Team WRT’s Louis Deletraz, Yifei Ye and Robert Kubica earned their second straight European Le Mans Series victory after an intriguing tire selection battle with G-Drive Racing’s Franco Colapinto, Nyck de Vries and Roman Rusinov at the Red Bull Ring.
Deletraz powered past Colapinto at the exit of Remus corner with 17 minutes of the four-hour race remaining to seal a second win from two this year for the No. 41 WRT Oreca 07 Gibson, which also triumphed in the 4 Hours of Barcelona season-opener.
While the first half of Sunday’s encounter ran in dry conditions, the second half was dictated by heavy rain that prompted a strategic contest in the top prototype class.
G-Drive’s No. 26 Aurus-badged Oreca held a half-minute lead over WRT when the latter team opted to bring Kubica in for wet tires midway through the third hour.
G-Drive then pitted de Vries to apply intermediates, moments before a safety car period was called for several LMP2 cars running wide into the gravel at Turn 7.
WRT’s call went against the grain as most of the LMP2s had switched to inters, but the rain’s growing intensity prompted most of the pack including the No. 26 G-Drive Aurus to return to the pits for full wets during the safety car.
This process elevated Kubica to the lead for the restart, while G-Drive made its own roll of the dice shortly before the safety car retreated to switch back to intermediates.
That call at the top of the final hour was correct for the conditions as the skies above Styria had started to clear. But it meant that Colapinto, who took over from de Vries at G-Drive’s first intermediate tire swap, would require another fuel stop to reach the end.
Kubica made WRT’s scheduled last stop – a switch from wets to intermediates – with around 44 minutes to go, setting Colapinto in the lead but with an extra pit call to make. However, G-Drive elected to pit Colapinto early in his fuel stint, giving the 17-year-old a shorter spell in the box the crucially released him marginally ahead of Deletraz.
The pair then engaged in a track battle for the win over the next few laps that culminated with Colapinto running over the Remus exit curb which compromised his drive and allowed Deletraz to power through. Colapinto tried to regain the position but slipped wide at Turn 1, handing the victory to WRT which ultimately claimed a 21-second margin.
Both G-Drive cars finished on the podium as the Algarve Pro-run team’s No. 25 Aurus clinched third and the Pro-Am class win with Robert Merhi, Rui Andrade and John Falb, who started the race.
Falb took the lead at the first corner and led for around 20 minutes before being overtaken by both United Autosports Orecas. The American was then given a drive-through for seizing the top position outside track limits, initiating a fightback from 13th.
Merhi made a strong final-hour restart by passing IDEC Sport’s Patrick Pilet, Ultimate’s Matthieu Lahaye and United Autosports’ Tom Gamble in quick succession to take third.
Merhi made his final stop slightly later than Gamble and emerged behind the Brit, but United’s No. 22 car was dealt a drive-through for crossing the white line at pit entry which relegated it to seventh and secured a double podium for G-Drive.
The No. 32 United Autosports car that led during the early stages retired after Job van Uitert slid off in tricky conditions at Turn 7 to bring out the second safety car.
Nico Jamin led Gamble’s co-driver Phil Hanson in the opening stint until G-Drive’s No. 26 machine leapfrogged both United entries during the first round of pit stops.
Fourth place went to the pole-sitting Racing Team Turkey Oreca driven by Logan Sargeant, Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc, which finished ahead of Ultimate’s Oreca shared by Frenchmen Matthieu Lahaye, Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and Francois Heriau.
Gamble, who teamed up with Hanson and Jonathan Aberdein, slotted back into seventh ahead of Algarve Pro Racing’s Ferdinand Habsburg, Richard Bradley and Diego Menchaca.
Duqueine Team and Cool Racing completed the top ten in the all-Oreca class.
Cool Racing Wins LMP3 after Late Drama
LMP3 honors went to the No. 19 Cool Racing Ligier JS P320 Nissan which prevailed by less than a second from the Ligier run by Eurointernational.
Despite struggling with “no grip” in his tires during the final stint, Matt Bell had just enough to cross the line 0.117 seconds ahead of Joey Alders to secure the win alongside his teammates Niklas Kruetten and Nicolas Maulini.
Bell was originally on course to finish second after being overtaken by Graff’s David Droux at Remus with eight minutes to go, but the Graff Ligier was dealt a costly drive-through for not respecting the mandatory pit stop time which dropped it to third.
Alders shared second with Andrea Dromedari and Cem Bolukbasi, while Inter Europol Competition’s pair of Ligiers finished fourth and fifth.
The GTE victory went to AF Corse’s Alessio Rovera, Emmanuel Collard and Francois Perrodo in their No. 88 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo which also won the FIA World Endurance Championship race at Spa two weekends ago.
Ferrari crews filled out the podium as Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and David Perel placed behind the winning trio and ahead of Iron Lynx’s Miguel Molina, Matteo Cressoni and Rino Mastronardi.
RESULTS: 4H Red Bull Ring