On a dry Monza track, reigning ELMS champions G-Drive Racing got back to winning ways in Italy after Norman Nato brought the Aurus 01-Gibson home just 2.1 seconds ahead of the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul Loup Chatin at the end of a dramatic 4 Hours of Monza. Job Van Uitert broke the LMP2 lap record during his stint and it was also the debut win for Aurus, in the third race for the Russian manufacturer.
After starting at the back of the grid after missing qualifying for the four hour race due to technical issues, Eurointernational took their first ELMS victory since Monza 2018 when Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen finished at the head of the LMP3 field, 23 seconds in front of the no13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier of Nigel Moore and Martin Hippe.
The no77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche took the LMGTE victory with Riccardo Pera finishing ahead of Matteo Cressoni in the no66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari and the no51 Luzich Racing F488 of Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Four Hours of Action
The race started with Alexandre Coigny in the no37 Cool Racing Oreca leading the 41 car field across the start line but the Swiss driver was passed on the run into T1 by the no39 Graff Oreca of Alexandre Cougnaud, who also moved ahead of Roman Rusinov in the no26 G-Drive Aurus who started second on the grid.
In LMP3 Colin Noble moved to the head of the class in the no7 Nielsen Racing Norma, with pole man Lucas Legeret slotting in behind the Scot in the no19 M Racing Norma M30. After starting at the back of the grid in the no11 Eurointernational Ligier, Mikkel Jensen was making rapid progress through the LMGTE field and picking off the slower LMP3 cars.
Christian Ried made the most of his pole position to lead the LMGTE category on the opening lap in the no77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche ahead of Duncan Cameron in the no55 Spirit of Race Ferrari. Cameron was soon caught and passed by the no51 Luzich Racing F488 of Fabien Lavergne and the no56 Team Project 1 Porsche driven by Egidio Perfetti.
Cameron’s day got worse when his Ferrari was tapped into a spin by the no66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari while battling for position at the first corer, with the no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Manuela Gostner hitting the side of the stranded no55 F488. Gostner’s car was also slightly damaged, the damaged bodywork hindering their progress later in the race. Canadian Wei Lu in the no66 Ferrari had to serve a drive through penalty for causing the collision.
At the front of the field Coigny lost ground in the no37 Oreca, with Roman Rusinov and James Allen, in the no21 Dragonspeed Oreca, moving ahead of the Swiss driver, with Pierre Ragues in the no30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca and Bruno Senna in the no43 RLR MSport Oreca also overtaking the bronze rated Coigny. This allowed the no39 Graff Oreca to open up a three second gap to the following pack as Rusinov had to fend off the attentions of Allan.
Christian Ried and Fabien lavergne were battling for the lead and on lap 11 the no51 Ferrari got ahead of the no77 Porsche but Ried spun on the kerbs and the following no20 High Class Racing Oreca of Anders Fjordbach went off the track in avoidance, the Dane ending up in the gravel trap facing the wrong direction. The no56 Team Project 1 Porsche went ahead of Ried’s Dempsey Proton 911, with the German rejoining in third and Perfetti then pushed to catch and eventually pass the Ferrari on the run into T1 to take the GTE race lead.
In LMP2 the no21 Dragonspeed Oreca finally found a way past Rusinov’s Aurus and was challenging Alex Cougnaud for the lead of the race. Pierre Ragues also overtook Rusinov to move into third in the no30 Oreca and make it a three way fight for the overall lead.
On lap 19 Allen made his move into the first corner and overtook the Graff Oreca for the lead, but Cougnaud got a better exit than the Australian and regained the lead before the first chicane just before the first set of pitstops for the LMP2 competitors. The no21 Dragonspeed Oreca was the first into the pits a lap ahead of the rest of the other contenders, with Henrik Hedman taking over from James Allen.
In LMP3 the no7 Nielsen Norma of Colin Noble was leading by nearly five seconds with Lucas Legeret holding second place from a determined Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in the no17 Ultimate and Damiano Fioravati in the no10 Oregon Team Norma. Lahaye went straight on down the escape road at T1 after 45 minutes of racing, dropping the French driver down to fourth. All this fighting allowed Noble to extend his lead to nearly 12 seconds, which was a similar gap between the leading LMGTE car, the no56 Porsche , and the second placed no51 Ferrari.
As the first hour of the race ticked away the first Full Course Yellow period was declared when the no27 IDEC Sport Ligier of Patrice Lafargue spun off into the gravel trap and had to be recovered. After five minutes the race resumed with Cougnaud in the no39 Graff Oreca leading from the no30 Oreca of Pierre Ragues, with Job Van Uitert in third, the Dutchman replacing Rusinov at the previous pitstop.
After the first set of stops for LMP3 the no9 Realteam Racing Norma of David Droux was leading, with Mikkel Jensen now up to second in the no11 Eurointernational Ligier ahead of Colin Noble’s no7 Norma.
With 2 hours and 44 minutes remaining the no39 Oreca pitted, putting the no26 G-Drive Aurus in the lead, 27 seconds ahead of the no32 United Autosports Ligier of Ryan Cullen and Paul Loup Chatin in the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca.
Fifteen minutes later the Safety Car was deployed after the no8 Nielsen Racing Ligier of Nobuya Yamanaka went off heavily into the barriers at T10. The Japanese driver climbed out unaided but the car needed to be lifted to a safe location before racing could resume.
Jonathan Hirschi in the no39 Graff Oreca went back into the lead as Van Uitert pitted from the lead. After the safety car period Van Uitert caught and passed Hirschi to regain the lead of the race and with two hours done, Hirschi headed to the pits, promoting Will Owens in the no32 Ligier into second and Memo Rojas in the no28 Oreca into third.
Jens Petersen took over the driving duties in the no11 Eurointernational Ligier from Mikkel Jensen and built up a ten second gap to the chasing pack led by the no8 Realtime Racing Norma of Esteban Garcia and Tony Wells in the no7 Nielsen Racing Norma.
The safety car period shook up the LMGTE field and Matteo Cairoli in the no77 Porsche was now 22 seconds ahead of the chasing pack with five cars covered by 1.5 seconds led by the no66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Wei Lu. Lu was soon passed by Giorgio Roda in the no56 Porsche and Aaron Scott in the no55 Ferrari.
The no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Michelle Gatting also passed the no66 F488 but the body work damage from the earlier accident started to work loose and a black and orange warning flag meant the Dane had to pit to effect repairs, dropping the no83 Ferrari out of contention.
There was trouble for the no7 Nielsen Racing Norma after Tony Wells moved up into second place in LMP3. The British driver’s car suddenly slowed, got back up to speed and then slowed again before Wells headed to the pits. There was also trouble for the no10 Oregon Team Norma ahead the brakes caught fire in the pitlane, meaning an extensive repair for the Italian team.
Another Full Course Yellow period was declared with 1 hour 13 minutes left on the clock after the no3 Ligier of former class champion Mike Guasch went off into the gravel at T6. The no26 G Drive Aurus was in the perfect position to dive straight into the pits for Van Uitert to hand over the car to Norman Nato and regain the track at the head of the field.
Nato led while Alex Brundle in the no32 United Autosports Ligier and Paul Loup Chatin in the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca fought for second place in the final hour of the race, which Chatin eventually getting pass the English driver.
The LMP3 battle raged with the no2 United Autosports Ligier of Tommy Erdos, the no17 Ultimate of Francois Herau and the no13 Inter Europol Competition Norma of Nigel Moore were fighting for the minor podium positions as Jens Petersen held a commanding 30 second lead. Moore overtook Erdos for third before the no17 Norma ended up in the gravel trap at T9 after a clash with the no60 Ferrari, bringing out the final Full Course Yellow period with 24 minutes of the race remaining.
The race resumed five minutes later with the positions in LMP3 and LMGTE pretty much set. However Chatin was closing the gap to the leading G-Drive Aurus but not quickly enough as Nato paced himself to the chequered flag to claim the first victory of 2019 for the Russian team.