Red Bull Ring Heat, Race1: The #53 M Racing Ligier JS2 R and the #23 HP Racing by Monza Garage Ligier JS P4 victorious

Press Release – May 15, 2021

Race one of the weekend for the Ligier European Series got underway on Saturday, 15 May, at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Like the day before in qualifying, the drivers had to deal with very changeable weather. In the Ligier JS2 R category, the #53 M Racing entry won the race at the end of an intense battle with the #24 from Orhès Racing. In Ligier JS P4, the #23 HP Racing by Monza Garage entry confirmed the speed it had shown since the start of the weekend with the win in its category.

The Austrian weather posed a threat since the early hours of the morning, and the going got all that much harder for the Ligier European Series drivers in race one at the Red Bull Ring. Between spins and slides, the slick track gave more than one driver a scare. The start of the race was marked by several yellow flags and two safety car periods. However, the finicky weather, which changed from rain to dry conditions, provided great on-track battles.

The pole-winning #23 HP Racing by Monza Garage JS P4 driven by Alessandro Cicognani pulled away at the start. The battle for second place was an inter-squad affair between the two cars from Les Deux Arbres: the #33 driven by Jacques Nicolet and the #34 by Patrice Lafargue. About 20 minutes into the race, the #34 received a drive-through penalty for passing the #33 behind the safety car. The sanction was not served per the regulations, which led the race stewards to impose a second drive through the pits. At half-distance, the pit stop window opened: the #23 took advantage of the second safety car to make its stop, while the #33 and the #34 remained on track.

A strategic choice that didn’t pan out for the Les Deux Arbres cars, which made their stops after the safety car period and lost their lead. HP Racing’s #23 took the chequered flag with Jacopo Faccioni behind the wheel, more than ten seconds ahead of the #33, followed by the #34. Third on the podium, Patrice Lafargue, the gentleman driver and IDEC Sport boss, drove an excellent race in his debut in the Ligier JS P4 and the series. He set the fastest time in the race in 1:38.055s.

The battles were aplenty right from the start of the race in the Ligier JS2 R category. The #24 Orhès Racing entry driven by Mathieu Martins jumped into the lead ahead of Natan Bihel in the #53 M Racing Ligier JS2 R at turn one. Nicolas Beraud, who started third in the #95 CTF Performance machine, also put in a strong start to take second place. However, he was soon overtaken by Natan Bihel, who was overtaking one car after another. Nicolas Beraud had then to stave off the attacks of Laurent Millara in the #69 car of M Racing. As Natan Bihel took the lead, he and Mathieu Martins made contact, causing damage to the front end of the #24. The reason for this was a greasy track which made driving difficult. Mathieu Martins suffered again a little later: he went for a slide and lost two positions.

Except for the #95 CTF Performance Ligier JS2 R, the entire field made their pit stops while the safety car was still on track. The Ligier JS2 Rs benefited from the late pit stops of the Ligier JS P4s, which were done after the safety car period, to take the overall lead. A ballet of overtaking ensued. The #69 from M Racing led the race, followed by the #13 of COOL Racing driven by Maurice Smith. It was a good performance for the driver who is competing in this year’s Michelin Le Mans Cup in the #69 COOL Racing Ligier JS P320 and is a newcomer to the Ligier JS2 R and the Ligier European Series.

Olivier Pernaut, in the #24, made a strong comeback and took the lead of the race with 25 minutes remaining. However, the #53 from M Racing powered its way to the sharp end of the order, overtaking the #13 and then the #69. Now in second place, the duel was once again between the #53 and the #24. Olivier Pernaut resisted Natan Bihel’s attacks for several laps, but the silver driver was still faster and eventually took the lead with less than 15 minutes to go. He set the fastest lap of the race in its category in 1:40.446s. The #24 of Orhès Racing finished second, followed by the #69 of M Racing, which ran a clean race.

Fourth place went to the #25 Orhès Racing entry of Alain Bucher and Julien Fébreau. The #13 COOL Racing Ligier JS2 R finished fifth. Despite a good start to the race, the #95 CTF Performance car driven by Nicolas Beraud and Gilles Poret was unable to close the gap created by their driver change after the safety car period. The crew finished sixth. Arctic Energy’s #17, driven by Sergey Egorov and Povilas Jankavicius, and COOL Racing’s #4, driven by Cédric Oltramare, who had their fair share of off-circuit excursions finished respectively seventh and eighth.

Alessandro Cicognani, HP Racing Team by Monza Garage, #23 Ligier JS P4, Winner JS P4 Race 1:

“I made an excellent start and opened up a gap to my competitors. When the safety car came out, I decided to make my pit stop. This strategy allowed us to keep the lead with Jacopo’s great stint.”

Jacopo Faccioni, HP Racing Team by Monza Garage, #23 Ligier JS P4, Winner JS P4 Race 1:

“With the wet and dry conditions, strategy played a major role in this race. Despite the rain, I felt great in the car. But I always feel good in a race car!”

Natan Bihel, M Racing, #53 Ligier JS2 R, Vainqueur Course 1 Ligier JS2 R, Winner JS2 R Race 1:

“Race one was quite hard. The conditions changed during the race: we started on a dry track, then it rained, and by the end of the race, the surface had dried! You had to keep adapting your driving style. But I was able to keep the lead. Mathieu [Martins] and Olivier [Pernaut] were very fast. I managed to beat them in race one, and they got their revenge in race two!”

The second race of the day will be held this afternoon at 4 pm. It will also be broadcast live on the Ligier European Series website and its Facebook page, and YouTube channel.

For the complete results of the race, CLICK HERE.

Photo Credit : DPPI Images / Paulo Maria