The 4-hour Endurance Prototype Challenge race at Hockenheim was the highlight of the German Ultimate Cup Series weekend. Like the first two meetings at Le Castellet and Navarra, this third round promised to be a particularly close contest in both the LMP3 and NP02 classes, given the quality of the crews on offer.
The trio in the #14 Ligier JS P320, comprising young Portuguese hopeful Manuel Espirito Santo, George King and Mihnea Stefan, the last-minute replacement for Viacheslav Gutak, took pole position in style. On Saturday, the three men achieved the best average time of 1:34.534, pushing back the N°10 Ligier of Zosh Compétition by more than 5 tenths (1:35.113)! As for the LMP3 championship leaders, TS Corse had to start from the pit lane after failing to take part in Q1. The Italian team had to send a mechanical component from its workshop after an accident during private testing.
The 17 or so sport-prototypes entered, including six LMP3s, took to the starting grid to the delight of the gridwalk crowd. The start was given at 2.58pm by poleman George King. Having got off to a good start, the Team Virage driver was able to maintain his advantage and gradually widen the gap over the N°8/Zosh Compétition Ligier, driven by Hugo Rosati.
The safety car interrupted proceedings shortly before the halfway point following a trackside stop by a competitor in the final sector. The teams took advantage of this to carry out their pit stops, and it was during this second pit stop that Team Virage lost a lot of ground on the N°8 Ligier following a loss of time in the refuelling zone. No more pumps were available, forcing the crew to make an extra stop.
With compulsory pit stops and minimum times to be respected, it was a long-distance battle between the various contenders for victory. At the start of the final hour, the young Portuguese driver from Team Virage climbed aboard the #14 LMP3 to set out in pursuit of Jean-René de Fournoux, the class leader at the time. Despite the impressive pace set by Manuel Espirito Santo and a lap record of 1:35.099, the remaining race time was insufficient to allow him to challenge for the win. Jean-René de Fournoux crossed the finish line 29 seconds clear, giving his team and team-mate Hugo Rosati their first LMP3 victory.
Zosh Compétition is the third different team to take victory in the Ultimate Cup Series this season, ahead of Team Virage and its young trio. The Le Mans-based team rounded off the German weekend in style with a double podium finish thanks to its second crew in the N°8 Ligier. Rodolphe and Claude Rosati took the honours in the LMP3 Ultimate class (reserved for 100% gentleman crews).
The #27 Duqueine D08 of TS Corse had a complicated race and weekend overall, as did Graff Racing with its two Ligier JS P320s and the #61/MG Sound Studio Ginetta G61-LT-P3 which went off track early in the race.
ANS Motorsport’s first NP02 win of the season
Starting from 9th on the grid and 5th in their class, Frédéric Crouillet and Mathys Jaubert took advantage of the one and only neutralisation to move to the front. Taking advantage of the shifted strategies, the duo in the #72 ANS Motorsport Nova Proto NP02 even had the luxury of leading the race overall. However, the two men did not lose sight of their objective, and while the LMP3s re-established the logical hierarchy at the end of the race, Frédéric Crouillet and Mathys Jaubert took the lead in the NP02s before securing their first win in the category, ahead of polemen Nicolas Marroc and Pierre Courroye (DB Autosport). The podium was completed by Swiss pair Grégory de Sybourg and Karen Gaillard, for DIMAB Motorsport by ANS.
The ANS Motorsport team can also boast victory in the NP02 Ultimate class for the Mondolot/Faggionato duo, as well as victory in the CN class for Sacha Clavadetscher and Iko Segret.