Le Castellet Heat, Race 1: The rookies from Team Virage and RLR MSport win on debut

As predicted the day before in the qualifying sessions, race one of the 2022 Ligier European Series season on Saturday, 16 April at Circuit Paul Ricard was full of excitement from green flag to chequer. Team Virage rookie driver Gillian Henrion in the #16 Ligier JS P4 and newcomer Haytham Qarajouli in the #75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R scored the first wins of the season. The British team also had a double podium finish in the GT category, with Horst Felix Felbermayr finishing third in the #40 Ligier JS2 R.

Team Virage dominates race one

The first race of the year at Circuit Paul Ricard got off to an action-packed start. In the Ligier JS P4 category, the #16 of Team Virage driven by pole winner, Gillian Henrion, was overtaken by the #12 of HP Racing by Eurointernational driven by Jacopo Faccioni and the #17 of Pegasus Racing with Dimitri Enjalbert on board. The latter car took the lead and pulled away while the #12 and #16 fought for second place. At the ten-minute mark, Jacopo Faccioni spun and lost several positions. The #16 moved up to second, followed by the Italian entries of the #3 of LR Motorsport with Simone Riccitelli and the #23 of Monza Garage with Ronnie Valori.

The #17 Pegasus Racing Ligier JS P4 had a ten-second lead when the pit stop window opened. Dimitri Enjalbert was replaced by Anthony Nahra, Simone Riccitelli handed over to Nicola Neri (#3) and Jacopo Faccioni was relayed by Andrea Dromedari (#12). But the race was short-lived for the #12 HP Racing by Eurointernational car, which stopped at the side of the track, resulting in a yellow flag. The team retired. 

The #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 caught up to its rivals. It made quick work of the #3 LR Motorsport car and then took the lead from the #17 Pegasus Racing entry. 2021 Ligier JS2 R champion Natan Bihel in the #53 M Racing Ligier JS P4 made his way to the front of the order. A spin by the #17 allowed him to move into second place. But his hard work was nullified by a drive-through penalty for not respecting the minimum pit stop time. The #3 LR Motorsport car was back in second place, and with four minutes to go in the race, George King in the #23 Monza Garage Ligier JS P4 overtook the #17 Pegasus Racing car.

The #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 went on to take its first win of the season. Two Italian teams; the #3 LR Motosport and the #23 Monza Garage, completed the podium. Natan Bihel and MRacing finished fourth ahead of #17 of Pegasus Racing, which clocked the fastest lap in the race in 2:00.258s with Dimitri Enjalbert at the controls.

A promising double podium for RLR MSport and its two rookies

In the Ligier JS2 R category, the #75 of RLR MSport with Haytham Qarajouli started far ahead of its rivals. The CTF Performance cars, the #95 with Nicolas Beraud and the #96 with Fabien Delaplace, and the #25 of TM Evolution driven by Freddy Menanteau spun at the start but managed to set off again straight away. But the drama continued as the #29 Pegasus Racing entry driven by David Caussanel went into the gravel trap. A few minutes later, the #4 of COOL Racing driven by Cédric Oltramare and the #11 of TM Evolution with Laurent Prunet made contact. The result: an early retirement for two Ligier JS2 R, the #29 and the #4.

The #75 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R was 16 seconds clear of the #95, the #96, and the #69 of M Racing driven by Laurent Millara battled for the other two podium places. The #69 spun after being hit by the #95 and was fourth, behind the two CTF Performance GTs. Shortly before the pit stop window opened, #95 received a drive-through penalty for its involvement in the incident with #69. 

The duel between the #69 Ligier JS2 R and the #95 continued, and with ten minutes remaining on the clock, the two rivals passed each other several times. As the #95 took the lead, its #96 sister car did the same and passed the #69. Laurent Millara fought to hold onto fourth place, but the #40 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R driven by Horst Felix Ferlbermayr got the position.

Just as the die seemed to be cast, the #95 from CTF Performance was forced to stop in the pits before taking the chequered flag, which dropped it out of the classification.

RLR MSport and Haytham Qarajouli won race one, followed by the #96 of CTF Performance with Fabien Delaplace and Laurent Piguet and the second RLR MSport, the #40 of Felix Horst Felbermayr. Laurent Millara and MRacing finished fourth.

16 Gillian Henrion

Gillian Henrion, Team Virage, #16 Ligier JS P4, Winner of Races 1  :

“I’m super happy. We had a great weekend. We kept improving our times. I’m very proud of what we have achieved as I had only driven a sports prototype three times before this weekend. I’m so glad to be back racing as I didn’t race last season. We hope to continue like at the second round.”

75 Haytham Qarajouli

Haytham Qarajouli, RLR MSport, #75 Ligier JS2 R, Winner of Race 1:

“The race went quite well. We pulled a massive gap at the beginning of the race and we stayed there all the way through. The Ligier JS2 R is great to drive. I look forward to racing it in Imola for the second round of the championship.”

For the complete results, CLICK HERE.

See you at 3 pm for race two of the Castellet Heat.