Meichtry beats Leutwiler in tight Masters Endurance Legends lead battle at Dijon
Ralph Meichtry took a hard-fought win the first of two Masters Endurance Legends races at Dijon. The Swiss driver saw his lead on countryman Niki Leutwiler evaporate at the pitstops but fought back to claim the win by just one second.
It was fantastic”, said Meichtry about his intra-ORECA Nissan 03 tussle with Leutwiler. “I had a problem with the fuel pump in my first stint, but that was gone as soon as I switched to the back-up fuel pump. I don’t know how I ended up behind Niki after the stops, but for me it was perfect. I loved it, it was much more fun to chase and pass him!
It was a real race!” said Leutwiler. “Ralph did a superclean move to eventually pass me. At the end my car got better, so I would have loved to have 10 more minutes!
Keith Frieser made it an ORECA-Nissan 03 P2 1-2-3, although he could not keep up with the two Swiss ex-Le Mans drivers in front. The Canadian finished some 30 seconds down on the leading pair.
I tried to keep up with those guys”, said Frieser, “but they have a little more experience than me! I’m still learning the car, this is only my first weekend in it.
In the first half of the race, Meichtry ran out to a six-second lead on Leutwiler before pitting on lap 14. In their wake, Frieser dropped some 30 seconds but he was a safe third ahead of Engen who at the stops was a further 20 seconds behind.
Formula Renault youngster Charles Milesi led the GT race in the family’s Porsche 997 GT3 RSR, with a safe buffer to Tom Kimber-Smith in the Aston Martin Vantage GT2, as on lap 2 Marc Rostan moved his Pilbeam MP93 in between the two GT2 machines.
Leutwiler pitted two laps later than his countryman, with Frieser following the Swiss’ example on lap 17. The result was that Leutwiler returned just in front of Meichtry who immediately set about chasing the other ORECA 03.
Soon after, Travis Engen – who had been the first to stop – was back in for a second time, the Audi R8 dropping down to sixth, while the Marc Rostan/Pierre Bruneau Pilbeam failed to leave the pits on its pitstop.
Once in front, Leutwiler stuck to his guns to keep Meichtry at bay for lap after lap, the pair often separated by no more than three tenths but on lap 23, Meichtry pounced to recover the lead of the race. Frieser now tailed the two Swiss drivers by some 40 seconds. A brief outing by the safety car on lap 26 failed to throw a spanner in the works as Meichtry subsequently increased his lead to a full second at the chequered flag. Frieser took third, 30 seconds down on the leading pair.
Meanwhile, father Fabrice Milesi – having taken over from his son – increased his lead on Paul Whight who was now in the Aston Martin to claim a dominant GT win.
“In the beginning I was having brake problems”, said the younger Milesi, “but after a while it improved. The brakes need the most getting used to compared with my Formula Renault car. It takes a lot longer to stop the car! But it was good fun, I really enjoyed it.”