Le Castellet, 13 Apr 2019 – The first race of the Le Mans Cup, held at the Paul Ricard circuit, ended with a splendid victory and an encouraging third place. The reigning champions, Sergio Pianezzola and Giacomo Piccini (Kessel Racing), took the top step of the podium after fighting a long close duel with the Ferrari 488 GT3 of Luzich Racing, driven by Fabien Lavergne and Mikkel Mac, third under the chequered flag after suffering a penalty at mid-race. The other two cars from Maranello competing in the 4 Hours of Le Castellet also finished the race.
First hour. After an extraordinary start by Fabien Lavergne, which put him in seventh position overall, the Ferrari 488 GT3 of Luzich Racing and its Kessel Racing twin driven by reigning champion Sergio Pianezzola, quickly took control, with the Frenchman building up a healthy lead over his pursuers. Sergio Pianezzola, the only one able to match the leader’s pace, tried to put in some fast laps to whittle away at Lavergne’s six-second lead. After a good start that had put him in third, Christoph Ulrich lost his podium place to a rival. Kessel Racing’s second car, the no. 50 driven by Hartshorne, had a trickier race. In attempting to move up from the back of the grid, the no. 50 ended up off the track.
While the two leading Ferraris fought a private battle, an accident involving a prototype coming out of the last turn led to the entry of the Safety Car with one hour and twenty-two minutes to go to the chequered flag. This wiped out the lead that the Maranello cars had built up. The Safety Car returned after nine minutes but was out again just four minutes later, once more due to an accident involving an LMP3 prototype.
Nearing the end of the first hour, during the window for the mandatory driver change, many teams took advantage of the Safety Car to make a stop.
Second hour. With just over 50 minutes to go the Safety Car returned to the pit lane and, at the same time, the Race Officials imposed penalties on crews that had jumped the red light on leaving the Pit Lane. The no. 71 of Luzich Racing was among them. After serving the penalty, the car driven by Mikkel Mac returned to the track in third. The Danish driver attacked strongly and recorded a series of fast laps. Indeed, on lap 54 he set a new track record for this class of 1:53.760 with an average speed of 182.6 km/h.
Bad luck struck Mediani’s 488 GT3 with 35 minutes to go when it suffered a punctured left rear tyre just past the finish line and had to drive a full lap on three wheels. The last twist of the race involved another accident for a prototype and a resulting Full Course Yellow. The Safety Car, which in this case would have allowed Mac to get back into contention for victory, did not come out, and so the Dane had to content himself with third place. While a safety car could have reopened the race for Luzich Racing it could have severely compromised that of the reigning champions, forced in the end to suffer a stop & go that, in this case, passed without too much trouble. Giacomo Piccini and Sergio Pianezzola crossed the line over a minute and 22 seconds ahead of Müller and Mettler’s Mercedes and just under a minute and forty seconds in front of Mikkel Mac and Fabien Lavergne’s Ferrari 488 GT3. Despite its difficulties during the race, the no. 50 of Kessel Racing driven by Hartshorne and Hancock finished in sixth, while the no. 51 of Spirit of Race driven by Ulrich and Mediani came seventh.
Qualifying The timed practice session had resulted in an all Ferrari front row with Mac and Lavergne in pole with a time of 1:54.940, three tenths’ of a second ahead of reigning champions, Pianezzola and Piccini. The Ferrari driven by Ulrich and Mediani came fourth while Hartshorne and Hancock were tenth.