United Autosports’ Filipe Albuquerque took the overall lead away from G-Drive Racing’s Ryo Hirakawa with two minutes remaining on the clock. From there, Albuquerque pulled away to take the overall victory in the European Le Mans Series’ season-opening 4 Hours of Silverstone by 6.339 seconds. Teammates Hugo de Sadeleer and William Owen co-drove the winning entry. For United Autosports, it is their first P2 victory in ELMS in their first start.
Afterwards, Albuquerque was quite pleased. He also credited his own smooth driving with the pace necessary to win.
“Brilliant! I am so, so happy,” Albuquerque said on the race broadcast. “When I jumped in the car [with 80 minutes to go], I knew they were something like 45 seconds ahead. I managed my tires and my race. When there were 15 [minutes] to go and I was still 10 seconds back, I thought it was too hard. Then, I could see [Hirakawa] struggling. I grabbed the overtake as soon as I could.”
DragonSpeed’s Ben Hanley led the field to green and quietly pulled away from the pack for the first 40 minutes of the race. At the first stop, he gave way to Henrik Hedman. During his stint, Hedman spun a couple of times and dropped out of the top five. A stint in the garage later in the race completely erased any chance of a decent finish, despite having former Toyota factory racer Nicolas Lapierre in the fold. The team would finish a disappointing 11th, six laps down.
Tire management was absolutely key. The difference between fresh tires and worn tires was as much as five seconds a lap at times. The differences were on display multiple times throughout the race. High Class Racing’s Anders Fjordbach led by 13 seconds after the first round of stops. It took Graff Racing’s Richard Bradley a mere four laps to run him down and take the lead. The difference? Fjordbach did not take tires on his first stop, while Bradley did.
Bradley even getting to the overall lead was pretty amazing. During qualifying on Friday, Bradley spun his No. 40 ORECA 07-Gibson. The roasting of his tires made it impossible to continue. As a result, Bradley had to start in 29th overall and charged up through to the lead in an hour.
Later on, after the No. 40 made its second stop and switched to Franck Matelli, the reverse happened. Algarve Pro Racing’s Matt McMurry and G-Drive Racing’s Leo Roussel ran down Matelli from over ten seconds back in the snap of a figure, blew by him and left him in the dust.
McMurry was likely to have a very good run in the No. 25 Ligier JS P217. He had the speed necessary to actually win, but a broken gearbox early in the third hour put the No. 25 out of the race. That gave the lead to Roussel, who maintained the advantage until Hirakawa got in with 80 minutes to go.
The second-place G-Drive Racing entry was shared by Hirakawa, former Grand-Am racer Memo Rojas and Roussel. Third was the High Class Racing Dallara P217-Gibson for Fjordbach and Dennis Andersen, 28 seconds out of the lead. The Graff Racing No. 40 of James Allen, Bradley and Matelli ended up fourth while the Tockwith Motorsports No. 34 of Philip Hanson and Nigel Moore was fifth. Six cars were scored on the lead lap at the end of four hours of racing.
In the LMP3 class, it was again United Autosports victorious, but without the stress involved. Americans Sean Rayhall and John Falb won by 41.166 seconds over 360 Racing’s Ross Kaiser, Anthony Wells and Terrance Woodward. Falb had more than a lap over the rest of the pack before spinning out exiting Copse corner late in the race. Despite losing a bunch of time with the spin and degrading tires, Falb held on to take the class victory.
Ultimate’s No. 17 Ligier JS P3 for Francois Heriau and the Lahaye brothers (Jean-Baptiste and Mathieu) were a lap down in third. The No. 3 Ligier JS P3 from United Autosports shared by Christian England, Wayne Owen and former Grand-Am racer Mark Patterson was fourth, followed by the pole sitting No. 9 AT Racing entry of Mikkel Jensen and the Talkanistas (Alexander Sr. and Jr.).
In GTE, TF Sport made the best of their very first race with GTE equipment. Using the strength of Nicki Thiim‘s pole run on Friday, the No. 90 team pulled out to a big lead, retained it through various rounds of stops, then pulled away again to win. For teammates Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey, it was their first victories in the ELMS.
The margin of victory was a lap over the Proton Competition No. 77 Porsche of Matteo Cairoli, former Dale Coyne Racing driver Joel Camathias and Christian Ried. Just a second behind the Porsche was the Beechdean AMR Aston Martin of Ross Gunn, Andrew Howard and Darren Turner.
While the race had a number of spins, there were no safety car or full course yellow periods. It was flat out for the full distance.
The next European Le Mans Series race is the 4 Hours of Monza at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza on May 14.