15 October 2022 – The Ligier European Series drivers were in fine form for race one at the Portimão circuit. The #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 takes win number ten of 2022, with a 50-second margin of victory. In the Ligier JS2 R category, the bronze drivers in the #96 CTF Performance car secured their second win of the season.
Ligier JS P4: Gold for Gillian Henrion
Starting from pole position, Gillian Henrion in the #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 gave his rivals no chance and took off at the start. George King in the #23 Monza Garage car had moved up from fifth to second place but lost position to Mihnea Stefan in the #44 Smart Driving entry and Dimitri Enjalbert in the #17 of Pegasus Racing. In sixth place, Natan Bihel (#53 M Racing) aggressively attacked and passed Simone Riccitelli (#3 LR Motorsport).
Several duels broke out. The second-place #44 Ligier JS P4 was attacked by the #17. Further behind, the #23 had to defend fourth place against the #53. While Natan Bihel managed to overtake George King, Dimitri Enjalbert had a tough time with Mihnea Stefan, who was vigorously defending his position. The action heated up, and the two began to make contact, with the #17 getting the advantage, which now had to protect its position from the #53.
In the first 30 minutes of the race, #23 and #3 constantly swapped positions. George King and Simone Riccitelli were neck and neck for fifth place, then fourth after the #44 went off the track. The latter car re-joined the race in seventh place. While the two rookies continued to thrash it out, the #50 of Les Deux Arbres driven by Raymond Narac, came to the fore. George King spun and dropped three places just before the opening of the pit stop window.
Tough battles in the sports prototypes category
After the pitstop cycle, the #16 Ligier JS P4 was back on point. Anthony Nahra in the #17 was second, followed by Nicola Neri in the #3 and Raphaël Narac in the #50. José Maria Marreiros (who took over from Bernardo Pinheiro) had a minor scare when he spun the Team Virage #43 car. Natan Bihel in the #53 went from fifth to second in just a few laps. While the #23 Monza Garage car tried to make up ground in the middle of the field, it had to contend with the vigorous defence of the #44.
Mihnea Stefan had unsettled business. The Romanian driver of the #44 Ligier JS P4 made his way back up the order to third place five minutes before the end of the race. The #17 received a four-second stop-and-go penalty for not respecting the minimum pit stop time and dropped to eighth place. In a bold mood, George King in #23 took on Raphäel Narac in #50, but the British driver’s risky manoeuvre caused him to lose control of his car.
And victory number ten for Gillian Henrion! The 2022 Ligier JS P4 Champion took the chequered flag 50 seconds ahead of Natan Bihel (#53 M Racing) and with the fastest lap of the race in 1:45.462s. Smart Driving’s recruit, Mihnea Stefan, drove an excellent race to complete the podium. The Narac father-son team in the #50 Les Deux Arbres finished fourth.
Ligier JS2 R: The #96 CTF Performance bronze duo wins again
In the Ligier JS2 R category, RLR MSport’s #75 poleman Haytham Qarajouli held on to the lead at the start. But in the #11 TM Evolution car, Simon Escallier (Alain Grand’s team-mate for this round in Portimão and an LMP3 competitor) picked up two positions to settle in behind the leader.
While the #75 Ligier JS2 R still led the GT field, the #96 CTF Performance car with Fabien Delaplace was second ahead of the #40 RLR MSport car driven by Horst Felix Felbermayr and the #11. Laurent Millara in the #69 (M Racing) was in a scrap with Cédric Oltramare in the #4 (COOL Racing) for fifth place.
Only six-tenths of a second separated the #40 Ligier JS2 R and the #11. Simon Escallier managed to overtake his Austrian rival. As Haytham Qarajouli was about to pit and hand over to Martin Rich, he had to park off the track after a mechanical failure on his last lap, handing the category lead to the #96 CTF Performance.
Advantage to the #96 CTF Performance
With the pit stops completed, Laurent Piguet in the #96 Ligier JS2 R was ahead of Alain Grand in the #11 and Horst Felix Felbermayr in the #40. The young Austrian passed the gentleman driver for second place, but the leader was 14 seconds ahead. The #11, the #4 of COOL Racing and the #69 of M Racing were vying for third place in the category. But Laurent Millara, second in the provisional general classification, took the spot.
The CTF Performance team did not hide its joy as the #96 crossed the finish line, taking its second victory of the season with the #96 after race one at Spa-Francorchamps. RLR MSport’s #40 finished second ahead of the M Racing #69, which lost its advantage over the #96 in the race for the runner-up position in the Ligier JS2 R championship. RLR MSport’s #75, which retired at half-distance, set the fastest lap of the race in 1:52.644s.
Gillian Henrion, Team Virage, Ligier JS P4 #16, winner race 1:
“The first race went very well. We got a great start and then we opened a gap, that we kept increasing until the chequered flag. We definitely dominated this race.”
Fabien Delaplace, CTF Performance, Ligier JS2 R #96, winner of race 1 in the Ligier JS2 R category:
“I really wanted to get a strong start to stay in contact with the leaders and maintain the pace of the silver cars, which I managed to do! I was even ahead at the hairpin corner. But I got caught up afterwards. I then used Haytham Qarajouli to keep a steady pace and open up as much of a gap as possible so that Laurent could then maintain this difference. We really wanted to get a podium result and finish ahead of Laurent [Millara]. That was the main goal, and we did it!”
Laurent Piguet, CTF Performance, Ligier JS2 R #96 winner of race 1 in the Ligier JS2 R category:
“I am so happy. We would be pleased with less! Especially as this is my first season. We didn’t make any mistakes, no contact. And the atmosphere was very nice. I had the chance to share the car with a driver who taught me a lot. This allowed us to have a very good season and to end the season on a high note with a second victory and to finish runner-up in the Ligier JS2 R category.”
The season’s final race will start at 3.15 pm (4:15 pm CET). Visit the Ligier European Series YouTube channel and Facebook page to watch this year’s Ligier JS P4 and Ligier JS2 Rs battle for the final time this season.
For the complete results, CLICK HERE.