Friday 16 October 2015

30 cars on the grid for the ELMS season finale in Estoril this weekend.

For the final round in the 2015 ELMS season, 30 cars will be on the startgrid : 10 LMP2 prototypes, 5 LMP3 cars with Graff Racing entering the first Ligier JS P3 in ELMS, 9 LMGTE and 6 cars in GTC.  A packed grid for what promises to be a great season finale in Portugal.

The #64 AF Corse Ferrari will race in a one off art-car livery this weekend, designed by school kids of the Fundacao o S├ęculo.  The car is driven by Portuguese drivers Filipe Barreiros and  Francisco Guedes, accompanied by the Dane Mads Rasmussen.  The 4 hours of Estoril is also the home race for the Algarve Pro Racing team in their Ligier JS P2/Nissan, Filipe Albuquerque in the #38 Jota Sport and last but not least Eduardo Freitas, race director in ELMS and WEC, for whom the race is literally in his backyard living in nearby Cascais.

Tristan Gommendy, who left TDS Racing at the end of September will be replaced by Nicolas Lapierre in the #46 Oreca Nissan.  Gommendy left the team to race in the Asian Le Mans Series with Eurasia Racing and aims to a seat in the WEC next year.  British GT champions Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam are entering their Aston Martin Vantage V8 in the GTE class.  A one race entry for now, but the team hopes to be on the grid for a full 2016 ELMS season.  Another new team joins the grid in the GTC class : TF Sport with an Aston Martin Vantage driven by Salih Yoluc, Euan Hankey and Richie Stanaway. In LMP2, Ibanez racing sits out also this race, and aims to be back on track next season with their yellow Oreca's. 

The ACO announced the fifth and final chassis constructor who will supply cars in the LMP3 category.  Dome will join Ginetta, Onroak Automotive, Riley Technologies and Adess as LMP3 constructor.  The Japanese constructor, founded in 1978, has a long history in GT and prototype racing, competing 18 years at Le Mans in the past.  Being an asian constructor, the appointment of Dome should benefit the interest in the Asian Le Mans Series for local teams.  When we will see the first Dome on track isn't clear yet.  Graff Racing is this weekend the first team which enters a Ligier JS P3 in the ELMS championship next to the Ginetta's who already raced a full season.

Last week, Marc VDS Racing Team announced they will end their racing activities on 4 wheels at the end of the season.  A surprising announcement after their win in the Spa 24 hours earlier this year.   After parting with team principal Bas Leinders after Spa, it was clear that a change was coming in their projects for next season, but hardly anyone expected a departure from GT racing. "The decision to cease car racing activities was made not because of financial cost, but because of the moral cost to a team that no longer operates with the same principles that Marc van der Straten holds dear and which were instilled in him by his late father, with whom he started his motorsport adventure" stated the teams press release. "We must recognise that things have changed.  So much that today my passion for racing is gone.  Collaborators have betrayed my trust and the family spirit of team". Having to race a full season in Blancpain series to get access to the Spa 24 Hours will also have played part in the decision to stop with GT racing.  The Marc VDS racing team now focusses their efforts entirely to 2 wheel racing in MotoGP and Moto2. Estoril will sadly be the last race we'll see the distinct Belgian livery on track.

Practice gets underway tomorrow at 10h30 and 15h00.  Qualifying on Sunday at 09h00 and the title deciding 4 hour race at 13h00.  The race will be live on MotorsTV and streamed on the ELMS website (  Entry to the track is free all weekend, paddock passes will set you back 10€.  Last year Estoril saw a crowd of 20.000 race fans, let's hope they'll all find their way back to the track this weekend. 

While the weather was warm and sunny last year, this year the forecast seems "slightly" worse with thunderstorms and heavy rain predicted for Saturday. Qualifying might be run in dry conditions on Sunday, but with the current predictions it seems like the race might end in the wet.  Another factor the teams will have to cope with, and could be decisive for the championship.

Kristof Vermeulen.

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