The 4 Hours of Castellet were another significant stage in the history of Algarve Pro in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS). With the 7th position overall, the team raced consistently despite unexpected tyre degradation, after its best qualifying to date.
After scoring Algarve Pro’s first overall top 5 in the previous round at the Red Bull Ring, Andrea Pizzitola and Jonathan Hirschi were once again at the wheel of the #25 Ligier JS P2-Nissan. The Renault-Nissan Alliance youngster and the former ELMS winner were joined at Le Castellet by Andrea Roda.
The 26-year-old Italian made his comeback in the ELMS in a familiar environment, since he was part of Algarve Pro’s first driving line-up when the team made its ELMS debut in 2015.
On the 5.8-kilometre circuit, the blue and white Ligier rapidly made its presence known in the overall top 10, completing the free practice sessions in 7th (FP1) and 10th (FP2) positions. But the best was yet to come: Pizzitola secured the team’s first overall top 5 in qualifying.
Andrea Roda started the race and maintained a consistent pace in the overall top 10 during his stint. He was 7th when he pitted to hand over to Jonathan Hirschi on lap 23, after 46 minutes of racing. The Swiss rejoined the overall top 5 after the second pit stop. After two Full Course Yellows during his double stint, Hirschi was 7th when he pitted for the next driver’s change. Andrea Pizzitola took the wheel for the last 95 minutes of racing and rapidly became one of the quickest drivers on the Le Castellet circuit, setting the fastest lap in race for the #26 Ligier JS P2. Pizzitola brought the car home in 7th position.
Jonathan Hirschi: « It was a very close race, since all the ELMS contenders konw the circuit very well. My team mates did a good job. Andrea (Roda) made a good start, and Andrea (Pizzitola) also had a great drive, even if things were more difficult in the end of the race. As for me, we lost the benefit of my first good stint when we got a drive-through penalty for a mistake I made in my final pitstop. »
Andrea Pizzitola: « At the Red Bull Ring we qualified 7th. We were 5th here at Le Castellet, only two tenths from P3. We had a good drivers’ line-up so we were confident for the race. But we had more grip on the Le Castellet track, and this caused an unexpected and early tyre degradation. The first laps of my first stint were good with the new tyres, but it became more and more difficult. The temperature also was very hot, it was one of the toughest races in my career. »
Stewart Cox, the Team Principal’s final world: « The track did not change that much between the hot Friday and the cooler Saturday. In qualifying the car was good enough for P3 but we had some traffic on the track. Roda did a solid job in the beginning of the race, his pace was good during his single stint. But the car lost grip and later in the race, when Jonathan handed over to Andrea Pizzitola, he pushed the wrong button to shut off the car which resulted in a penalty. The Ligier had the pace when Pizzitola was on the track. Michael Munemann will be back with us at the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, he will team up again with Andrea Pizzitola and Jonathan Hirschi. »
After the South of France, the Algarve Pro team and the other ELMS entrants will reach one of the favourite venues in motorsport for the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium). The penultimate round of the 2016 season be competed on September 23-25.