While there were question marks raised during the 2015 sports car racing off season when Russian based G-Drive Racing changed affiliations from Onroak to Jota Sport for 2016, any concerns about any potential backfiring of the move may have been put to rest for good as the team’s No. 38 Gibson 015s-Nissan prototype crushed the competition to win the Silverstone Four Hours on Saturday, the opening event for the 2016 European Le Mans Series championship.
Buoyed by a super start by Harry Tincknell, Jota/G-Drive led for a majority of the distance, outside of a brief section near the midway point where a badly timed pit stop dropped them to second. Forced to pick up the pace, second driver Simon Dolan recovered the top spot and then former Formula One veteran Giedo van der Garde sealed the deal in the final 45 minutes. At the checkered flag, the No. 38 Gibson open top enjoyed a near full lap advantage on the runner-up SMP Racing BR01, with Lombard Racing completing the podium with their Ligier-Judd coupe. A second Judd-powered Ligier belonging to Texas entrepreneur Tracy Krohn came in fourth, with the second SMP Racing BR01 completing the top five.
While several LMP2 runners achieved positive results on Saturday, a couple of early front runners left Silverstone Circuit disappointed. Olivier Panis and Fabien Barthez’s Ligier-Nissan squad looked set to potentially pull off a surprising win as they held the overall lead at half distance. However, things would turn sour in the final 90 minutes as a recurring electrical problem forced them to limp slowly back to the pit lane on at least two occasions. The entry would finish ninth on Saturday. The scenarios were even worse for Thiriet by TDS Racing’s Oreca-Nissan team, which dominated practice on Friday and claimed the pole position on Saturday morning. However, things went downhill fast as team owner Pierre Thiriet faded at the start and one hour into the event was eliminated after suffering a major crash at the Luffield corner, bringing out the first full course caution of the race. Thiriet suffered no injuries in the accident.
In an entry-heavy LMP3 field, American based United Autosports claimed a 1-2 finish to open the 2016 season, with the Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch, and Christopher England-driven entry crossing the finish line first. It was far from an error-free performance for the Stars & Stripes squad, as the lead car suffered a pair of off course excursions during the event’s second half, while the sister car was forced to make an unscheduled stop during the second hour to close a driver’s side door that had accidentally popped open while on the track. Still, the two fastest cars in LMP3 all weekend managed to make their way back to the front to claim the result. Graff Racing, who pursued United’s two cars throughout, yet were unable to get within range to possibly overtake completed the class podium.
Finally in GTE, JMW Motorsport’s Ferrari 458 team of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher, and Robert Smith claimed the victory, despite an equally stout effort from Aston Martin Racing on Saturday. AMR’s two entries ran first and second for most of the distance, however they were caught pitting under green, while a soon following full course caution allowed JMW Ferrari to pit and wind up well ahead of the Astons, maintaining a one minute plus lead at the finish. Despite the setback, AMR still managed to round out the top three.
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