Saturday, 22 September 2018

ELMS: Vergne takes pole for G-Drive and closes in on the title

After a thrilling final minute in today’s qualifying session, Jean-Eric Vergne scored championship leaders G-Drive’s first pole position this season. 

© Bob Ten Kley

It seemed like Filipe Albuquerque was about to clinch first spot on the grid tomorrow when he drove a 2.00.912 in the final minute of the session.  Vergne responded however and set a stunning 2.00.735 to take pole position for the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. An incredible lap, 1.7 seconds faster than last season’s pole time.  The second row of the grid will be filled by the #29 Duqueine Engineering of Nelson Panciatici and the #28 IDEC Sport of Paul Loup Chatin. Rounding out the top 5 is the #31 APR - Rebellion Racing Oreca of Gustavo Menezes. 

© Bob Ten Kley

Pole position gives the G-Drive crew an extra point in the championship, increasing their lead over the #24 Racing Engineering Oreca to 35 points. Roman Rusinov & co will be out for the championship tomorrow and their fourth win in a row this season. 

© Bob Ten Kley

Mathieu Lahaye scored the third pole position for Ultimate in the LMP3 class with the #17 Norma M30. With a laptime of 2.13.699, the Frenchman outpaced  Mattia Drudi in the #11 Eurointernational with only 0.065 seconds. Ross Kaiser put the #6 360 Racing Ligier on third position (2.13.874), followed by Colin Noble in the #7 Ecurie Ecosse Ligier.  Championship leaders RLR Msport will start from fifth place. Once again, the LMP3 qualifying session was very close with the first 10 cars within a second.

Porsche continued to dominate the LMGTE class, with all three Porsches taking the top spots in the session. Once again Matteo Cairoli was the fastest man on track, scoring pole position with a laptime of 2.15.654 in the #88 Proton Competition 911 RSR.  Dennis Olsen took second place in 2.16.354, exactly 0.7 seconds behind Cairoli in the #77 sister car.  Riccardo Pera set the #80 Ebimotors Porsche on third place for tomorrow’s race.  Best of the Ferrari’s was Miguel Molina in the JMW F488 GTE, but already over 2 seconds behind the leading Porsche. 

Free Practice 2

Earlier today the G-Drive crewe took the top spot in the second and final free practice session at Francorchamps. With 2 red flags, a full course yellow and a mid-session splash of rain, it was quite an entertaining 90 minutes.

© Bob Ten Kley

Vergne set a quickest time of 2.02.348, followed by Nicolas Jamin in the #29 Duqueine Engineering Oreca in 2.02.348.  Paul Loup Chatin (#28 IDEC Sport) and Gustavo Menezes (#31 APR Rebellion) followed close to make it a top 4 Oreca finish again. Fifth fastest and first Ligier was Hugo De Sadeleer in the #32 United Autosports. James Allen was the biggest victim of the weather conditions wen he went off at the pif-paf and into the barriers with the #40 Graff run G-Drive Oreca 07. 

© Bob Ten Kley

Job Van Uitert was fastest in the championship leading RLR MSport Ligier JSP3, in a time of 2.14.423. Matthieu Lahaye followed close as his #17 Ultimate Norma came up to pace, just 0.066 seconds behind the Dutchman. Monza winner Mattia Drudi set the third fastest time in his #11 Eurointernational Ligier.  Rounding out the top 5 were the #4 Cool Racing and the #2 United Autosports Ligiers. 

© Bob Ten Kley

In LMGTE the Porsche domination continued Dennis Olsen now quickest in the #77 Proton Competition in 2.19.290. Ricardo Pera in the Ebimotors 911 and Giorgio Roda Jr in the second Proton Porsche rounded out the top three. JMW once again was the quickest Ferrari this morning in 2.20.016 set by Alex MacDowall. 

Today's results: 
LMGTE Qualifs


Due to the weather forecast and for the safety of all, the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps start will be given at 10:45 tomorrow morning.

Kristof Vermeulen
Pictures: Bob Ten Kley

Friday, 21 September 2018

ELMS: Nato fastest in the first wet practice at Spa-Francorchamps.

It would’t be Spa if the weather gets unpredictable … setup day on Thursday was warm and sunny with the same forecast for the weekend, today’s first practice session was wet, if not very wet at times. 

