipe Albuquerque and the two United cars were inseparable over the middle portion of the race.
They then switched places in the pits at the end of hour three, while Hanson built a seven-second gap to van Uitert before the race-deciding puncture struck the No. 22 car.
LMP3 Also Goes to United; Proton Victorious in GTE
United Autosports won both prototype classes as the team’s No. 2 Ligier JS P230 Nissan of Wayne Boyd, Tom Gamble and Rob Wheldon came out on top.
Inter Europol Competition’s Nigel Moore emerged from the final round of pit stops in front, but Boyd went on to make a race-deciding overtake with just over 20 minutes left to seal the win.
RLR MSport finished third, ahead of the entries from Realteam Racing, Graff, Eurointernational and the second United car as Ligiers swept the top seven positions.
The best of the Duqueine M30/D08 Nissans was the No. 10 Nielsen Racing machine in eighth place.
In GTE, Proton Competition earned victory with its Porsche 911 RSR driven by Alessio Picariello, Michele Beretta and team boss Christian Ried.
Picariello took the lead from the No. 74 Kessel Racing Ferrari at halfway with a move on Nicola Cadei into Signes and went on to see the checkered flag first.
Kessel’s Ferrari that Cadei shared with David Perel and Michal Broniszewski finished second, while Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostner were third for Iron Lynx.
RESULTS: 4H Le Castellet