Race one from the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium this Saturday, 24 September, was an incredible show. And proof that nothing should be taken for granted on the Toboggan des Ardennes, which is renowned for being demanding, especially in wet weather. The twists and turns of the race continued, and two cars scored their first victory of the season: the #53 M Racing Ligier JS P4 and the #96 CTF Performance Ligier JS2 R.
Race one of the day began early in the morning as a light rain fell over the circuit. The track conditions were delicate for the drivers who started on cold tyres on a particularly slippery asphalt.
Ligier JS P4: Incredible win by a hair’s breadth for Natan Bihel with M Racing
In the sport-prototype category, Gillian Henrion in the #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 held on to the lead at the start. But contact between the #3 LR Motorsport car (Simone Riccitelli) and the #85 Smart Driving entry (Andrei Vajda) caused havoc in the field. In fifth place, Dimitri Enjalbert in the #17 Pegasus Racing car took advantage of the chaos to move to the front. He ran down Gillian Henrion and snatched the lead. The #16 driver then battled for second place with George King in the #23 Monza Garage Ligier JS P4.
The yellow flags were shown twice within minutes of one other after two successive stops by a Ligier JS2 R. The #16 Ligier JS P4 made up ground to the lead car. When the race resumed, Gillian Henrion made a daring manoeuvre to overtake Dimitri Enjalbert. He slid on the vibrators but made the move stick to retake the race lead.
Team Virage leads the first half of the race
Ten minutes later, a safety car period allowed the stalled #4 COOL Racing Ligier JS2 R (Cédric Oltramare) to be retrieved. At the re-start, the #16, #17 and #23 Ligier JS P4s formed a three-car group at the front. Dimitri Enjalbert pressured Gillian Henrion, with the gap at less than a second. Behind, Natan Bihel in the #53 of M Racing struggled at the start but moved up the order and overtook the #33 of Les Deux Arbres (Erwin Creed) for fourth place. Back in the lead, the #16 of Team Virage widened the gap. When the pit stop window opened, it was the first to enter the pitlane.
The gap created by Dimitri Enjalbert in the #17 and a prolonged pit stop for Gillian Henrion in the #16 allowed Pegasus Racing to stay ahead. Now driven by Anthony Nahra, the #17 had a 14-second lead over the #23 Monza Garage car (Ronnie Valori). Natan Bihel in the #53 was third, Jacques Nicolet in the #33 fourth, and Gillian Henrion fifth. Natan Bihel overtook Ronnie Valori quickly and began to reel in Anthony Nahra.
The safety car period disrupts the classification
The #33 Ligier JS P4 lost its right rear wheel. A second safety car period prevented Natan Bihel from overtaking Anthony Nahra, and Gillian Henrion saw the possibility of a podium finish. But the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and its climate are known for creating surprises as three Ligier JS2 R cars went off the track into the gravel trap in the latter part of the race.
The battle for the win came down to a final lap shootout. The safety car came in, and the race went green. Natan Bihel in the #53 quickly got by Anthony Nahra in the #17. Behind, Gillian Henrion in the #16 left caution to the wind as he overtook the #3 and #23. He then got past the #17 Ligier JS P4 for second place. But the top spot on the podium eluded him. Natan Bihel, the 2021 Ligier JS2 R champion, won for the first time this season in the Ligier JS P4 category.
Ligier JS2 R: Maiden victory for CTF Performance’s duo
The tumultuous start allowed the #11 TM Evolution Ligier JS2 R, driven by Mathieu Detry, to maintain the lead and pull away from the other GTs, including second place Haytham Qarajouli in the #75 RLR MSport car. Further back, the #40 from RLR MSport (Horst Felix Felbermayr) overtook the #96 of CTF Performance (Fabien Delaplace) for third place. But the slippery track was unforgiving. The young Austrian in the #40 car learned this the hard way with a spin in the Raidillon. This mishap allowed Laurent Millara in the #69 M Racing car, to move up to third place.
Cédric Oltramare in the #4 COOL Racing Ligier JS2 R was involved in a violent accident the previous day in free practice and stopped three times by the side of the track. Despite their efforts, the Swiss team retired. After a few laps behind the safety car, the race resumed. The gap between #11 and #75 narrowed. But Haytham Qarajouli lost grip several times and lost ground. The mandatory pit window then opened.
A succession of run-offs at Spa
The #11 TM Evolution Ligier JS2 R was the last to make a driver change. Mathieu Detry handed over to Alain Grand, who kept the category lead. An incident involving a Ligier JS P4 caused a second safety car period. A few minutes later, Alain Grand was caught out in a corner and came to a stop in the gravel trap. The lead reverted to the #75 GT. But then it was the Kuwaiti driver’s turn to go off the track.
Laurent Millara, in the #69 car, took the lead in this crazy race, ahead of the #40 RLR MSport and the #96 CTF Performance. But as the saying goes, all things come in threes. Laurent Millara was not spared when he lost control of his Ligier and ended up in the gravel trap. Although he fell down the order, he managed to rejoin the race. The #96 CTF Performance car became the fourth Ligier JS2 R to take the lead in the race.
A second victory for CTF Performance
Fabien Delaplace and Laurent Piguet, drivers of the #96 and three-time podium finishers, took their first win (the second for the team after that of the #95 at Castellet). The #40 finished runner-up, while the TM Evolution #25, driven by Bruno Chaudet and Freddy Menanteau, finished third for the first time this season.
Natan Bihel, M Racing, Ligier JS P4 #16, winner race 1:
“I didn’t expect to win this race. It wasn’t a good start with electronic problems with the car. The race circumstances meant that I was able to come back little by little and go for the win on the last lap. I didn’t think that the safety car was going to restart the race, so in my mind, it was over. When I saw the green flag, I said to myself, I had to overtake the first car immediately. I couldn’t let him get away. If I didn’t overtake him straight away, it would have been difficult with several other drivers coming back quickly.”
Fabien Delaplace, CTF Performance, Ligier JS2 R #96, winner race 1 in Ligier JS2 R:
“It was a difficult start for everyone. Most of us were on slick tyres as it started to rain, and the track was wet. The choice to change tyres during the driver change was a good idea. We are thrilled to win the race. The category is very competitive. We hope to have another good race.”
Laurent Piguet, CTF Performance, Ligier JS2 R #96, winner race 1 in Ligier JS2 R:
“It’s our first win, which is no small feat in this category. We made some strategic choices with the tyres, which paid off. It cost us a lot for race two, but for race one, it allowed us to stay in contention and finish in the lead.”
Race two will start on Saturday, 24 September, at 1:05 pm and will be streamed live on the Ligier European Series Facebook page and Youtube channel.
For the complete results, CLICK HERE.