Lendoudis clinches Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends season-opener at Paul Ricard

Having run third initially, Kriton Lendoudis turned the tables on his rivals in the second part of the Paul Ricard weekend’s first Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends race. In the end, the Greek Peugeot 908 HDi FAP driver romped away to a win by 20 seconds over Christophe d’Ansembourg’s Lola-Aston Martin DBR1-2, Steve Tandy finishing a close third in his Lola-Mazda B12/60.

It was a good race, very good for us”, Lendoudis said. “We had a problem with the turbos in qualifying, so starting in P3 we thought it would be more difficult, but it went very well, and traffic behaved well too.

D’Ansembourg had done the early running, opening out a six-second lead on Tandy and Lendoudis before his pursuers swapped places and began close in again towards the pitstops. The Peugeot ended up in the lead after the stops, with Tandy in second and d’Ansembourg in third. Tandy initially cut Lendoudis’ lead but then spun while braking for the Mistral chicane, dropping him drop down to third. In first place, the Greek easily remained in control of an ever-increasing lead on d’Ansembourg who was nearly re-passed by Tandy near the end.

I had a slightly longer pitstop”, d’Ansembourg explained, “and then I got caught up in traffic and simply lost out. Yes, Steve came close at the end but I was managing it…

“I locked up the brakes and did half a spin”, Tandy said. “I took a while to restart. It was a good race up until then! I quickly caught up with Christophe, so maybe with one more lap… Let’s see tomorrow!”

In P2, Darius Ahrabian was never headed in the Lola-Lotus LMP2 Coupé, claiming a dominant win over the ORECA-Nissan 03s of Keith Frieser and Philippe Papin/Karl Pedraza. The GT class was led initially by the Jake Hill/Paul Whight Aston Martin Vantage GT2 but after the stops Nikolaus Ditting took control in his Aston Martin DBR9. When the GT2 Vantage faltered, Grant Tromans in the Vantage GT4 moved up to claim second in class.

It was good fun”, said the German GT winner. “It’s a great track, even though it takes a bit of getting used to, as it looks the same everywhere! But in all, a Saturday well spent.*

“We were on rain tyres!” Tromans said with a smile. “We never planned to actually race the car but it was really good fun when I did.”

From pole, Christophe d’Ansembourg initially built a strong six-second lead of Tandy and Lendoudis but on lap 4 the Greek passed the Lola-Mazda to begin closing the gap to the leader. As the pit window opened, the Peugeot was less than a second behind, with Tandy a further seven tenths adrift.

In fourth, Darius Ahrabian held an imperious P2 lead over the warring ORECA 03 duo of Philippe Papin and Keith Frieser, the Canadian passing the Frenchman just ahead of the pitstops. Mike Newton’s MG-Lola EX257 was further back in seventh, ahead of GT class leader Jake Hill in the Aston Martin Vantage GT2 who was chased by Nikolaus Ditting’s Aston Martin DBR9.

After the stops, it was all change at the front, Lendoudis now leading Tandy by four seconds, with d’Ansembourg a further four seconds adrift. Soon though, Tandy cut the Peugeot by two seconds, as d’Ansembourg began to drop back. Tandy’s challenge proved to be shortlived, however, as the Lola-Mazda spun while braking for the Mistral chicane. It took a while before Tandy got going again, and when he did it was with a 23-second deficit to the Peugeot diesel machine in the lead.

In P2, Ahrabian continued his dominant run, now well ahead of Keith Frieser who in turn dropped the rival ORECA 03 now piloted by Karl Pedraza. Having clashed earlier, both cars were handed 30-second time penalties right towards the end. It didn’t affect the result of the race, though, as the Chris Atkinson/James Hagan ORECA 03 and Newton’s EX257 were trailing the pair by 42 and 59 seconds respectively. Meanwhile Nikolaus Ditting had taken the GT lead from Paul Whight in the Vantage started by Jake Hill, the Aston Martin losing pace in the closing laps.

As the chequered flag dropped, Lendoudis crossed the line over 20 seconds clear of d’Ansembourg, with Tandy having closed back up again to within two seconds of the Belgian, setting fastest lap of the race in the process.