Gillian Henrion knows the exhilarating effect of victory well. Exactly a year ago, the French driver and future Ligier JS P4 Champion won his first race in endurance in the opening round of the Ligier European Series. This year, Henrion is entered for the Michelin Le Mans Cup and he showed off his prowess behind the wheel of the #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P320 by scoring a dominant victory in the opening race of the championship with his team-mate, Julien Gerbi, in Barcelona in April.
Saturday 16th April 2022, Le Castellet circuit. Henrion put on a sparkling performance in the #16 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 on his way to scoring his maiden victory in his very first endurance race in the Ligier European Series. It was a promising debut for the driver who had come from single-seaters, and augured well for the rest of his season. With the support of Team Virage, Henrion beat his rivals and won 11 of the 12 races in the series. So it was no surprise that he clinched the championship title in the JS P4 category. He became the first recipient of the 150,000€ prize on offer by the series, which helped him finance part of his season in the Michelin Le Mans Cup in a Ligier JS P320.
Victory in his first race in Michelin Le Mans Cup!
Saturday 22nd April 2023, Barcelona circuit. Henrion, still driving for Team Virage, made his debut in the Michelin Le Mans Cup at the wheel of the #16 Ligier JS P320. He didn’t feel at all out of place as he could rely on his knowledge of the environment of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest championships. All last season he shared the Michelin Le Mans Cup paddock and had a front row seat to watch the races of the sister series of the Ligier European Series.
This year, the young Frenchman is no longer alone as he is accompanied by a Bronze driver – and not just any old Bronze driver – but Julien Gerbi, one of the team managers and co-owner of Team Virage. If he already knows the principle of the obligatory pit stops, opening of the pit stop windows, the reference times and minimum time for the stops, he now has to share the wheel with a team-mate. “It’s completely new for me. Letting the other driver do the qualifying and then the first part of the race is very stressful, even more stressful than when you do it yourself,” said Henrion.
He quickly got to grips with his new car, the Ligier JS P320. “It was easier than if I came from another category,” explained Gillian Henrion. “Both are sports prototypes so I was able to find my marks pretty quickly. My driving style has evolved. You have to be more aggressive with the Ligier JS P4. With the Ligier JS P320, you have to be easier on the car and let it ‘flow’ a little more. And the P3 is also more powerful both on the straights and through the corners thanks to the aerodynamics.”
On Saturday, pole position just escaped the duo who still managed to qualify in second place. A few hours later, Henrion was ready for the fight! He was up against top-class opposition with 30 LMP3s (including 26 Ligier JS P320s). He also had to cope with the GT category as he had done in the Ligier European Series, which combines the Ligier JS P4s and Ligier JS2 Rs, and manage the traffic with the ten or so GT3s entered.
Gerbi took the start and after a successful stint handed over to Henrion. The young driver in the lead didn’t falter and fought off the attacks of his rivals. And like a nod to his performance the previous year at Le Castellet he crossed the finishing line in first place! “It was an incredible race. I worked so hard with Team Virage to prepare for this weekend in the best way possible. Thanking them like this is really super,” smiled Henrion.
All eyes on Road to Le Mans
Next step: Le Mans and its big 13,629-km circuit. The driver, though, already knows the layout; he raced on the iconic track last year in the third round of the Ligier European Series, which he won. “I really love this circuit. Without even talking about results, I’m really happy to go back there again,” he assured.
But as always, Henrion is keeping a cool head. “Winning in Barcelona hasn’t changed the way I approach the races. I’m still focused on the same objective, to put on the best performance and win. Since I’ve come back I’ve I spent all my time preparing. It’s really the most important race in the championship, all the more so as this year it’s the centenary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We’re going to concentrate on our race and score the best results to get noticed!”
Rendezvous on Wednesday 7th June for the first free practice sessions on the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit.