Michael Benham and Duncan Tappy, in the no25 Lanan Racing Norma, stood on the top step of the podium at the end of a exciting Road to Le Mans encounter just ahead of the 86th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The GT3 category was won by the no51 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Christoph Ulrich and Maurizio Mediani after the class leaders collided early in the race.
The 55 minute race began on a dry track under light cloud and the no39 Graff Norma-Nissan of Eric Trouillet led the 50 car pack up towards Dunlop. The French driver spun at turn 2 with the no11 Eurointernational Ligier also going off from 3rd on the grid, allowing the no30 CD Sport Norma of Laurents Horr to go into the lead.
The no8 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Sergio Pianezzola was leading the GT3 category from pole position but went wide onto the dirty part of the track at the Michelin Chicane and the lack of grip forced the Italian’s car to flick sideways and hit the no71 AF Corse F488 of Marco Cioci, who was challenging for the lead. Cioci’s Ferrari in turn hit the no65 Graff Norma, eliminating all three cars from the race.
The Safety Car was deployed for 15 minutes to recover the damaged cars and when the race went green again the no30 CD Sport Norma pulled out a good gap to the no25 Lanan Racing Ligier of Michael Benham, who had moved up from 6th on the grid to 2nd on the opening lap. Benham was coming under pressure from the no19 Ultimate Norma of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye. The British driver held off the challenge for a while but at Mulsanne Lahaye swept into second place.
The no3 DKR Engineering Norma of Jens Petersen and the no79 Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen Ligier Colin Noble collided, with the Ligier ending up in the gravel at the Michelin Chicane, with a slow zone being declared in the area to move the car to a safe place.
The mandatory pitstops started and Michael Benham was one of the first to enter the pitlane to hand over the car to Duncan Tappy. After the pitstops the no33 United Autosports Ligier of ELMS champion Sean Rayhall was out in front, with Tappy’s Ligier snapping at his heels, challenging for the lead.
Back at the front of the field, Duncan Tappy was close to the rear wing of the United Autosports Ligier biding his time to safely pass Rayhall for the lead. On lap 10 Tappy got a run on the American into Mulsanne and swept into the lead. He then proceeded to pull a small gap but then Rayhall closed it again as the race entered the final lap.
At the chequered flag it was Duncan Tappy who took the chequered flag for Lanan Racing, just 0.699s ahead of the United Autosports Ligier of Sean Rayhall. The no21 DB Autosports Norma of Jacques Wolff and Nicolas Schatz were third, 11 seconds behind the leaders.
Maurizio Mediani brought the no51 Spirit of Race Ferrari home at the head of the GT3 field to claim the victory for himself and Christoph Ulrich. The no77 Kessel Racing Ferrari was in second place with Andrea Piccini crossing the line over a minute behind the lead car. The final podium place was secured by the no50 Kessel Racing F488 of Joe Hartshorne and Oliver Hancock.
1 Lanan Racing Norma M 30 - Nissan LMP3 3:51.043
2 United Autosports Ligier JS P3 - Nissan LMP3 3:51.199
3 DB Autosport Norma M 30 - Nissan LMP3 3:49.536
4 DKR Engineering Norma M 30 - Nissan LMP3 3:49.777
5 Graff Norma M 30 - Nissan LMP3 3:55.304
6 Eurointernational Ligier JS P3 - Nissan LMP3 3:52.926
Photo credit: Daily Sportscar