Colin Noble and Tony Wells won a safety car-disrupted opening Road Le Mans race in their Nielsen Racing Ligier JS P320 Nissan.
Wells started Thusday’s Michelin Le Mans Cup round from seventh on the grid but gained two positions on the opening lap, with Ugo de Wilde leading the 46-car field of LMP3 and GT3 machinery.
De Wilde overtook pole-sitter Jean Glorieux on the opening lap and extended his Muehlner Motorsport Duqueine D08 Nissan’s advantage over the DKR Engineering Duqueine to around three and a half seconds by the end of lap two.
The race was then put under safety car conditions after a major accident at the Ford Chicane.
While details of the crash are unclear, footage of the aftermath showed extensive damage to the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 with heavy damage and was left stranded on the pit entry lane. Its driver Ken Abe was transferred to an ambulance.
The Racetivity Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo was also involved and came back to the pits with front-right damage, and was handed a one-minute penalty for its part in the collision.
Most of the LMP3 field pitted during the safety car, however de Wilde, Glorieux, Sacha Lehman and Dimitri Enjalbert – the top four runners – were among the exceptions.
They instead made their mandatory stops when the race returned to green after a 20-minute safety car intervention, which effectively dropped them out of contention.
Noble inherited the lead at that point and controlled the remaining 25 minutes to take his and Wells’ second win of the season, which consequently elevated them to the LMP3 championship lead ahead of Gerry Kraut and Scott Andrews who finished ninth.
Noble gradually increased the gap over Josh Skelton in Cool Racing’s No. 37 Ligier, until Skelton was passed for second by Nico Varrone aboard the Rinaldi Racing Duqueine.
Skelton later dropped back to 12th after a suspected issue, while Varrone – who teamed up with Alexander Matschull – crossed the line seven seconds behind Noble.
Matt Bell and Maurice Smith completed the podium in their Cool Racing Ligier while United Autosports Ligier drivers Andy Meyrick and Daniel Schneider were fourth.
Despite missing out on a potential second place, Cool Racing nonetheless came away with a double top-five as Niklas Kruetten and Mathieu de Barbuat took sixth for the French-based, Swiss-flagged outfit.
The Muehlner Motorsport Duqueine that led the first two laps finished 27th, two overall places behind the DKR Duqueine thanks to a Laurents Hoerr pass on Moritz Kranz.
GT3 honors went to Ferrari outfit Iron Lynx after FIA Formula 3 race winner Logan Sargeant made a second-stint charge to secure the win alongside Rory Penttinen.
Sargeant took the restart in third, but quickly dispatched ex-F1 driver Jean-Denis Deletraz in the No. 72 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo before setting off in pursuit of Ahmad Al Harthy’s TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
Deletraz’s co-driver Charles Weerts stormed from fifth to first in the opening stages, only for TF Sport to gain six seconds in the pits and reverse the positions at the front.
Al Harthy kept Sargeant at bay for a few more minutes until the positions changed, while Doriane Pin had also dispatched Deletraz in the sister Iron Lynx Ferrari to put two of the Italian squad’s cars on the podium.
RESULTS: Road to Le Mans Race 1