The opening round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup on Saturday (April 13) at Paul Ricard, France saw Nielsen Racing show a great turn of speed with both of its entries, before going on to record a sensational third finish with its leading #2 entry driven by Tony Wells and Colin Noble.
It was something of a roller-coaster race day however for the British-based squad, with Colin challenging for an all-but certain podium position in the closing stages of the race, only for damage to the front-left side of his car to curtail his on-track attack. Post-race penalties however elevate him to third position, but for the team, it wasn’t quite the same as stepping on to the rostrum. The sister #20 Grainmarket LMP3 raced by Mark Crader and Alex Mortimer ran strongly early in the race but contact from behind to effectively end a challenge for a top-ten position.
“There is also a lot of promise from the week here at Ricard and while the race itself was a little frustrating for both camps, it has been a good performance from both drivers and team, so no complaints there,” stated Team Manager Stuart Moseley. “Mark was unfortunately turned around very early in the race after making a good start and that really ended their challenge there and then. Colin found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time while on for a really good result, picking up the dive-plane damage.
“For Mark and Alex, they had a tough race after the contact, but they certainly learned a great deal about racing in the Le Mans Cup for the first time, so we can take a great deal from that and I have no doubts that they will come back a lot stronger next time. For Tony and Colin, it was a good showing; a podium position is a good result. For the championship with those two, it’s solid points and we can go from here.”
The team took part in Wednesday’s pre-season test at the French circuit, allowing the new pairing Mark and Alex to get used to LMP3 machinery for the first time at the circuit, while for the #2 duo of Tony and Colin it was a fresh start with the new Norma-Nissan package. The Nielsen crew worked their way through the test programme, curing a misfire with the #2 entry during the free practice session, while finding gains with the all new #20 entry.
Tony was on duty for qualifying, a 15 minutes shoot-out that in itself was interrupted by a short red flag period. This meant that for the #2 team, it all came down to the ninth and final lap to record a competitive time; which vaulted Tony up to sixth on the grid. Mark meanwhile was qualified the Grainmarket #20 Norma a strong seventh, just behind Nielsen Racing teammate Tony.
Under sunny skies late on Saturday afternoon the two-hour opening round got underway, with Tony initially losing ground the #11 Norma, but he quickly regained the position. It was a strong stint from the experienced racer, and he took advantage of the Safety Car to ensure that at the change-over he and Colin were right in the hunt in sixth position.
Colin was soon on the move, dispatching the #30 entry and taking the battle to the front of the field with just two-seconds covering P2 to P5. The leader meanwhile was under investigation and would soon pit for a penalty for track limits putting him right behind Colin going into the closing stages.
It wasn’t to be however, as despite his best efforts, damage to front-left dive-planes from track debris brought an end to Colin’s push to the front. Post-race penalties however brought a small reward as he was promoted from fifth to third in the official standings.
The Paul Ricard story doesn’t end for Tony and Colin however, as they take part in Sunday’s four-hour European Le Mans Series race, where – along with teammate Nobu Yamanaka and James Littlejohn – they continue to chase success with Nielsen Racing.