The no23 United Autosports Ligier won the penultimate round of the 2023 Michelin Le Mans Cup at Spa-Francorchamps, with John Schauerman and Wayne Boyd standing on the top step of the podium after a problem on the grid forced the team to start from the pitlane
The race was punctuated by four Safety Car periods and one Full Course Yellow which meant that team strategies were changed on several occasions.
The GT3 victory went to the no55 GMB Motorsport Honda NSX of Thomas Andersen and Simon Birch after the Danes started third on the grid. Birch had to battle to keep his lead all the way to the chequered flag as the top five cars were covered by two seconds at the chequered flag.
UPDATE: A number of post race penalties were applied which amended the final result. The no55 Honda was given a 10 second penalty fornot reducing speed under Full Course Yellow procedure within the required time (Stewards Decision 28).
The race started with the 39 competitors heading down to Turn 1 led by the no7 Nielsen Racing Ligier driven by the pole sitter Tony Wells. As the field rounded La Source, several cars in the mid field were spinning, with the no16 and no59 Team Virage Ligiers getting caught up in the melee. The no22 United Autosports Ligier also went off track in a separate incident and the Safety Car was deployed due to the resulting debris on track.
After 20 minutes the race went green with Wells pulling out a lead from the chasing pack led by the no67 Haegeli by T2 Racing Duqueine driven by Pieder Decurtins, with John Melsom’s no4 Nielsen Racing Duqueine in third.
In GT3 the no64 Team Parker Racing Porsche driven by Alex Martin had got ahead of Hiroshi Hamaguchi’s Iron Lynx run Lamborghini, with the no55 GMB Motorsport Honda of Thomas Andersen in third spot.
However, after just 4 minutes of racing the Safety Car was deployed for the second time when the no4 Duqueine was hit from behind by the no68 M Racing Ligier of Erwin Creed. John Melsom’s car was pushed at speed into the tyre wall, destroying the car, with the M Racing Ligier’s front end also badly damaged. Both drivers were OK, but once again the marshals had to work hard to clear the debris from the track.
During the Safety Car most of the field had carried out their compulsory pitstops with the no26 360 Racing Ligier of Tommy Foster now holding the lead ahead of the no3 DKR Engineering Duqueine of James Winslow and the no23 United Autosports Ligier of Wayne Boyd.
The GT3 class was now led by the no55 GMB Motorsport Honda driven by Simon Birch, with Kei Cozzolino in the no51 AF Corse Ferrari in second and the no42 Steller Motorsport Audi of Sennan Fielding in third.
The race went behind the Safety Car for the third time after 3 minutes of racing when the no6 ANS Motorsport Ligier was tapped into a spin by another LMP3 competitor at the final corner straight into the path of the no11 CD Sport Ligier, damaging both cars and stranding them in the middle of the track.
The racing resumed after 13 minutes behind the Safety Car with the Boyd challenging Foster for the lead. The no23 Ligier was on the rear of the no26 Ligier as they went up the Kemmel Straight to Les Combes. Foster held his line into the corner, but Boyd went to the left and went around the outside of the 360 Racing run Ligier to take the lead.
The GT3 lead was just as close, with Birch successfully fending off a determined challenge by Cozzolino.
Colin Noble, now at the wheel of the no77 Team Thor Ligier was moving up the field but the car was served with a drive through penalty for causing the collision at T1 on the opening lap. The no26 360 Racing Ligier was also served a drive through penalty for overtaking under the Safety Car.
However, the Safety Car was brought out for the fourth time with 30 minutes left on the clock after the no7 Nielsen Racing Ligier of Josh Skelton went off at the exit of Les Combes, hitting the tyre wall and causing debris to be spread over the track.
This SC period lasted for eleven minutes and at the restart the no42 Audi went ahead of the no51 Ferrari for second place in the GT3 class.
The no83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard pulled off the track at Raidillon and stopped after a rear tyre blew and damaged the rear end of the Ferrari. A Full Course Yellow period was declared to recover the Ferrari and with just 9 minutes remaining it was a dash to the chequered flag for the remaining competitors.
The top four cars in GT3 were nose to tail at Les Combes and Bruxelles with the no55 Honda, the no42 Audi, the no19 Lamborghini and no18 Porsche all fighting for the podium places as the clock counted down. The no51 Ferrari had dropped down the order after running wide earlier in the lap allowing the field to go ahead.
At the chequered flag the no23 United Autosports Ligier crossed the line, 11.4 seconds ahead of the no97 COOL Racing Ligier and the no2 CD Sport Ligier in second and third respectively.
The GT3 train took the chequered flag with the no55 Honda finishing 0.8 seconds ahead of the no42 Audi and another 0.087s ahead of the no19 Lamborghini. The no18 Porsche completed the top four finishers with Scott Malvern taking the flag just 0.2 seconds behind Patrick Kujala in the no19 Lamborghini.
POST RACE PENALTIES
UPDATE: A number of post race penalties were given by the stewards for infringements during the race, which affected the final result.
The no55 GMB Motorsport Honda NSX was given a ten second penalty which promoted the no42 Steller Motorsport Audi R8 into first place (Stewards Decision no28).
The second placed no97 COOL Racing Ligier was also given a ten second penalty for also not reducing speed under Full Course Yellow procedure within the required time (Stewards Decision 27). This promoted the no2 CD Sport and no28 MV2S Racing into second and third respectively.