Barcelona Heat: an opening weekend dominated by M Racing in JS2 R, and shared victories in JS P4 for Les Deux Arbres and HP Racing by MonzaGarage

17 April 2021 – In the Ligier JS2 R category, Natan Bihel won both races of the first round of the Ligier European Series in the #53 M Racing entry. Laurent Millara's second place in the #69 sister car gave the team a one-two finish in race one. There was also a one-two finish in race one in the Ligier JS P4 category, for the Les Deux Arbres team, with the #34 of Steve Zacchia and Antoine Lepesqueux, and the #33 of Jacques Nicolet. In race two, the HP Racing by MonzaGarage team with the #23 driven by Jacopo Faccioni and Alessandro Cicognani got its revenge. The two Italian drivers concluded an intense weekend with a trip to the top step of the podium.

Race 1: M Racing doubles up in JS2 R as does Les Deux Arbres in JS P4

The engines were roaring at 10.50 am on Saturday, 17 April, for the first race of the 2021 Ligier European Series season. A very competitive one-hour race. Two teams were able to make the most of the game by winning strongly and signing a one-two in their respective categories: Les Deux Arbres in the Ligier JS P4 with the #34 of Steve Zacchia and Antoine Lepesqueux and the #33 of Jacques Nicolet, and M Racing in the Ligier JS2 R with the #53 of Natan Bihel and the #69 of Laurent Millara.

Excellent start from the #23 HP Racing by MonzaGarage Ligier JS P4 driven by Jacopo Faccioni for the first race of the week-end (and of the season). He overtook the pole-winning #34 JS P4 of Les Deux Arbres driven by Steve Zacchia with ease. However, the driver of the #34 quickly regained the lead from his rival. On lap six, Steve Zacchia recorded the fastest lap of the race in 1:54.457s. A long battle ensued between the two competitors, with Steve Zacchia followed closely by Jacopo Faccioni. The teams knew that everything would come down to the pit stop. The #23 HP Racing by MonzaGarage took the initiative to stop first: Jacopo Faccioni handed over to his compatriot Alessandro Cicognani. Then the #34 of Les Deux Arbres came in for its pit stop, with Antoine Lepesqueux taking over from Steve Zacchia.

Despite his best effort, Alessandro Cicognani could not catch the race leader, Antoine Lepesqueux. The Italian driver was even passed for second place by Jacques Nicolet in the second JS P4, the #33, entered by the Les Deux Arbres. While the Les Deux Arbres cars ran close together, any hope for victory for the #23 HP Racing by MonzaGarage entry was dashed by a penalty for not respecting the mandatory minimum pit stop time. The race concluded with a terrific one-two result for the Les Deux Arbres team, with the #34 (Antoine Lepesqueux and Steve Zacchia) in first place and the #33 (Jacques Nicolet) in second place.

In Ligier JS2 R, there was also plenty of intense action on the track. Yesterday, qualifying was as close as you like between the #24 Orhès Racing, driven by Mathieu Martins and Olivier Pernault, and the #53 M Racing JS2 R of Natan Bihel. But while he was supposed to start from pole, Mathieu Martins lost control of his Ligier JS2 R on the warm-up lap and was relegated to the back of the grid, leaving Natan Bihel with the advantage. Natan Bihel started in the lead and never relinquished it through the entire race, except for his pit stop.

The #24 of Orhès Racing made an impressive comeback drive through the field to move into second place, followed by the second M Racing car, the #69 of Laurent Millara. Once the #24 Orhès Racing JS2 R made its compulsory pit stop, Olivier Pernaut fought hard to hold on to second place ahead of Laurent Millara. However, the driver of the #69 car did not take his eyes off his prey for a second and moved into second place late in the race. With the victory of Natan Bihel, Laurent Millara gives M Racing a fine double finish in the opening race of the season. The #23 of Orhès Racing finished third.

The #95 CTF Performance Ligier JS2 R finished the race just off the podium with a respectable fourth place for its two bronze drivers, Nicolas Beraud and Fabien Delaplace. The #17 Ligier JS2 R of Arctic Energy driven by Povilas Jankavicius was fifth, followed by the #4 of Cool Racing with Cédric Oltramare behind the wheel, who went off the circuit on lap one. The #25 of Orhès Racing driven by Alain Bucher and Arnaud Tsamere brought up the tail-end of the field.

Natan Bihel, #53 M Racing, Ligier JS2 R, Winner in JS2 R Race 1: 

“I am very happy to be back with the team and start the season with a victory. I think I managed my stint well during the race."

Antoine Lepesqueux, Les Deux Arbres, Ligier JS P4 #34, Winner in JS P4 Race 1:

"We had a good time. When we got involved in this, we came here to have fun because we are not professional drivers. It was my first race in seven years, so I'm very happy to start the season like this. I felt very good in the car. I had a lot of fun. It's very positive."

