Record-breaking attendance for Lotus Cup Europe’s penultimate round of the season at legendary Le Mans

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Lotus Cup Europe was back on track after the summer break this weekend (22-24 September) as the championship supported the 24H Camions truck racing event at the renowned Le Mans Bugatti circuit. Three races took place during the penultimate round of the season in front of a record 80,280 spectators and with it all still to play for in the championship standings it would be a field-wide battle for those all-important championship points.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s qualifying session would be cut short by a red flag as a burst pipe on Jean-Pierre Genoud-Prachex’s 2-Eleven GT4 left oil on the track requiring a lengthy clean-up. Luckily, the drivers had wasted no time as the session began, setting impressive lap times from the get-go. Reigning champion Bence Balogh qualified on pole with a time of 1:44.279 ahead of Exige Cup drivers Tamás Vizin, Paul Maréchal and Nikolaj Ipsen. JP Genoud-Prachex managed to secure the 211/Open class pole before spinning off the track, placing himself on the fourth row of the grid ahead of Nathalie Genoud-Prachex’s pink 2-Eleven. The top 3 in the Production class were extremely close as usual with Great Britain’s Mark Yates qualifying just ahead of Belgium’s Robbe Janssens and Sweden’s Robin Nilsson.

Race one on Saturday was a rolling start, Hungary’s Vizin took an early lead but was unable to hold compatriot Balogh off for long, the black and gold Evora GT4 reclaiming its spot at the front of the pack a few laps later. Maréchal held onto third place for the duration of the race ahead of fellow teammates Ipsen and Thierry Verhiest. Belgium’s Verhiest eventually moving up into fourth place as Ipsen encountered a mechanical issue which left him watching the final laps of the race from a marshal post. Local team Asphalte were able to fix JP Genoud-Prachex’s yellow 2-Eleven in time for the race, the reigning 211/Open champion setting himself up with a comfortable lead early on. Over in Production, Elise Cup R driver Yates made the most of his pole position chasing down the 2-Elevens, leaving Janssens and Nilsson to battle it out for second place.

Balogh took the chequered flag for his 12th overall win at Le Mans since 2018, followed by Exige Cup winner Vizin, Maréchal, Verhiest and Rainer Börgens. Jason McInulty took second place in the GT Cup class in his gold Evora GT4 ahead of 211/Open class winner JP Genoud-Prachex and wife Nathalie who took the second step of the podium. Yates finished just behind the 2-Elevens, taking the Production win, having also set a new lap record in the class of 1:54.138. Janssens showed off his skills once again, having taken the podium at Spa-Francorchamps last time out in what had been his Lotus Cup Europe debut, getting the better of Nilsson after a race long battle. David McInulty completed the 211/Open podium in 12th place ahead of Kai Leymann and Mick Edwards.

The second race of the weekend got underway Sunday morning, Vizin once again taking the lead after the rolling start albeit closely followed by poleman Balogh and Luxembourg’s Maréchal. Unfortunately for Vizin he would be unable to defend the position for long, with rival Balogh slipping back past him soon after. Further down the field it was an interclass battle as the 211/Open and Production classes came together with Yates and Janssens putting pressure on N Genoud-Prachex in front of huge crowds. The 3-way action would be cut short however in the final third of the race as smoke was spotted coming from the pink #14 car, N Genoud-Prachex eventually coming to a stop on the side of the track. The mechanical woes didn’t stop there, as J McInulty’s hopes of a second GT Cup podium were dashed as he was forced to retire from the race after pulling over in turn 8.

It would be a close race for the pack leaders, front runner Balogh however managing to maintain his lead for the rest of the race despite pressure from Vizin and Maréchal, both Balogh and Vizin setting new lap records in their respective classes as they went. Balogh proved untouchable as he took the overall and GT Cup win having successfully held off the Exige V6s of Komo-Tec’s Vizin and Racing Team Th. Verhiest’s Maréchal. Lotus main dealer Verhiest completed the Exige Cup podium in 4th place overall ahead of Komo-Tec’s Börgens. 211/Open was won by JP Genoud-Prachex who took the chequered flag ahead of Production drivers Yates, Janssens and Edwards. D McInulty took second in the 211/Open class with Germany’s Leymann rounding up the finishers.

The standing start for the third and final race of the weekend provided plenty of action for the fans, with JP Genoud-Prachex receiving a drive through penalty in the opening moments for a jump start. The Frenchman having clearly accelerated away from his place on the grid before the lights went out signalling the start of the 30-minute race. The red #81 car of Vizin flew around the first corner, the former Lotus Cup Europe champion showing incredible skill as he refused to let rival Balogh get the better of him for a third time. Having fallen back whilst completing his drive through, JP Genoud-Prachex was left to fight his way back up through the field, working hard to catch up with wife Nathalie who made the most of her husband’s error and claimed the lead in the class, her team Asphalte having successfully changed her gearbox in time for the race.

Maréchal who came into the weekend at the top of the championship standings ahead of Production favourite Yates looked set to repeat his race one and two results, consistently holding onto third position up until the final laps where the #52 car appeared to begin slowing down, allowing team member Verhiest to claim the bottom step of the overall podium. There was plenty of action as always over in the Production class where Yates and Janssens held a clear lead, leaving Leymann and Edwards to fight for third, the two switching places multiple times during the 30-minute race.

An ecstatic Vizin took the final chequered flag at Le Mans ahead of Balogh who took the GT Cup win and Verhiest. Marechal was able to hold onto fourth position, crossing the line ahead of Börgens. JP Genoud-Prachex took a third win in the 211/Open class, having finally managed to pass wife Nathalie just in time to take the chequered flag. Yates made it a hat-trick in his yellow Elise Cup R followed closely by Janssens. Leymann was able to move back up past Edwards in time to claim the remaining step on the podium whilst D McInulty completed the 211/Open podium.

Lotus Cup Europe will be back in France 6-8 October as the championship heads to Dijon-Prenois for the season finale where the 2023 champions will be crowned.

Following the 3 races of the weekend, Production’s Mark Yates knocks Paul Maréchal off of the top spot in the championship standings, a mere 12 points separating the two moving into the final round. Reigning Exige Cup champion, Tamás Vizin, currently sits in third overall, second in class, 6 points short of Maréchal. Husband and wife, Jean-Pierre and Nathalie Genoud-Prachex, will be fighting to the very end of the season, as Nathalie goes into the final races only 8 points ahead of her reigning 211/Open class champion husband. With it all still to play for as the championship nears the end of this season, the next round at Dijon promises to be one to watch.

Podium standings:

Race 1OverallExige CupGT Cup211 OpenProduction
1st B Balogh T Vizin B Balogh JP Genoud-Prachex M Yates
2nd T Vizin P Maréchal J McInulty N Genoud-Prachex R Janssens
3rd P Maréchal T Verhiest D McInulty R Nilsson
Race 2OverallExige CupGT Cup211 OpenProduction
1st B Balogh T Vizin B Balogh JP Genoud-Prachex M Yates
2nd T Vizin P Maréchal D McInulty R Janssens
3rd P Maréchal T Verhiest M Edwards
Race 3OverallExige CupGT Cup211 OpenProduction
1st T Vizin T Vizin G Balogh JP Genoud-Prachex M Yates
2nd B Balogh T Verhiest N Genoud-Prachex R Janssens
3rd T Verhiest P Maréchal D McInulty K Leymann

Championship standings:

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