Le Mans Cup: United Autosports scores its first win and two Ligier JS P320s on the podium at the Temple of Speed
10 July 2021 – A successful weekend for the Ligier JS P320 at round three of the Michelin Le Mans Cup at the Temple of Speed, Monza. The #5 Phoenix Racing Ligier JS P320 took its first pole position of the season, making it three on the bounce for the Ligier JS P320. The #22 United Autosports car took its first win of the season and now leads the championship, ahead of the #7 Nissan Racing entry, which finished third. The two Ligier teams are now separated by just two points in the provisional classification!
Saturday 10 July, the #5 Phoenix Racing Ligier JS P320 of Fin Gehrsitz and Hamza Owega claimed its first pole position in the LMP3 category with a time of 1:44.785s, bringing an end to the streak of two pole positions to start the season for the #7 COOL Racing Ligier JS P320.
The race began at 5 pm, and the Temple of Speed was not kind to the Michelin Le Mans Cup drivers. Three laps into the race, the #17 IDEC Sport Ligier JS P320 driven by Patrice Lafargue and Dimitri Enjalbert spun and came to a stop in the middle of the track. As the other cars tried to avoid it, the #16 Team Virage car driven by Sacha Lehmann and Matthias Lüthen spun and hit the safety barrier on the right before coming across the track again. It made contact with another competitor and then the barrier on the left side of the circuit. It was an imposing accident from which the drivers, fortunately, emerged unscathed. The race was neutralised for roughly 15 minutes to remove the damaged cars.
A second safety car period was needed after the #30 Frikadelli Racing Team Ligier JS P320 of Klaus Abbelen, and Axcil Jefferies spun. A few minutes after the restart, the #15 RLR MSport car with Mike Benham and Tommy Foster at the controls went off the track and got stuck in the gravel, causing a third neutralisation. The end of the first hour was marked by a third appearance of the safety car. Neutralised for a few minutes, the race resumed without issue. But six minutes before the finish, a full course yellow was required to remove debris at the entrance to the pits. All these events forced the teams to change their strategies.
Starting from 16th on the grid, the #22 United Autosports Ligier JS P320 driven by Gerald Kraut and Scott Andrews put in a solid opening stint, gradually working its way through the field. At the end of the first hour, the team was in third place. After a battle with its sister car, the #23 driven by John Schauerman and Wayne Boyd, the #22 moved up to second and took on the leading car, the #71 Team Virage Ligier JS P320 driven by Rob Hodes and Garett Grist. Traffic allowed them to chase down their rivals, who eventually stopped for fuel. The #22 United Autosports car took the chequered flag, eight seconds ahead of its nearest rival, for its maiden win of 2021.
From its ninth place starting position, the #7 Nielsen Racing Ligier JS P320, driven by Anthony Wells and Colin Noble, moved up to fourth place in the final hour of the race. It overtook the #37 COOL Racing car of Antoine Doquin and Josh Skelton and then the #23 United Autosports car. It received a drive-through at the end of the race for refuelling outside the mandatory stops. This drive-through was eventually converted into a 30-second penalty. Although it crossed the finish line in second place, it was relegated to third place on the podium.
After starting from the back of the grid, the #23 United Autosports Ligier JS P320 made a strong recovery in the running order. It was up to second place after the first hour of the race. After a battle with the three leading Ligier JS P320s, the #22, #37 and #7, the #23 United Autosports Ligier JS P320 finished just off the podium, in fourth place.
Like several of its counterparts, the #71 Virage Racing Ligier JS P320 adapted its strategy to the safety cars periods. Starting seventh, it took the lead at the end of the first hour. It dominated the field for 24 laps before being overtaken by the #22 United Autosports car. Forced to make a late-race stop to refuel and change drivers, it came home in sixth place in LMP3. Garett Grist set the fastest lap of the race in 1:44.755s.
It was a difficult end to the weekend for COOL Racing's two Ligier JS P320s, the #37 and #69. From P3 on the grid, the #37 driven by Antoine Doquin and Josh Skelton was hit by a competitor in the first hour of the race. The numerous stoppages did not work in its favour either: it went on to finish eighth. A similar scenario occurred for the sister car, the #69 of Maurice Smith and Matt Bell. It suffered a puncture at the mid-way point of the race and finished 13th.
The next Michelin Le Mans Cup race will be held at Le Mans, France, on 19-21 August.
For the complete results, CLICK HERE.
For the provisional championship classifications, CLICK HERE.
Photo credit: DPPI Images