Steve Zacchia, Les Deux Arbres, Ligier JS P4 #34, Winner in JS P4 Race 1: 

"We had some problems in free practice, so we only really discovered the car in qualifying. We felt comfortable with it, and during the race, we were able to improve our times and go on for the win."

For the full results of Race 1, CLICK HERE

Race 2: M Racing repeats in JS2 R and the win for HP Racing by MonzaGarage in JS P4

The second and final race of the season-opening meeting of the Ligier European Series, Saturday 17, April, in Barcelona. This weekend at the Catalan circuit concluded with another victory for the #53 M Racing driven by Natan Bihel in JS2 R. The #23 of HP Racing by MonzaGarage and drivers Jacopo Faccioni and Alessandro Cicognani were victorious in JS P4, which was a terrific surprise for the Italian duo, who just recently discovered the car!

After a difficult first race, the #23 HP Racing by MonzaGarage Ligier JS P4 got its revenge, but not without its share of surprises. Starting from pole position with Alessandro Cicognani behind the wheel, it was overtaken in the 23rd minute by the #33 and #34 of Les Deux Arbres, driven respectively by the duo Antoine Lepesqueux and Steve Zacchia, and by Jacques Nicolet. The #34 entry failed to respect the mandatory pit stop time, and driver Steve Zacchia was penalised with a stop and go to serve the remaining four seconds. This sanction allowed the #23 HP Racing by MonzaGarage car driven by Jacopo Faccioni to move up to second place behind the #33 Les Deux Arbres of Jacques Nicolet. Just as the race seemed to be a foregone conclusion, something unexpected happened on the Barcelona circuit. Race leader Jacques Nicolet, in the #33, spun out. While he quickly recovered, he lost the lead and the eventual win, which went to the JS P4 #23 of HP Racing by MonzaGarage.

The Ligier JS2 R category also had its share of drama. Natan Bihel started from pole position in the #53 M Racing JS2 R, and maintained a comfortable lead from his rivals, including the #24 Orhès Racing car of Olivier Pernaut and Mathieu Martins. Most of the action on the track took place further back in the field. And in particular between the #25, the second Orhès Racing car of the Alain Bucher and Arnaud Tsamere duo, and the #95 of CTF Performance, with Fabien Delaplace and Nicolas Beraud at the controls. The two gentlemen drivers battled relentlessly in the first half of the race, with Arnaud Tsamere vigorously defending his position in the face of repeated attacks from Fabien Delaplace. The same scenario was played out by the #17 Arctic Racing, driven by Povilas Jankavicius and Egidijus Gutaravicius, and the #4 Cool Racing, with Cédric Oltramare behind the wheel. Thanks to his determination, Cédric Oltramare managed to overtake Povilas Jankavicius on lap nine.

Roughly halfway through the race and after having passed the #25 of Orhès Racing, the #95 of CTF Performance attacked the #17 of Arctic Racing: mission accomplished with an outside passing move at turn one. Alain Bucher in the #25 Orhès Racing and Egidijus Gutaravicius in the #17 Arctic Energy were also in a close battle. Alain Bucher's numerous attacks on board the #25 allowed him to reduce the gap until he managed to overtake Egidijus Gutaravicius in the #17 of Arctic Energy in the waning minutes of the race.

Natan Bihel in the #53 Ligier JS2 R won this second race of the day ahead of the #24 of Orhès Racing. Laurent Millara drove an error-free race in the #69 of M Racing to complete the top three. Cédric Oltramare and the #4 Cool Racing Ligier JS2 R finished just shy of the podium in fourth place. A promising result for the young Spanish driver who is just getting started in the series. He was followed by the #95 CTF Performance JS2 R, the #25 Orhès Racing and the#17 Arctic Energy entries.

Natan Bihel, M Racing, Ligier JS2 R #53, Winner in JS2 R Race 2: 

"This second victory was quite different. It was imperative that I build a gap to the #24 Orhès Racing JS2 R because Mathieu Martins is a stout competitor."

Alessandro Cicognani, HP Racing by MonzaGarage, Ligier JS P4 #23, Winner in JS P4 Race 2: 

“This weekend was fantastic. The car is very nice to drive, and I am happy to find some old competitors here. I had not driven competitively in eight years, so it wasn't easy to find my racing reflexes."

Jacopo Faccioni, HP Racing by MonzaGarage, Ligier JS P4 #23, Winner in JS P4 Race 2:

“With Alessandro, this is our first race meeting with this car. We still have a lot of improvements to make. But this was somewhat unexpected, and we are very pleased. It is a very good and enjoyable car to drive."

For the full results of Race 2, CLICK HERE.

The next round will be at the Red Bull Ring on 15 and 16 May 2021. The Ligier European Series field will meet up at the Spielberg circuit in Austria for Heat 2.