The 2023 European Le Mans Series began with the 4 Hours of Barcelona, and the defending LMP2 Pro/Am champions, Racing Team Turkey, got off to a terrific start by finishing first overall with drivers Salih Yoluc, Charlie Eastwood, and Louis Deletraz.
After leading for much of the four-hour race, Louis Deletraz had to pit to fix the Oreca 07's damaged rear clip, putting him 15 seconds behind Neel Jani's no. 30 Duqueine Team Oreca in the last 15 minutes. As a result, the Swiss driver had to fight his way back to the lead in the last circuits in order to bring home the checkered flag for the first time for a team flying the Turkish flag.
Despite Marcos Siebert's dogged pursuit in the no. 17 Cool Racing Ligier, Antoine Doquin in the no. 31 Racing Spirit of Leman Ligier was able to hold off the challenge and win the LMP3 class. Pit stops during Full Course races are allowed, although doing so will result in a post-race penalty of 105 seconds. A yellow flag put the no. 17 Ligier in first place, demoting the no. 31 Ligier to third place, behind the no. 13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier.
Former ELMS champion Alessio Picariello drove the no. 16 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR-19 to victory in LMGTE, finishing only 1.4 seconds ahead of the no. 50 Formula Racing Ferrari.
Barcelona's 4 Hour Race Gets Off to a Wild Start
At the start of the 4 Hours of Barcelona, the massive 42-car grid was seen coming into Turn 1 under the direction of Vladislav Lomko in the no. 47 Cool Racing Oreca.
After passing through Turns 1 and 2, all of the cars made it to Turn 3, where the no12 WTM by Rinaldi Racing Duqueine was captured by the no44 GMB Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage of Jens Moller. The no. 72 TF Sport Aston Martin and no. 77 Proton Competition Porsche were both helpless to avoid colliding with him.
Sebastien Montoya, driving the no. 81 Dragonspeed Oreca, had started last and was trying to navigate through the pandemonium when he was clipped by the crippled no. 44 Aston Martin.
At the conclusion of the first lap, the Safety Car was sent out to help remove the stalled vehicles.
Third-placed United Autosports Oreca driver Marino Sato had to finish the entire lap on three tyres after getting a puncture on the penultimate round and had to return to the pits.
Second on the LMP3 lineup was Adrien Chila in the no. 17 Cool Racing Ligier, while third on the LMGTE grid was Ryan Hardwick in the no. 16 Proton Competition Porsche.
Nearly 20 minutes had passed before the race was restarted, and when it did, Kyffin Simpson in the no. 25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca was giving chase to race leader Lomko. The American eventually passed the Cool Racing Oreca and took the lead.
After starting on pole, Martin Berry's no. 66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari slipped to second before passing the no. 57 Kessel Racing Ferrari for third in LMGTE. However, the Australian was allowed to bypass the starting line after passing the no. 35 Ultimate Ligier.
At the end of the opening hours, Michael Fassbender, driving the no. 93 Proton Competition Porsche, had worked his way up to within striking distance of third position in the LMGTE class.
In LMP3, Miguel Cristovao in the no. 13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier and Eric Trouillet in the no. 35 Ultimate Ligier were hot on the heels of the no. 17 Cool Racing Ligier. When the French driver, Trouillet, received a drive-through penalty for going too fast for the course, his challenge was over.
Rene Binder in the no. 30 Duqueine Team Oreca and Manuel Maldonado in the no. 65 Panis Racing Oreca remained in second and third, respectively, behind the no. 25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca. Salih Yoluc, driving for the no. 34 Racing Team Turkey entry, was seventh overall and first in the LMP2 Pro/Am category, ahead of Rodrigo Sales, driving for the no. 24 Nielsen Racing Oreca, and Francois Perrodo, driving for the no. 83 AF Corse entry.
Third-placed overall, Rui Andrade's no. 43 Inter Europol Competition Oreca experienced gearbox problems and was forced to pit.
James Allen took over the wheel of the leading car as the LMP2 driver changes got underway, with the no. 25 APR Oreca maintaining a 9-second advantage over the no. 30 Duqueine Team Oreca and the no. 47 Cool Racing Oreca.
Charlie Eastwood, now piloting the No. 34 Racing Team Turkey Oreca, had made up ground and was in third place overall and three spots clear of his closest LMP2 Pro/Am adversary, Nicolas Lapierre in the No. 37 Cool Racing Oreca.
In LMGTE, Johnny Laursen's no. 50 Formula Racing Ferrari was in the lead, with Ryan Hardwick's no. 16 Proton Competition Porsche not far behind.
