Last lap traffic drama at Spa costs Nielsen Racing first ELMS victory
After four hours of wheel to wheel combat, it came down to the very last lap of the penultimate round of the European Le Mans Series at Spa Francorchamps. Leading with a margin of two seconds across the line with a lap to run, Tony Wells found himself at the mercy of lapped traffic mid-lap and with it lost momentum was powerless to defend his position.
The fickle world of motorsport means that the final step of the podium doesn’t really feel like the great result that it actually is as Nielsen Racing pack up and start preparations for the season finale in Portugal.
The British-based squad fielded two entries in the event, the #7 Norma of Tony and teammate Colin Noble as well as the #8 Ligier for Nick Adcock and James Littlejohn. The team tested ahead of the event and under glorious sunshine worked through the programme in the practice sessions to hone the differing cars to the circuit.
Qualifying saw Colin pushing as hard as possible, with laps of 2:13.789, 13.375, 13.319 and finally 2:13.248 to claim fourth position on the grid. The Scottish racer took the start, slotting in behind the #11 of Mikkel Jensen and even by lap ten, just five seconds covered the first five LMP3s, boding well for rest of the event.
With the #11 Eurointernational car – and eventual race-winner – going on an alternate strategy, this became third position under the first Safety Car of the day and at the restart, Colin made short work of #19 M Racing of Laurent Millara to run two-seconds behind the #9 Realteam leader.
The first major incident was about to occur as Colin chased down #9 of David Droux. With a great run through Eau Rouge for the race lead, Colin jinked left on the exit of the brow, but slightly misjudged the move as he clipped the right rear of the Norma ahead. Damage was restricted to the front right dive-plane, but it was deemed as unnecessary contact by the Stewards and he soon served a stop-go penalty.
The race played out to the mid-point and Tony took over for the final two hours of racing in second position behind the #19 of Laurent Millara. Incredibly, just a few moments later the M Racing driver spun out of the race. With Tony at the front, a Safety Car was called with 90-minutes remaining and it came down to a shoot-out for the win.
More drama followed as the #9 of Esteban Garcia opted to turn in on Tony whilst being lapped, sending the #7 crew into action for a new nose on the Norma. This led into the final minutes where Tony ran P1 ahead of #13 Nigel Moore and the #11 of Jens Petersen.
With the #5 360 Racing Ligier of John Corbett running four-laps down on the final tour, it was disappointing that as a back marker he didn’t move aside to let the leaders just race. As it was, his blocking cost Tony all his momentum on the run to the flag, and ultimately a first win in ELMS.
With a P3 in the bag for the #7 pairing after a dramatic race, things were a little simpler for the #8 duo of James and Nick.
The former started the race and double stinted, moving up from 14th to fourth mid-race. The timing of the Safety Car proved unfortunate, meaning that Nick ran eighth after the change-over. It was a trouble-free run from the South African racer and despite a small off at the final turn in the closing stages, steered clear of trouble to record the ninth-place finish.
Tony Wells #7
“I was racing into Pouhon on the last lap when I was blocked by Corbett, who wasn’t even in the race and that cost us dearly. Then there was (#9 Realteam) Garcia who hit me like three times. For two laps I followed him. He was weaving and then I had a run into Blanchimont and he went into me. I was then following a P2 through and I was on the apex and he just turned in on me and he took the front of the car off. P3 isn’t what we race for, we all expect certain driving standards, but we go on from here.”
Colin Noble #7
“A frustrating end to a good weekend. We were soon on the pace and hunting down the leaders and closing the gap. I was able to make a nice pass into P2 and then going for the lead, I just caught the front-right which dropped us with the penalty. We were soon back to second and in the hunt for the win with Tony. To end up P3 is a disappointing result.”
Nick Adcock #8
“We know qualifying was difficult, but in the race I felt totally comfortable and happy with the setup. There were no issues with traffic for me and everyone raced cleanly. We made big steps in the setup over the weekend and whilst happy with the race car, we could have gone further to make it better. Hindsight is one thing though as before the race we could have gone another way. Thanks to the team and James for a great weekend, we put in a solid performance – perhaps not Barcelona level – but it was a good clean race.”
James Littlejohn #8
“I was unhappy with my qualifying but I had a good clean start and got my head down and came through the field to run in fourth position form 14th on the grid. Unfortunately, we didn’t maximise the Safety Car periods and lost track position as a result. So while qualifying was frustrating, the race was good – clean battles – and I was hopeful we could break into the top six as we did in Spain. On the positives, we were very consistent on lap times, so we move on from here.”