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European Le Mans Series

United Wins at Ricard after Late Albuquerque Move on Vergne

United’s LMP2 streak continues as Albuquerque, Hanson win to extend their points lead…

Photo: ELMS

Filipe Albuquerque made a late overtake on Jean-Eric Vergne to win the Le Castellet 240 for United Autosports and extend the team’s European Le Mans Series win streak.

Albuquerque took a new front-left tire on his Oreca 07 Gibson at his final stop, one lap after Vergne opted for fuel only in the No. 26 Oreca-based Aurus 01 Gibson.

While this gave Vergne an advantage of almost nine seconds, Albuquerque erased the gap over the final half-hour before making his move into the fast Signes right-hander with just under four minutes to go.

Albuquerque went on the cross the line 2.618 seconds ahead of Vergne to secure his and Phil Hanson’s second win of the season and a third straight victory for the United squad.

United is also unbeaten in all five LMP2 races it has contested this year, having won the two most recent FIA World Endurance Championship rounds at COTA and Spa. 

The Ricard-winning No. 22 Oreca had an eventful race despite starting from pole courtesy of Albuquerque beating Vergne in qualifying by just 0.010 seconds.

Hanson led the opening stint, which began under the safety car due to severe wet weather, but the Brit stayed out much longer than the rest of the field as a dry line emerged.

Panis Racing’s Julien Canal, who was the first driver to switch from wets to intermediates, came in eight laps before Hanson which resulted in a shuffling of the order.

Hanson dropped to ninth, while Canal slotted the Panis Oreca into second behind Cool Racing’s Nicolas Lapierre.

But just before the hour mark the top two drivers had each been overtaken by Mikkel Jensen who shared the G-Drive car with Vergne and Roman Rusinov.

G-Drive remained at the sharp end despite Canal’s co-driver Nico Jamin coming out ahead after the second round of stops, and a brief off-track moment for Vergne later on.

Over the mid-portion of the race, G-Drive gradually moved onto a unique strategy as it eked out additional laps to the main pack, while the off-strategy No. 22 United car took turns to lead when the rest of the field came in.

When the safety car came out at the end of the third hour after a dramatic airborne accident for Algarve Pro Racing’s Loic Duval, Jamin’s half-minute lead evaporated.

More significantly, the main pack needed to pit just after the race returned to green in order to reach the end without making a fuel splash, which released the off-kilter G-Drive and United cars of Albuquerque and Vergne into first and second.

Vergne led after the final stops while Albuquerque was third behind Will Stevens in the Panis car, but the Portuguese driver found a way through at Signes.

Stevens was also passed at the same moment by Thomas Laurent, who brought the Graff Oreca home in third with Alexandre Cougnaud and James Allen.

Stevens, Jamin and Canal finished fourth as the best-placed Goodyear crew, while Algarve Pro Racing’s Simon Trummer, Gabriel Aubry and John Falb completed the top five.

Inter Europol Competition gave Ligier its best result of the season in sixth, ahead of the IDEC Sport Oreca.

Realteam Breaks Through for First LMP3 Win

Realteam Racing won in the ELMS LMP3 class for the first time after David Droux’s late overtake on Duncan Tappy denied a third straight victory for United Autosports.

Droux hunted down Tappy during the final stint before getting past with 13 minutes remaining to earn the win alongside his Bronze-rated co-driver Esteban Garcia.

Tappy and Andrew Bentley were also looking for their first win after their teammates Rob Wheldon, Wayne Boyd and Tom Gamble prevailed in the opening two rounds.

Wheldon took the lead at the start of hour three with an overtake on the No. 9 Graff Ligier of Arnold Robin, but both entries would later hit trouble.

The United car retired with an issue, while the Graff machine was responsible for launching Duval’s LMP2-class Oreca into the air after Robin’s co-driver Vincent Capillaire got caught up negotiating another LMP3 that had stopped in the middle of the road.

Ligier JS P320 Nissans filled out the top four positions as Inter Europol Competition’s Nigel Moore and Martin Hippe completed the podium, ahead of RLR MSport’s Malthe Jakobsen, James Dayson and Robert Megennis.

GTE honors went to the Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE Evo driven by Matt Griffin, Aaron Scott and Duncan Cameron, who won for the first time since May 2018.

The trio became the third different crew to win this season, beating the No. 77 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR of Alessio Picariello, Christian Ried and Michele Beretta that won the season-opener also held at Paul Ricard.

Iron Lynx finished third with its Ferrari driven by Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey and Manuela Gostner.

RESULTS: Le Castellet 240

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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