The 4 Hours of Silverstone were a series of firsts for Parth Ghorpade, new series, new track, new team and new team mates. Parth joined Michael Munemann and multiple Olympic Gold Medalist Sir Chris Hoy at the wheel of the #25 Ligier JS P2-Nissan for the first round of the European LeMans Series at Silverstone on Saturday 16th April.
Weather conditions were difficult on Friday and Saturday for the ELMS competitors, with rain in qualifying on Saturday morning. With limited testing in the car before the event the 22 year old from Kolhapur was tasked with the job of qualifying the #25 car and in very tricky conditions and secured 13th position in class (26th overall) from a grid of 45 cars, the main focus for the team was to finish the race as high as possible given the conditions.
At 2.30 pm (local time), the race fortunately started on a drying track.
Michael Munemann started the race and managed to escape the multiple collisions at the race start gaining six positions in the first 10 laps. He reached the LMP2 top 10 on lap 14, after the first Full Course Yellow. The sky blue, red and white Ligier was 12th overall when Sir Chris Hoy took the wheel for a double stint after 53 minutes of racing. Posting consistent lap times, the Scotsman reached the overall top 10 in less than 10 laps. Unfortunately a minor excursion on the exit of Chapel left the car stuck in the gravel and a 10-minute Full Course Yellow was necessary to retrieve the #25 Ligier. The car suffered no damage and Sir Chris Hoy was able to rejoin the race, pitting after 1h46 of racing (lap 49). He climbed up to 11th overall before handing over to Parth Ghorpade for the final double stint, with 1h28 remaining. Ghorpade’s lap times were impressive considering his limited time in the car and managed to reach the overall top 10 again 35 minutes before race finish. The Algarve Pro Racing Ligier received the chequered flag in 10th position, with 114 laps completed. This was the best encouragement for the newly-formed line-up Munemann, Hoy and Ghorpade, who also know the great potential of the Ligier when in the top positions.
Parth Ghorpade reflects on his European debut in endurance racing:
"I am very happy to have made the decision to come to Europe. It really is a great experience for me to switch from single seaters to prototypes, especially in a big event like the European Le Mans Series. It is a fantastic series, with such a huge crowd, a very high level of racing and many experienced drivers, some coming from Formula 1. There is a fantastic atmosphere in the team, they work as a family but are very professional too. The free practice went really well, we learned a lot. It is a great honour to be the team mate of Sir Chris Hoy, a 6-time Olympic Gold Medalist, especially in the UK, he is the crowd's favourite here. Michael is a nice guy too, it is great to work with him, he has the experience of the car and is of great help to me. The Ligier JS P2 is a new car to drive for me and it is fantastic. Before the race, the only thing for me was to bring it home. But once on the track it made me push even more, I was getting even better and better. I enjoyed every lap I drove. This is one of the reasons why I am here, I want to enjoy every race I compete in. I want to be safe and clean and fast as well. I know the Imola circuit quite well since I raced there in Formula Renault in 2013. The main thing will be to qualify better than at Silverstone since we know we have a top 5 pace in race. We just need to qualify on front and maintain our position so this is our main goal for Imola. The top 6 should be a good finish there."
For Parth Ghorpade and his team mates Michael Munemann and Sir Chris Hoy, the next stage will be the 4 Hours of Imola, to be competed on May 13-15, once again with the double goal of gaining experience together in the ELMS and get ready for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.