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Ultimate Cup Series Slovakia Ring 2019

24th - 25th May 2019

Event report

This weekend we thought about visiting 24H Series race in Brno, or quite a new Ultimate Cup Series held in Slovakia Ring. The latter was originally scheduled to be run over the weekend while the Brno 12-hour race was run on Saturday as a 9-hour heat, while the first 3 hours were on the programme already on Friday. In the end, we preferred to fully concentrate on the new prototype series in Slovakia, which we wanted to support, and which will be included into the RSC archives and galleries. On the other side, there was no sign of originally scheduled prototype race within the 24H Series programme in Brno. It seems that Creventic, the organisers found their attempt to create a new prototype series, dead. On the other side, the new Ultimate Cup Series looks promising and we wish them growth and success in the years to come. It is still at the very beginning so some things we are not really used to during the big events, like WEC or ELMS. Let's share some of them soon.

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Previous Challenge Prototype Ultimate Cup Series races had decent entries of about 15 LMP3 cars. So we hoped for something similar in Slovakia. And our expectations were not disappointed. Altogether 14 LMP3 were on the originally published entry list and all of them arrived. While the first two races were just like ELMS ran to only 4 hours, this time the Prototype venue was to be run to a traditional full endurance distance of 6 hours. While a secondary prototype class for P4 category is expected to join the series, with cars like Ligier JS P4 or Pescarolo 04, there were no signs any of these, neither here, nor in the first two races. According to the official Series website, Ligier JS P4 Challenge should be part of the Ultimate Cup Series in the next four races so we can hopefully expect even larger grids. But even 15 cars is a good number for the quite new series. The championship ruleset says that a separate class for those P4 cars could be created, should there be enough competitors joining the series.

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Unfortunately, the schedule was changed. So that practice sessions were held already on Friday, while the race and qualifying was moved to Saturday. So, we were left with just one day of on track action. But it was enough to enjoy it.

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The main race was also counted towards GT Challenge, which had separate races in the first meetings. Unfortunately, just a lone Ferrari accepted the call. It was one of the unusual strange points of the meeting, when the GT Challenge qualifying was held as a 30-minute separate session and just a single Ferrari was heard and seen around the track. Bad for the team, the GT race was scheduled only for 4 hours, so the Ferrari, which actually started from the last 15th grid spot, was flagged off as a winner and was called to the pits. Nearly nobody cared that they were provisionally 10th overall, out of 15 starters. There was no point for the Ferrari driver in fighting for positions with prototypes. So it circulated slower, last taking positions only when some prototype had an issue.

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One such troubled prototype could not even take it to the grid. Ligier no.95 of Team Virage stopped on the track. The recovery was extremely slow, so it missed the start despite 15-minute gap between the green light and the problem occurrence. So, we had 14 cars gridded, but actually 15 starters as the Ligier re-joined the race after about 20 minutes after the start.

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The organisation was rather kind and friendly on one side. On the other side, there were no sign of accreditation centre, very small Media Centre with no monitors with results, very few places (and journalists) as well. After having got no answer or confirmation to our accreditation request, we had a call with the organising team and got email confirmation soon after. But in the office, where the 'accreditation' happened they had no record on our request or confirmation. There were no cards to wear. So, we got on track tabards without any other conditions (during WEC or ELMS it is needed to get through meeting for photographers, everything is precisely confirmed and prepared beforehand, professional insurance confirmation is required too). When I asked if there are some Shuttle Buses for photographers, I rather got ALL track access for my car and could travel around the track wherever I wanted. Really nice experience, which I remember from the beginnings of Racing Sports Cars and our accreditation early days. Those were some of the other odd things, we witnessed there in Slovakia Racing. I really loved it and wish the organisers successful future though it is clear that if the series grows, media attention is larger, some things would have to be stricter anyway.

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Back to the race. After the start the Norma no.16 Red River Sport By Nielsen took the lead and made some gap ahead of nearest competitors. It was followed by Real Team Norma no.7 and Graff Racing Norma no.9. The fastest Ligier Wimmer Werk Motorsport no.26, second in the first lap, then losing the position to the other two Normas, had to pit soon (in lap 6) and while down the order behind the slowest Ferrari, which was already 12th overall in lap 6, it appeared to be a Norma race. Actually, there were no other cars but Norma M30 or Ligier JS P3 in the prototype class. Normas were slightly faster on average and were dominant in numbers (8 Normas against 6 Ligiers - though a change of car compared to entry list - DB Autosport no.20 - helped it, otherwise the counts would have been equal) but as the race developed the Ligier no.26 appeared again among top 3, which were fighting for the overall win when the race was already in its final stages.

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Two fastest cars, the already mentioned Normas no.16 and no.7, were delayed during the race by significant number of laps and despite setting fastest laps with their number one drivers, so they were not in contention in regard of podium spots. In the end the fastest lap was set by Silver-ranked David Droux in Norma no.7 (1:56.296) while one of very few Golden-ranked drivers, Johnny Mowlem, was second fastest in Norma no.16 (1:56.526). This Normas was regularly seen in British LMP3 championship last year, with the same drivers.

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By the way, when we checked entire field chassis numbers, it was found that together three cars had been previously seen in Monza, during the ELMS event. Realteam Norma M30-41 no.7 raced the ELMS race as number 9, while Inter Europol Competition Ligier OR03-57 no.14 and Graff Racing Norma M30-26 no.9 wore the same race numbers as in Monza. The Graff Norma was seen in the support Michelin Le Mans Cup race though. All three cars belonged to the faster cars here, though the Polish Inter Europol entry had poorer start made a progress during the race to finish fourth. Actually, all three of the 'Monza cars' finished in top 5. But neither of them was the winner.

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It was Lionel and Antoine Roberts in DB Autosport Norma no.21 that led before he final hour. But in the final hour during the last refuelling and pit stops, one more Full Course Yellow period appeared, and it mixed with the positions significantly. While some cars pitted just before it, others had good luck to pit and refuel during the time when others moved around the track at only 60 kph. And this eliminated Robert's Norma from the fight for the win. They finished third. By the way, the refuelling was organised in a similar manner like in the 24H Series. There was no refuelling during the regular pit stops (which were obviously measured, and some minimum time was applied - based by observation of some team behaviour) but the was a gas station near the pit exit where all team cars were refuelled by the organiser's supplied stuff.

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It was Graff Racing Norma no.9 that appeared in the lead in the final hour. But Wimmer Werk Motorsport Ligier no.26 was not far behind. And while the Norma no.9 was driver by two Bronze-rated drivers, both Ligier driver, Capillaire and Kaiser, were Silver-rated and it made the deal and decided the winner. The Ligier was lapping notably faster, soon took the lead and won the race by more than half a minute gap.

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As support programme there were three races for single seaters, together 16 cars, all of them Tatuus FR 2.0, but we really did not care of those. Hopefully the Series would return next year, and even stronger than during this premiere and we are back there too.

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