The no. 25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca was struck by the no. 28 IDEC Sport Oreca driven by Laurents Hörr about the halfway mark of the race as the German attempted to unlap himself from the leading car. James Allen's Oreca flipped over and got its rear wheels stuck in the gravel, rendering it difficult to recover without assistance. Even though a Full Course Yellow was called, the delay put Algarve Pro Racing one lap behind the leaders and in 12th place. After the fact, Hörr received a reprimand for triggering the wreck.
This put Nico Pino in the lead in the no. 30 Oreca, with Charlie Eastwood in the no. 34 Oreca 12 seconds back but rapidly gaining ground.
The no. 16 Proton Competition Porsche, now driven by Zac Robichon, regained the LMGTE lead during the pit stops, finishing five seconds ahead of the no. 66 JMW Ferrari and eight seconds ahead of the no. 50 Formula Racing Ferrari, driven by Mikkel Mac.
After passing Matthieu Vaxiviere in the no. 83 AF Corse, Nicolas Lapierre moved up to fourth place overall and second in LMP2 Pro/Am. It took Charlie Eastwood just 90 minutes to catch and past the no. 30 Duqueine Team Oreca to seize the lead.
Antoine Doquin, driving the no. 31 Racing Spirit of Leman Ligier, closed the deficit to LMP3 race leader Alejandro Garcia, driving the no. 17 Cool Racing Ligier, and passed him on the inside of Turn 1 to take the lead.
When Martin Rump's no. 93 Proton Competition Porsche was struck by the no. 35 Ultimate Ligier at Turn 4 and sent spinning into the gravel, Louis Deletraz took over the wheel of the leading no. 34 Racing Team Turkey Oreca and led the field to a second Full Course Yellow phase. The driver of the no. 35 Ligier was awarded a free pass since he or she was partially to blame for the accident.
It appeared like Neel Jani, piloting the No. 30 Duqueine Team Oreca, had a comfortable lead over the rest of the field and the No. 34 Oreca was on track to win. Third place went to Jose Maria Lopez in the no. 47 Cool Racing Oreca, ahead of Malthe Jakobsen in the no. 37 Oreca. At Turn 13, the no. 47 Oreca collided with the no. 95 TF Sport Aston Martin, sending it into a spin. After making contact, Lopez was penalised with a stop-and-go as the Aston Martin made its way back to the pit lane.
After the last round of pit stops, the no. 34 United Autosports Oreca received a Black and Orange flag to come in and fix the damage to the car's rear end that had occurred after an earlier incident with another Oreca. Deletraz stayed out as long as he could, putting distance between himself and Jani, before returning to the pits to get the car's back end repaired. This took less than 10 seconds, and when they were through, Deletraz was just five seconds behind Jani with 25 minutes remained in the race.
Antoine Doquin was driving the no. 31 Racing Spirit of Leman and leading the LMP3 field, with the no. 17 Cool Racing Ligier in hot pursuit. In the closing laps of the race, the French driver was employing every trick in the book to keep Siebert at bay.
Jani had problems with his brakes up front, allowing Deletraz to close the gap. In spite of Jani's best efforts, the current ELMS champion passed his fellow Swiss driver in Turn 8 and went on to maintain the lead all the way to the finish line.
At the finish line, the gap between first and second place was only 2.3 seconds, with no. 34 Racing Team Turkey winning over no. 30 Duqueine Team Oreca. After winning with Team WRT in 2021 and Prema Racing in 2020, Louis Deletraz swept the 4 Hours of Barcelona this year.
Ben Barnicoat finished second in the LMP2 Pro/Am standings and third overall in the no83 AF Corse. The no. 37 Cool Racing Oreca, driven by Malthe Jakobsen, finished third in the LMP2 Pro/Am category and fourth overall.
After starting from the pit lane, the no. 65 Panis Racing Oreca finished the race in fifth place overall and second in LMP2, 19.2 seconds ahead of Paul Loup Chatin in the no. 28 IDEC Sport Oreca.
A mere 0.4 seconds separated first and second place, with the no. 31 Racing Spirit of Leman and no. 17 Cool Racing Ligiers followed by the no. 13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier. Cool Racing finished first, followed by Inter Europol Competition and Racing Spirit of Le Man. However, a post-race penalty of 105 seconds for the no. 31 Ligier (Stewards Decision no. 43) moved Cool Racing up to first, Inter Europol Competition to second, and Racing Spirit of Le Man to third.
Only 1.408 seconds separated first and second place, with Alessio Picariello of the no. 16 Proton Competition Porsche finishing a lap ahead of Conrad Laursen of the no. 50 Formula Racing Ferrari.