Tricky conditions on track caused several drivers to go off track, and an early full course yellow.  In the final 30 minutes the session was red flagged when 3 incidents occurred at the same time.  Thanks to very efficient work of the Belgian Marshalls, the track was freed up quickly so the session could restart for the final 15 minutes. 

© Bob Ten Kley

Norman Nato in the #24 Racing Engineering Oreca set the quickest time in the damp Ardennes.  His laptime of 2.19.745 with an average speed of 180,4 km/h was just under a second faster than Gustavo Menezes in the #31 APR-Rebellion Racing Oreca 07. Another clean sweep for Toyota this afternoon with the #21 Dragonspeed of Nico Lapierre in third position (2.21.224). Quickest of the non-Oreca’s was Konstantin Tereschenko in the #30 AVF by Adrian Vallés Dallara in fourth place.  Wayne Boyde in the #32 United Autosport Ligier completed the top 5. 

© Bob Ten Kley

In LMP3 it was Antonin Borga in the #4 Cool Racing Ligier who took the honours in 2.34.085, half a second quicker than Jakub Smiechowski in the #13 Inter Europol. Yann Clairay in the #9 AT Racing completed the top 3 in the class. The Ligiers took the top 7 spots in the session with the Norma’s on place 8 to 10.  David Droux was the fastest Norma driver in the #19 M.Racing-YMR with a best time of 2.35.986.

© Bob Ten Kley

Matteo Cairoli was unstoppable again in the LMGTE class, completing a lap in 2.31.555, beating not only all other LMGTE runners but also the whole LMP3 field with his #88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR. Impressive stuff from the young Italian. Christian Ried in the #77 Proton sister car was second fastest, 1.369 seconds slower than Cairoli. Fabio Babini completed a Porsche top 3 in the #80 Ebimotors.  Duncan Cameron was the quickest of the non-Porsche drivers in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari. 

There’s a few last minute driver changes that are to be noted in the LMP2 class. Sean Rayhall couldn’t make the flight over to Belgium this weekend due to illness and will be replaced by Scott Andrews in the #2 United Autosports Ligier. In the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier, Ate Dirk De Jong is being replaced by Matt McMurry who returns to the team for the first time this season. 

© Bob Ten Kley

Roberto Lacorte set the fastest time in the bronze driver collective test.  Weather conditions changed late afternoon, with a dry track and even a hint of sunshine … welcome to Spa-Francorchamps !  His time of 2.06.565 in the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara was over 2 seconds faster than Dennis Andersen in the #49 High Class Racing.  Third quickest in was Henrik Hedman in the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca, with a time of 2.08.713, only 6 thousands of a second short from Andersen. 

In the LMP3 class, it was Kay Van Berlo who set the best time in 2.16.351 with his #11 Eurointernational Ligier. Alexey Chulkin in the #5 NEFIS by Speedfactory (2.16.593) and Anthony Wells in the #3 United Autosports Ligier (2.17.063) completed the top 3.  Romani Ricci in the #19 M.Racing-YMR was the quickest of the Norma drivers. 

The #88 Proton Competition was fastest again in the LMGTE class, this time with Gianluca Roda at the wheel in 2.19.023. Christian Ried put the second Proton Porsche on second place, just under 1.4 seconds after the Italian. Bret Curtis in the #86 Ebimotors completed the Porsche top 3. 

The second practice session is bound to go green Saturday morning at 9h05, qualifying starts at 13h10 with the LMGTE class to open the debates.

Results FP1
Results Bronze driver test

Kristof Vermeulen
Pictures: Bob Ten Kley.   

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

ELMS: Bumper grid of 40 cars for Spa-Francorchamps this weekend

The title race for the 2018 European Le Mans Series is heading into its deciding stage with the penultimate round of the season in Spa this weekend. Two out of the six titles could already be decided on what is probably the most beautiful track in the world, in the Belgian Ardennes.  A (very) healthy grid of 40 cars features the entry list for the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with teams returning to the competition and several driver changes to be noted in the LMP2 and LMP3 class. 

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 of Roman Rusinov, Andrea Pizzitola and Jean-Eric Vergne won the last three races of the championship and beat all the FIA WEC LMP2’s in the 6 Hour race earlier this year.  No wonder the Russian team arrives as favourite in Spa this weekend, eager for a fourth consecutive victory and claiming this year’s ELMS title.  With 87 points scored so far, Rusinov & co now have an advantage of 34 points over the #24 Racing Engineering Oreca of Norman Nato, Olivier Pla and Paul Petit who see Pla returning to the team after racing with Ford in the FIA WEC. A win or second place finish could seal the championship for G-Drive on Sunday. 

