Picture © Jakob Ebrey Photography
LM P3 - 19/12/2018 - Jeff CARTER
RED BULL RING
The race started behind the safety car after heavy rain in the hour before the start left a lot of water on the track.
When the race went green the no59 RLR M Sport Ligier of Alex Kapadia was moving rapidly through the field from 20th on the grid. Kapadia had set the fastest lap of the race at that point and after 35 minutes of racing had moved up to second place ahead of the no99 N Race Ligier but still 35 seconds behind Lavergne’s leading Norma (CD Sport).
After 40 minutes of racing, Kapadia had to head to the pits early as he had no grip from his wet tyres and came in to fit Michelin slicks from second place.
The pit window opened and many of the cars headed to the pits to change drivers and their tortured Michelin wets for a fresh set of slicks.
The no79 Ecurie Ecosse / Nielsen Ligier had fought its way to the front after the pitstops, with Colin Noble looking like he had the speed to take the win in Austria. However the no3 DKR Engineering Norma of Léonard Hoogenboom closed the gap and a ding-dong battle ensued.
As the cars entered the final lap it looked like the no79 Ligier was going to take the win but Hoogenboom got a better run out of turn 3, the Dutch driver close enough to challenge Noble into T4, who moved across to defend the inside line but the no3 Norma was already there. There was contact and the no79 Ligier went off into the gravel and Hoogenboom went through to take the chequered flag, with Noble recovering to take second place.
Third place went to the no40 Graff Norma of Adrien Chila and Marc-Antoine Dannilou.
The no25 Lanan Racing Norma driven by Michael Benham led the pack into the first corner with the no2 Ecurie Ecosse Nielsen Ligier of Tony Wells alongside. When the two cars reached turn 1, the tricky conditions meant the two cars went straight on over the run off area, which allowed the no21 DB Autosport Norma of Jacques Wolff to take the lead.
The no24 Cool Racing Ligier of Antonin Borga made its way to the front of the field with the no79 Ecurie Ecosse / Nielsen Ligier of Alasdair McCaig in second.
Alex Kapadia was slicing his way through the field in the no59 RLR MSport Ligier, passing McCaig’s no79 Ligier for second place. Soon after, heavy rain started to fall on the circuit and the drivers who had elected to start the race on slicks were forced to pit for rain tyres.
The no24 Cool Racing Ligier with Alexandre Coigny regained the track with a 58 second lead over the no79 Ligier of Colin Noble and a further 21 seconds ahead of the no2 Ligier of James Littlejohn. The championship leading no3 DKR Engineering Norma of Léonard Hoogenboom was also making up lost ground, up to 4th place.
Noble was quickly closing the gap to the leading no24 Cool Racing Ligier as Coigny struggled in the difficult track conditions. Coigny made a mistake at Pouhon, the Ligier hitting the tyre wall mean a FCY. The race resumed for the final two laps in the pouring rain.
At the chequered flag the two Ecurie Ecosse/ Nielsen Ligiers crossed the line led by Colin Noble’s no79 Ligier to take a hard fought 1-2 for the British team. The no3 DKR Engineering Norma finished third, securing the 2018 Michelin Le Mans Cup Team and Driver titles in the process.
The no3 DKR Engineering Norma of 2018 champion elect Jens Petersen went ahead at the start but racing was neutralised by the Safety Car at the end of the opening lap due to debris at Turn 1.
The no30 CD Racing Norma of Fabien Lavergne, which had been excluded from pole position after technical checks from an issue with the front splitter, was making rapid progress from the back of the grid and after 20 minutes was running 9th.
The no24 Cool Racing Ligier of Antonin Borga was challenging Petersen for the lead. Petersen then lost further places to pro drivers Job Van Uitert and Alex Kapadia. Van Uitert’s car was damaged when he lunged down the inside of Petersen’s Norma, the German losing control under braking into the Turn 6 hairpin. The Norma then struggled for grip with front damage, with Petersen slipping further down the order.
After the pitstops were completed the no59 RLR MSport Ligier of Ross Warburton was leading, with the no21 DB Autosport Norma of Jacques Wolff catching and passing the Englishman’s car. John Farano’s no14 RLR MSport Ligier was third.
At the front of the field Warburton was caught and passed by Wolff, with Hörrs moving up to second and then closing the gap to the lead car by as much as two second a lap. Just as the German got within two seconds he was served a stop and go penalty for a pitstop infringement.
Colin Noble was now running in second but 13 second back down the road. However the Scotsman was lapping far faster than the bronze rated Wolff and with 11 minutes left on the clock Noble caught and passed Wolff at Turn 6 to take the lead. The battle had allowed Noble’s teammate James Littlejohn in the no2 Ligier to catch up, with Colin Braun in the no32 Ligier in third. Dino Lunardi in the no98 Motorsport98 Ligier had also made rapid progress. He joined the lead trio as the last ten minutes of the race descended into an epic battle for the final win of the 2018 season, with the top four cars covered by just 1.6 seconds.
Littlejohn was challenging Noble for the lead but Braun saw an opportunity with one minute to go and got alongside to take second place on the run into Turn 1. This battle gave Noble a little breathing room and he took the chequered flag for the second time in two races. Colin Braun was second in the n32 United Autosports Ligier, the American crossing the line just ahead of Littlejohn’s Ligier.
The 2019 Michelin Le Mans Cup will return in April with the opening race of six round season at Le Castellet.
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