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LE MANS, France -- The Euro-Racecar Touring Series Elite Division sprint race saw a debut victory for Gaël Castelli but, with the newcomer not eligible for points, Romain Thievin took a maximum score to reduce the deficit to NASCAR championship leader Ander Vilarino. The Spaniard took seventh in a race played out on a wet Le Mans Bugatti circuit, building the suspense ahead of this afternoon’s final reckoning.
After a lull in the showers over La Sarthe yesterday afternoon, the rain returned with a vengeance ahead of the Elite Division sprint race. Pole-sitter Vilarino (#2 TFT-Banco Santander) immediately lost the lead to Romain Fournillier (#11 Over Drive-McDonald's), who was himself overcome by Castelli (#6 Rapido Racing) later on the opening lap. The Rapido pilot then pulled away at the front of the field to secure victory on his series debut.
But with Castelli not eligible to score, and points counting for double at Le Mans, the title contenders did not look to reel in the leader and Thievin (#99 Still Racing-Exotics Racing), who climbed from second to fourth, thus took maximum championship points. This sees the Frenchman erode Vilarino’s advantage with the Spanish racer taking seventh at the chequered flag. Vilarino latter admitted he hadperhaps driven too cautiously, but he now needs only a 16th place finish in this afternoon’s endurance contest to secure the 2012 EURO-RACECAR NASCAR Touring Series title. 96 points remain up for grabs, with 40 separating the table-topping pair.
Starting ninth on the grid, Romain Iannetta (#25 Orhès Competition) produced a sterling comeback that saw him complete the podium. Behind him a brilliant door-to-door battle raged between Fournillier, Bruno Cosin (#55 Pole Position 81) and Javier Villa (#64 Gonneau Racing) for fourth spot. Fournillier emerged on top, finishing as the top Junior driver in the process, with fifth placed Cosin leading the Challenger class runners and increasing his lead in that classification. Villa meanwhile still remains mathematically capable of claiming the overall championship.
Vilarino was next across the line followed by Anthony Garbarion (#96 TFT-Alpes Carrelage) and Nicolas Dekejser (#29 Scorpus Racing), with Stéphane Romecki (#19 Scorpus Racing) rounding out the top-10. The final race at Le Mans gets underway at 15.45 local time.
Making his series debut this weekend, pole-sitter Olivier Porta lost the lead to Tanguy Ide (#44 Orhès Competition) early on and was soon passed by Escallier (#19 Scorpus Racing), dropping him to third. Undaunted, the former GT racer went on the offensive, seizing control and eventually taking the chequered flag 23.7s clear of his nearest challenger.With Porta not eligible to score championship points this weekend second placed finisher Escallier was the de-facto winner, promoting him to the points lead. Erstwhile table-topper Ide lost two laps following contact with Alain Grand(#11 Over Drive-McDonald's), who would take fourth and victory in the Legend category, while Vincent Gonneau (#15 Gonneau Racing) also exited after making contact with the Over Drive man. "I'll cross my fingers that tomorrow it goes the same way," said Escallier. "There is still one race to run, but I never imagined I'd find myself in this position. Let's hope it lasts!"
Having started second on the grid, Gerald Cormon (#25 Orhès Competition) completed the podium after enjoying an exciting race. "Early on we were four abreast at the Dunlop chicane – that was crazy," he admitted afterwards. "But I loved it. I had a good race, I scored points and tomorrow I'd like to end the year on the podium and as the championship's top Gentleman." Behind Grand, Joaquin Gabarron (#5 Rapido Racing) completed the top-five ahead of Jerome Laurin (#55 Pole Position 81), Franck Violas (#28 RDV Competition), Eric Quintal (#2 TFT-Banco Santander), David Perrisset (#99 Still Racing-Exotics Racing) and Vito Rodrigues (#33 Over Drive).