The battle for second place in the championship is still open and will go down to the wire with three teams battling it out.   Third place at this moment is for the #28 IDEC Sport of Memo Rojas, Paul Lafargue and Paul Loup Chatin.  The French team has scored 50 points so far, being right on the tail of Racing Engineering.  The #21 Dragonspeed of Henrik Hedman, Nico Lapierre and Ben Hanley sits in fourth place at the moment with a total of 41 points.  Despite a DNF at the first race of the season, the American crew is still in contention for a top three finish.  TDS Racing, currently fifth in the standings won’t return to the European Le Mans Series this season, as their car is already underway to Fuji for the next race in the FIA WEC. 

Returning to the grid is the #27 Ligier of IDEC Sport which missed the race in Silverstone last month. Aurélien Panis - son of Olivier - will make his debut in the European Le Mans Series and the LMP2 class alongside Patrice Lafargue and Eric Maris.  The #35 SMP Racing Dallara won’t race at Spa this weekend, after a disappointing race at Silverstone where they had to retire just over an hour into the race. The #40 Graff run G-Drive racing has a revised driver line-up for Spa. James Allen stays on board of the Oreca,  joined by Frenchman Julien Fanchero and Swedish driver Henning Enqvist.  Enqvist raced in the LMP3 class with DKR Engineering and Team Virage and will now make his debut in the LMP2 class. Julien Falchero has been racing in GP3 so far and will make his debut in the prototype class. 

LMP3 racing has been exciting and very close all season long so far, with seven cars still in contention for the 2018 title.  Leading the championship is the #15 RLR M-Sport Ligier of John Farano, Job Van Uitert and Rob Garofall.  Van Uitert didn’t miss his debut in prototype racing, the young Dutchman showing his outright speed from the prologue on and leading the team to two victories in France and Austria so far.  With a total of 58,5 points the RLR crew has an advantage of 12 points over the #11 Eurointernational of Kay Van Berlo and Giorgio Mondini who are joined by Mattia Drudi at Spa.  The #3 United Autosports of Anthony Wells, Garett Grist and Matthey Bell, is tied with the Eurointernational in second place, both on 46,5 points. 

Behind those three, it’s all too close to call at the moment.  360 Racing sits in fourth place with 46 points so far, immediately trailed by the #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier with 45 points. The #7 Ecurie Ecosse (39 points) and the #17 Ultimate Norma (35 points) are mathematically still in contention for the title.  

DKR Engineering returns to the grid in Spa, after missing out Silverstone but with a whole new driver line-up; the #8 Norma M30 now in the hands of Christian Vaglio and Martin Klein. Other driver changes are to be noted at Eurointernational where Matteo Drudi steps over from the #11 and the #12 Ligier. Andrea Dromedari is the only driver confirmed in the #12 Ligier so far.  Antonin Borga returns to the cockpit of the #4 Cool Racing after missing out Silverstone last month. Martin Hippe won’t be at the wheel of the #14 Inter Europol Competition, he will be replaced by Moritz Müller-Crepon. Romano Ricci stays on board of the #19 M.Racing-YMR Norma for his second race of the season after Silverstone last month. 

The LMGTE class has given us some nailbiting races so far this season with a few dramatic finishes right onto the wire. Gianluca and Giorgio Roda in the #88 Proton Competition lead the championship with 72 points, and are joined by young Porsche ace Matteo Cairoli again in the Ardennes this weekend.  The #66 JMW Ferrari is second in the championship, 9 points behind the Porsche with 63 points so far.  Miguel Molina, Liam Griffin and Alex McDowall. 5 points behind the JMW crew is the green #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Aaron Scott and Matt Griffin who took victory in Monza.  All is still to play for in this class, but Sunday’s winner might be able to take a decisive lead in the championship before heading to Portimao for the season finale at the end of October. 

The action in the Ardennes starts Friday lunchtime with the first 90 minute practice session at 12.00h and the Bronze driver collective test at 16.30h.  The Michelin Le Mans Cup and Alpine Europe Cup will be this weekends support races. 

Kristof Vermeulen