It was drama all the way during the 4 Hours of Paul Ricard, the fourth round of the 2014 European Le Mans Series held at Le Castellet in the south of France.
While the no43 Newblood by Morand Racing Morgan Nissan took the overall win, at the chequered flag it was all smiles at AF Corse and SMP Racing as they took the win in LMGTE and GTC respectively for Ferrari.
The first two hours of the 4 Hours of Paul Ricard saw the no86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR of Ben Brown leading the LMGTE class from the no80 Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 of Giacomo Piccini by 1 lap. The British driver, who had started the race in third place, hit the front on the opening lap and drove faultlessly for the next 61 laps, stopping once for fuel and tyres. However the car lost ground once Brown handed the car over after his stint and a late drive through for a pitstop infringement also meant further delays for the new car on its race debut, Adam Carroll bring it home in 6th place.
The LMGTE pole car, the no72 SMP Ferrari of Sergey Zlobin lost ground in the first few laps before receiving a Stop and Go penalty for a jump start. A spin for Viktor Shaitar on lap 40 also caused further delay for the team and they finished 7th in class at the end of the four hour race.
At the top of the second hour the no 66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of George Richardson was 40 seconds behind Piccini in third place and 12 seconds ahead of the no55 AF Corse Ferrari of Michele Rugolo. Rugolo handed the 458 over to Matt Griffin and the Irishman was soon on the move up the field and he handed the car back to Rugolo for the final stint and the Italian bought the car home 9 seconds ahead of the no56 AT Racing 458. The final podium slot went to no66 JMW Ferrari, 46 seconds behind the lead car.
In the GTC class the no73 SMP Racing Ferrari and drivers Anton Ladygin, David Markozov and Olivier Beretta took their first win of the season after finishing second in the first three races.
It was a day of good and bad for the Russian team as the pole position car, the no71 Ferrari 458, which had led for the first four laps before spinning off, dropping Kirill Ladygin down the order. Ladygin was then given a stop go penalty for jumping the start and more disaster struck when a punctured rear left tyre forced Luca Persiani into the pits losing them even more time. Despite all these troubles the Russians fought back to finish in fourth place, 1 lap adrift of the leader.
However it was the no73 Ferrari that scored the full 25 points, finishing 15 seconds ahead of their nearest championship rivals, the no60 Formula Racing Ferrari of Jan Magnussen, Mikkel Mac and Johnny Laursen. A clean sweep of the LMGTE and GTC podium places was denied to Ferrari when the ART Grand Prix McLaren of Gregoire Demoustier, Yann Goudy and Kevin Korjus took third after a brilliant battle between Korjus and Cedric Sbirrazzouli in the no95 AF Corse Ferrari ended when the Estonian swept past after several laps trying to overtake the Ferrari.
After the results of the 4 Hours of Paul Ricard were confirmed the championship battles will continue in Portugal for the final race of the season at Estoril on the 18/19 October. Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron have 81 points and Michele Rugolo, who missed the race in Imola, is on 75 points. Their nearest title rivals, Andrea Bertolini, Sergey Zlobin and Viktor Shaitar, are 21 points behind in the LMGTE championship and unless Rugolo switches to an alternative car for the race in Estoril, Griffin, Cameron and AF Corse have a healthly lead ahead of the last race of the season.
In GTC things are a little tighter with the no73 SMP Racing Ferrari and drivers Anton Ladygin, Olivier Beretta and David Markosov holding a 9.5 point lead over the no60 Formula Racing Ferrari of Mikkel Mac and Johnny Laursen. The only certainty in Estoril will be that Ferrari will win both the 2014 LMGTE and GTC titles.