Portimão Heat, Race 1: Team Virage and ANS Motorsport victorious.

Race 1 of the Ligier European Series season finale was held mid-morning on Saturday, 21 October. Despite a violent crash preventing him from participating in free practice 2 and the two qualifying sessions, the 2023 JS P4 Champion Mihnea Stefan claimed his first victory at Portimão. Julien Lemoine, in the #42 of ANS Motorsport, sealed the JS2 R title by taking the chequered flag more than a minute ahead of his rivals.

For the first time since the start of the meeting, the drivers faced fewer challenging conditions, i.e., no rain and a nearly dry track surface for the race’s start.

JS P4 Category: Mihnea Stefan’s impressive comeback in #48 of Team Virage

The start of the race featured a battle for the lead between the #7 LR Motorsport Ligier JS P4 (Simone Riccitelli) and the #60 of Team Virage (George King). Both teams are in contention for the runner-up place in the championship. Although the #60 overtook the #7 at the start of the race, Simone Riccitelli was not intimidated by his British counterpart and regained the lead a few moments later. Back from his accident in free practice 1, Mihnea Stefan, in the #48 from Team Virage, made an excellent start from the back of the grid to gain four places. Chun-Ting Chou, in the #11 of HPRacing by Monza Garage, also put in a solid start. The Taiwanese driver moved up from sixth to third place. But he soon became the target of Mihnea Stefan.

A corner taken too wide caused George King (#60) to lose several places, dropping him back to fourth. Mihnea Stefan (#48) slipped ahead of Chun-Ting Chou (#11) for second place, three seconds behind race leader Simone Riccitelli (#7). A fierce duel for third place ensued between the #11 and the #60. After several heated exchanges, George King took the position.

Mihnea Stefan was first among the leaders to make the mandatory pit stop as his rival Simone Riccitelli remained on track. The #7 and #60 entered the pits together, and Jacopo Mazza (#7) exited ahead of Bernardo Pinheiro (#60). Although the Swiss managed to get out of the pitlane before Mihnea Stefan reached the end of the pit straight, the Portuguese driver was passed by his Team Virage teammate.

The gap between the #7 and the #48 narrowed rapidly, and Mihnea Stefan took the lead. Jacopo Mazza then faced an attack from Bernardo Pinheiro, which paid off for the driver of the #60. The Team Virage cars were separated by more than five seconds. As the end of the race approached, the #75 from RLR MSport (Ian Aguilera) overtook the #50 of Les Deux Arbres (Steve Zacchia) for fifth place. Panagiotis Kaitatzis, in the #4 of HPRacing by Monza Garage, overtook Jacopo Mazza for third place.

After a turbulent start to the weekend, JS P4 Champion Mihnea Stefan took his seventh win of the season in the #48 of Team Virage. Bernardo Pinheiro and George King finished second in the #60, with the fastest lap of the race in 1:46.470s (Bernardo Pinheiro). Georgios-Periklis Kolovos and Panagiotis Kaitatzis, in the #4 car, completed the podium and won the AM class.

Louis Rossi and Steve Zacchia, in the #50 of Les Deux Arbres, took top honours in the PRO-AM class.

Minhea Stefan, Team Virage, #48 Ligier JS P4, winner of race 1:

“It was an amazing race. A great way to end the season. I’m so happy to have clinched another win. It wasn’t a sure thing after the crash I had in free practice 1. I can’t thank enough my team and Ligier Automotive for this very safe car. That was a big crash and thanks to the team we got it back on track and we managed to win. So I think that this is the biggest achievement.”

JS2 R Category: The #42 of ANS Motorsport with Julien Lemoine impeccable

The #86 Ligier JS2 R of Les Deux Arbres (Jacques Nicolet) held onto the lead at the start. But on lap two, it was overtaken by the #42 from ANS Motorsport, driven by championship leader Julien Lemoine.

Later, the #43 of LR Motorsport (David Rodorigo) overtook the #10 from RLR MSport (Martin Rich) for fourth place. The #29 of Pegasus Racing, driven by Laurent Millara, runner-up in the category in 2022, overtook the #86 for second place. Julien Lemoine stretched his lead to over 20 seconds.

After the compulsory pit stop, David Rodorigo (#43) was second behind Julien Lemoine. But the #10, now driven by Maximus Mayer, charged towards the Italian driver and then overtook him. Despite his speed, the young Spaniard could not close the gap to the #42, which built an insurmountable lead.

For the sixth time this year, Julien Lemoine in the #42 of ANS Motorsport won in the overall and AM classifications. This victory secured the JS2 R Championship title for the team and its driver, with one race remaining. Maximus Mayer and Martin Rich finished second in the #10 from RLR MSport and first in the PRO-AM category. Maximus Mayer also set the fastest lap in the race in the GT category with a lap of 1:52.875s. David Rodorigo, in the #43 of LR Motorsport, finished third.

Julien Lemoine, ANS Motorsport, #42 Ligier JS2 R, winner of race 1:

“It was a very clean race. The goal was to avoid making any mistakes, keep a very good pace and start preparing for next season. There were no big battles but it was a very good experience.”

The final race of the 2023 season will take place this afternoon at 4:10 p.m. Head to the Ligier European Series YouTube and Facebook pages for live coverage of the race.

For the results of Race 1, CLICK HERE.