Ligier European Series: HP Racing, MRacing and Orhès Racing on the highest step of the podium
Saturday 18 September 2021 - After a well-deserved summer break, the Ligier European Series made its comeback in Belgium, at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. It was a successful weekend for the #23 HP Racing by Monza Garage Ligier JS P4, which dominated free practice, qualifying and the two races in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes. In the Ligier JS2 R category, the #53 of MRacing clinched a double pole position and won the first race. But it was the #24 of Orhès Racing that came out victorious in the second race after some great battles on track.
The weekend kicked off on Friday 17 September with the free practice session, which was postponed by almost an hour due to the thick fog at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. With a best time of 2:31.409s, the #23 HP Racing by Monza Garage Ligier JS P4 driven by Jacopo Faccioni and Alessandro Cicognani topped the timesheet in its class. In the GT category, the #24 Orhès Racing car driven by Mathieu Martins and Olivier Pernaut set the fastest lap in 2:31.409s. However, the Spa Heat ended prematurely for the team's second car, the #25 driven by Alain Bucher and Ayla Agren. The second Orhès Racing crew had to forfeit the race after a serious crash.
The sun returned in the afternoon for qualifying. As in Le Castellet, the #23 Ligier JS P4 and the #53 Ligier JS2 R took the double pole position together. Jacopo Faccioni and Alessandro Cicogani set the two fastest times in the Ligier JS P4 class (2:31.277s in Q1 and 2:32.325s in Q2) and Natan Bihel was the fastest in the Ligier JS2 R class (2:33.702s in Q1 and 2:33.856s in Q2) .
Fortunately for the Ligier European Series' grid, Saturday 18 September started with clear, bright weather and the drivers took the start of Race 1 at 10.55am. In the sport-prototype category, the #23 HP Racing by Monza Garage Ligier JS P4 opened up a gap in the first part of the race. But after the mandatory pit stops, it was caught by the #34 of Les Deux Arbres driven by Nelson, who had already participated in the Castellet round. As it was closing down on its rival, the #34 received several warnings from the race direction for having exceeded the track limits. The #23 took advantage of the situation and won the race with a one and a half second lead. Alessandro Cicognani also set the fastest lap in 2:32.486s. Les Deux Arbres took a double podium with the #34 finishing second and the #33, driven by Jacques Nicolet and François Fillon, third.
In the Ligier JS2 R category, any hope of a podium finish was lost at the start of the race for the #24 Orhès Racing car. A contact with one Ligier JS P4 caused a puncture in one of its tyres and relegated it to the back of the grid. At the head of the race, the #53 MRacing car had to face the #95 CTF Performance car with Nicolas Beraud and Fabien Delaplace at the controls and the #4 COOL Racing car driven by Cédric Oltramare. After the mandatory pit stops, the #53, which had fallen to third place, climbed back up on its two rivals. The resistance of the #4, second, and then the #95, first, did not prevent Natan Bihel from claiming the top spot on the podium again. He regained the lead twenty minutes before the chequered flag. He won the race and clocked the best time in 2:35.624s. The #4 car won its second silver medal of the year and the #95 car finished third for the first time of the season.
The start of Race 2 was given at around 3pm. Once again the #23 HP Racing by Monza Garage Ligier JS P4 started from pole position and had to battle it out with the #33 and #34 of Les Deux Arbres. Halfway through the race and after the mandatory pit stops, the #34 came back to attack the Italian car. After having a second stop and go penalty for not respecting the track limits, the #34 had to settle for the second step of the podium behind the #23 which won the race with almost 40 seconds of advance. The #33 came third for the second time this weekend and set the fastest lap of the race in 2:32.086s.
In the GT class, the #95 CTF Performance Ligier JS2 R was forced to retire early in the race after a contact with the #69 MRacing car driven by Laurent Millara. In the lead, the team's second car, the #53, was followed by the #24 of Orhès Racing, ready to take its revenge after a disappointing first race in the morning. After the mandatory pit stops, the #24 car got the better of its rival. Despite numerous attacks from Natan Bihel, Mathieu Martins did not give in to the pressure and crossed the finishing line first. Next came the #53, the fastest car in the class in the race with a lap of 2:34.907s, followed by the #4 COOL Racing car.
There is just one more stop at Portimao, in Portugal, before the end of the 2021 Ligier European Series season. The #23 HP Racing by Monza Garage Ligier JS P4 still leads the championship with 223 points to 186 for its closest challenger, the #34 Les Deux Arbres. While the #53 MRacing car has a clear lead over the #24 Orhès Racing car (216 points to 189), a twist of fate could still shake up the standings. It will all be decided on 23 October.
To read the article about free practice, CLICK HERE.
To read the article about qualifying, CLICK HERE.
To read the article about Race 1, CLICK HERE.
To read the article about Race 2, CLICK HERE.
Photo credit: DPPI Images