A change of leader, safety cars, spectacular recoveries… right until the final moments of the Le Mans Heat race, the suspense was at a fever pitch. In the JS P4 category, the AM team of Americans Kevin Madsen and Lance Fenton, in the #1 Team Virage, scored their maiden victory this season. In the Ligier JS2 R category, Natan Bihel, in the #53 of M Racing marched onto the podium’s top step.
JS P4 category: Team Virage’s #1 AM team wins for the first time in 2023
At the start, George King in the #60 of Team Virage quickly overtook polesitter James Winslow in the #4 from HPRacing by Monza Garage. But Winslow soon regained the advantage over the young driver. After qualifying fourth, Steve Zacchia in the #50 of Les Deux Arbres attacked Dimitri Enjalbert in the #17 from Pegasus Racing, then George King to snatch second place. Behind him, Mihnea Stefan (#48 Team Virage), who didn’t take part in qualifying in the morning, drove flat out despite the traffic and made up seven places! He then moved up to fourth after a puncture of the #50 caused the first safety car period of the race. Jacopo Mazza in the #7 of LR Motorsport was fifth.
After about ten minutes, the #60 Ligier JS P4 was back in the lead, and George King set the fastest lap of the race in 4:08.873s. An accident in the GT category led to a second safety car period of more than 20 minutes. The drivers made their mandatory pitstops, which turned the race order on its head. The #1 Team Virage Ligier JS P4 with Kevin Madsen came out on top, followed by the #60 sister car (Bernardo Pinheiro) and the #7 (Simone Riccitelli). Mihnea Stefan, in the #48, was sixth.
The race resumed with 18 minutes remaining. Simone Riccitelli went on the offensive and overtook Bernardo Pinheiro before pouncing on Kevin Madsen. Behind him, Mihnea Stefan made his second comeback. The Romanian driver was on a mission to win and moved into the lead. But a drive-through penalty and a yellow flag cost him several places. Simone Riccitelli led the race on the final lap, ahead of Kevin Madsen and Ian Aguilera (#75 RLR MSport).
The #7 from LR Motorsport was penalised five seconds for a tangle with the #39 Graff Racing Ligier JS P4 (Jacopo d’Amato) and finished second. The #1 Team Virage car scored its first overall win of the season (and second in the AM class). Following its conduct during the restart of the race (before the chequered flag), the #75 received a drive-through penalty and was relegated to fifteenth place. Third place went to the #17 of Pegasus Racing with Dimitri Enjalbert and Anthony Nahra. The duo finished second last year in the inaugural Le Mans Heat.
The #50 from Les Deux Arbres won the PRO-AM class.
Kevin Madsen, Team Virage, JS P4 #1, race, overall & AM:
“Wow. Overall win at Le Mans with the #1 “Race for RP” Ligier by Group Virage. Just amazing! I’ve had a bad cold the whole weekend and it’s been a challenge but I’m glad the work paid off. Hats off to the team for great strategy and solid execution on the pit stop and to my outstanding teammate Lance. He did exactly what we talked about prior and this win is all him for executing like that and giving me the car in an ideal situation. Super proud. It’s great that we take the lead in the class championship as well!”
Lance Fenton, Team Virage, JS P4 #1, race, overall & AM:
“It is so rare for so many things to align giving Team Virage, Kevin and myself this victory. We have all had good race weekends and bad race weekends, however, this was our turn. To be our turn on the 100th anniversary of Le Mans is the most epic story in my many years of racing.”
JS2 category R: Natan Bihel and M Racing take their first win at Le Mans
Maximus Mayer in the #10 RLR MSport Ligier JS2 R got off to a good start and retained the lead ahead of Natan Bihel in the #53 from M Racing, who himself was ahead of the #61 of LADC Motorsport with Léo Payen. Julien Lemoine in the #42 of ANS Motorsport was fourth, and the #27 from Belt Racing by LVR, driven by Ewen Hachez, was fifth.
After 15 minutes of racing, the #61 Ligier JS2 R, with Léo Payen behind the wheel, spun and hit the safety barriers at a high rate of speed. A track marshal was struck in the incident, prompting the intervention of the medical team and the safety car. The thoughts of the entire paddock are with him, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
Following the compulsory pitstops, Julien Lemoine, in the #42 car surged into the lead. He was followed by Gillet Poret in the #95 of CTF Performance, David Rodorigo in the #43 from LR Motorsport, Pascal Huteau in the #27 of Belt Racing by LVR and Frédéric Morel in the #25 from TM Evolution.
Julien Lemoine held on to the lead at the restart. The #27 Ligier JS2 R picked up two places after overtaking the #95 and the #43. But behind it, the #53 made up ground on its rivals. Natan Bihel was second ahead of David Rodorigo. The yellow flag was displayed after the #35 of LADC Motorsport (Christian Gisy) got beached in the gravel trap.
On the final lap, Natan Bihel overtook Julien Lemoine to win the race. ANS Motorsport and Julien Lemoine finished second, ahead of the #43 of LR Motorsport. RLR MSport’s #10 clocked the fastest lap of the race in 4:22.505s.
In the PRO-AM class, the #27 Belt Racing by LVR Ligier JS2 R took the win. The #42 ANS Motorsport won the AM class.
Natan Bihel, M Racing, JS2 R #53, winner, overall:
“I’m relieved. It is the fifth time I’ve driven on the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit, and this is the first time I’ve won. So, I’m thrilled. The race was full of twists and turns with several safety car periods. With the sporting regulations, I started last from the pit lane, with a slightly longer stop time for me [penalty applied to solo Silver drivers]. It was an eventful comeback, but that’s what you want in the Ligier European Series. I gave it my all and took the lead in the final sector.”
This eventful race marks the end of the Le Mans Heat on the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit. Next month, round three of the championship will be contested at Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet from 14 to 15 July.
For complete results, CLICK HERE.