Imola Heat: Team Virage and RLR MSport pressure the competition
13 - 14 May 2022 - For the first time since its launch in 2020, the Ligier European Series visited the Imola Autodromo in Italy for the second round of the championship. At the end of two high-tension races, the trends observed during the opening round at Le Castellet were confirmed: the Polish team Team Virage and the British team RLR MSport each clinched a double victory in their category with the French driver Gillian Henrion (#16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4) and the Kuwaiti Haytham Qarajouli (#75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R). But the competition gave them a hard time and is already preparing its revenge for the third round which will be played in a few weeks on the mythical circuit of Le Mans 24 Hours.
Free practice: Team Virage and RLR MSport set the pace
The sun was already shining brightly on Friday morning, May 13, for the first free practice session of the Imola Heat at the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit in Italy. The session was briefly interrupted at the halfway point by a red flag. In the sport-prototype category, the #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 (Gillian Henrion) topped the timesheet, ahead of the #3 LR Motorsport car (Simone Riccitelli and Nicola Neri). In the Ligier JS2 R class, RLR MSport was in great shape with the #75 (Haytham Qarajouli) and the #40 (Horst Felix Felbermayr) leading the GT class. Haytham Qarajouli set the fastest lap of 1:54.351.
In the afternoon, the drivers faced the sweltering Italian heat at the Imola Autodromo in Italy for the second free practice session. The #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 once again beat its rivals (1:47.855), as did the #75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R (1:54.786).
To read the free practice 1 report, CLICK HERE.
To read the free practice 2 report, CLICK HERE.
Qualifying: Team Virage and RLR MSport take pole positions in both races
Back on the track for the two qualifying sessions. Neither Gillian Henrion (#16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4) nor Haytham Qarajouli (#75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R) seemed ready to give up. The two drivers each clinched the double pole position in their category. Gillian Henrion set the fastest time in both sessions and even managed to improve his time (1:46.646 in qualifying 1 and 1:46.066 in the second session). Haytham Qarajouli took his first double pole position of the season in the #75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R, with his best times of 1:53.889 and 1:53.636.
To read the qualifying report, CLICK HERE.
Race 1: More victories for Team Virage and RLR MSport
The #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 and the #75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R continued to impress at the Imola Autodromo, winning race one of the day on Saturday, 14 May, in their respective categories. Gillian Henrion (#16) scored his third victory of the season, and Haytham Qarajouli (#75) took his second since the start of the season, but they had to fight hard to win.
Ligier JS P4: The #16 Team Virage won, but not without challenges
Race 1 of the Imola Heat started at 11:20 am on Saturday, 14 May, with ideal Spring weather with 25 degrees Celsius air temperature and 40 degrees Celsius track temperature. The #17 Pegasus Racing Ligier JS P4 of Dimitri Enjalbert and Anthony Nahra got a perfect start and took the lead from Team Virage's #16. The #17 Pegasus Racing continued to lead and kept the first place even after the pit stops. Behind them, however, the threat loomed: M Racing's #53 attacked without delay. Natan Bihel took the top spot in the race.
Running in third place, the #16 Ligier JS P4 had not yet thrown in the towel and passed Pegasus Racing's #17. Then began a long duel between the M Racing's #53 and the Team Virage's #16. The latter took the lead with nine minutes remaining in the race. Gillian Henrion went on for his third consecutive victory, while Natan Bihel finished runner-up. Monza Garage's #23 with George King and Ronnie Valori finished third. Pegasus Racing's #17 finished just off the podium with Dimitri Enjalbert setting the fastest lap of the race, in 1:47.027s.
Ligier JS2 R: RLR MSport's #75 claimed its second victory of 2022
It was a turbulent start to the race in the GT category. The #81 Granducato Ligier JS2 R slid off the track and into a wall on lap one. The damage was too extensive, and the team had to retire. The #75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R driven by Haytham Qarajouli remained in the lead, followed by the #40 sister car with Horst Felix Felbermayr aboard. Pegasus Racing's #29 of Christophe Weber and David Caussanel was in third place after an excellent start to the race, in which it gained five positions in the classification.
Halfway through the race and after the mandatory pit stops a new leader emerged, with Laurent Millara in the #69 M Racing Ligier JS2 R. RLR MSport's #75 and #40 were running second and third. Haytham Qarajouli caught up to Laurent Millara and overtook him ten minutes from the chequered flag.
A close battle broke out between the #69 and the #40 of Horst Felix Felbermayr. After several attempted attacks, the young Austrian managed to overtake the French gentleman with a daring move. The #69 was hit and spun. There was only one lap to go and, although Laurent Millara came back on his opponent, he crossed the finish line third. The #40 was given a post-race penalty and dropped to third place. The RLR MSport #75 took its second win of the season and set the fastest lap of the race in 1:53.922.
To read the race 1 report, CLICK HERE.
Race 2: Team Virage and RLR MSport do it again
Deja vu for the #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 and the #75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R. After winning race one on Saturday, 14 May, Gillian Henrion and Haytham Qarajouli made it a daily double in their respective categories in race two at the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit.
Ligier JS P4 : Gillian Henrion and Team Virage see double !
Race two got underway at 3:15 in the afternoon. The #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 with Gillian Henrion behind the wheel was followed closely by LR Motorsport's #3 with local drivers Simone Riccitelli and Nicola Neri. Soon, the #3 had to concentrate on M Racing's #53 with Natan Bihel at the controls. A few minutes later, Monza Garage's #23 and its crew of Ronnie Valori and George King joined the battle.
The second half of the race saw a change in the running order. The #3 Ligier JS P4 had a nearly six-second lead from the #16. Further back, Monza Garage's #23 was under threat from M Racing's #53. As the #16 regained the lead, the #53 passed the #23 for third place.
But with 20 minutes remaining in the race, a Ligier JS2 R stopped on the track, bringing out the yellow flag, which led to an intervention of the safety car. The field bunched up. Gillian Henrion made a clean restart. Behind him, it was a game of musical chairs. The #53 overtook the LR Motorsports' #3 for second place. Then, it was the turn of the #23 to attack the #3, which then found itself fourth. But the award for the best comeback of the race goes to Pegasus Racing's #17 with Dimitri Enjalbert and Anthony Nahra. From shotgun on the field, it darted through the field to climb up to third place.
Team Virage's #16 Ligier JS P4 scored another double victory and set the fastest lap of the race in 1:47.240s. The #53 M Racing's #53 finished runner-up for the second time today, while the #17 car scored its first podium result of 2022.
Ligier JS2 R: Haytham Qarajouli and RLR MSport (#75) score their first-weekend sweep of victories.
In the Ligier JS2 R category, the #75 of RLR MSport started far ahead and without worry from the other GT cars. But for second place, it was a skirmish between RLR MSport's #40 with Horst Felix Felbermayr, COOL Racing's #4 with Cédric Oltramare and M Racing's #69 and its driver, Laurent Millara. They were soon joined by Smart Driving's #22 and the Romanian duo of Marian Oancea and Radu Dumitrescu. When the dust settled, the #4 battled its way to second place.
With a full lap lead over its rivals, the #75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R maintained its domination, even after the mandatory pit stops. Behind, the #4 and the #69 were in another confrontation. Cédric Oltramare had the advantage, but bad luck struck a few minutes later. A mechanical issue with his GT forced him to stop on the track and retire from the race. The #69 regained second place, with CTF Performance's #96 of Fabien Delaplace and Laurent Piguet behind it.
With three minutes left on the clock, the #69 and #96 Ligier JS2 R's played catch-up, while the #75 took advantage of its comfortable ten-second lead. In the end, the CTF Performance car prevailed and pulled away. Haytham Qarajouli in the #75 Ligier JS2 R scored his first double win of the season at Imola. It was a fantastic result for the Kuwaiti-born driver. The #96 ran an outstanding race to finish runner-up, while the #69 of Laurent Millara completed the podium. David Caussanel in Pegasus Racing's #29 clocked the fastest lap in the race.
Circle 8 June on your racing calendar because the Ligier European Series will be in action at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans track for an exceptional round in support of the WEC round and Road To Le Mans race. Fifty cars are expected to compete in the Le Mans Heat meeting, which will undoubtedly be memorable.
To read the race 2 report, CLICK HERE.
For more information about the series, CLICK HERE.