Thursday 27 October 2016

European Le Mans Series - 4 Hours of Estoril: Race review

The final race of the 2016 ELMS championship was a nailbiting 4 hours spectacle. The 4 hours of Estoril saw drama for the championship leaders in LMP2 and GTE, with G-Drive Racing & Beachdean Aston Martin taking the title and invites for next years Le Mans 24 Hours. 

Giedo van der Garde had a blistering start, from the second row to the lead into turn 1. Lapierre managed to get first position back when van der Garde ran wide in the first corner. Both leaders were off for an hour of close racing. Lapierre was able to get away from the Dutchman a few times, but van der Garde always managed to fight himself back into the slipstream of the #21 Oreca.

Behind both leaders, Nic Jonsson in the #40 Krohn Ligier, Vitaly Petrov in the #32 SMP Raicng BR01 and Pierre Thiriet in the #46 Thiriet Oreca were in a tight battle for third position, Fabien Barthez losing contact with the top 3 after a spin.

Just before the first round of pitstops, van der Garde passed Lapierre. Simon Dolan took over the G-Drive Gibson from van der Garde. Dragonspeed only came in for fuel, and managed to jump over the #38 again into the lead of the race. When Hedman went across the graveltrap in T3, Dolan took back the lead of the race and started pulling away from the #21 which would eventually drop to fifth position.

The #46 now was now lying fourth, right on schedule for the championship, 'till disaster struck when Thiriet came in for their second scheduled stop. Ryo Hurakawa took over from Pierre Thiriet but the Oreca somehow refused to start up again. The car was pushed back into the box, losing precious time and falling down the order.

When the safety car came out after the unfortunate collision between the #2 and #66 car, Dolan's lead melted away and he had to do it all over again. He nailed it at the restart and quickly built up a gap again to the #21 Dragonspeed. Behind the leaders Julien Canal had to retire in the #41 Greaves Motorsport Ligier.

As the third round of pitstops approached, Dolan had a 50 second advantage over the #32 SMP Racing BR01 which has passed the #40 Krohn Ligier. The #21 DragonSpeed now was down to fourth position over a minute behond Dolan but closing in on Coletti and Pla. The #33 Eurasia now was back up into fifth place, but already almost 2 laps behind the leaders.

Thiriet by Oreca saw their chances on the 2016 title melting away as they finally got Hirakawa back out in track again, only to be pulled back into the garage. In total the car spent more than 40 minutes in the pitlane and finished 28th overall, 24 laps down.

Olivier Pla was the first to come in for the final round of pitstops in his #40 Krohn Ligier from second place. Minutes later harry Tincknell in the Mighty 38 came in for a fuel stop only, maintaining his lead over the competition. Stefano Coletti who got up into second place in the #32 SMP Racing BR01 was the third driver to come in for fuel. Thanks to a very swift stop he managed to maintain his place, but now had Oliver Pla in the Krohn Racing and Nicolas Lapierre in the DragonSpeed all over him. Tincknell meanwhile had a comfortable gap of over a minute, now just having to take the car home for the win and the championship.

Lapierre was the only driver to take new tires at his final stop, giving him a massive advantage over both cars in front of him. It didn't take long for the fast Frenchman to take third place from Pla, minutes later leaving Coletti behind. Pla and Coletti got into a ferocious fight for second that came to an end with about 5 minutes to go when Pla had a spin losing him more than 5 seconds.

© Gabi Tomescu/ 

Tincknell drove faultless, bringing the car home with a 51 second advantage over Lapierre and 1.20 minutes over Coletti. Fourth place was for Pla, followed by the #33 Eurasia of after recovering from problems early in the race. Dark clouds gathered over the track in the final stages of the race, but except from a few drops, the track stayed dry. Minutes after the cars drove over the finish line though, the rain started to poor down on the track.

© Gabi Tomescu/ 

What a way to end the career of one of the most succesful prototypes we've ever seen in LMP2. Over the course of 5 seasons the Mighty 38 had 23 race starts in the ELMS, drove 5 WEC races at Spa, 5 times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and scored 8 wins & won 1 championship. Next to the ELMS title this season, the win at Le Mans in the LMP2 class in 2014 one of the highlights in its career. A great result for the Jota Sport/G-Drive team too, after just missing out the ELMS title in the past seasons.


Chaos at the back of the LMP3 grid at the start with cars spinning (one even managed to spin in the warm-up lap) & going on and off the track.

Alex Brundle and Wayne Boyd in the United Autosports Ligiers had a perfect start and quickly drove away from the other LMP3 cars. They even managed to place themselves inbetween the back runners in LMP3, and impressively in the overall top 10. Enzo Guibbert in the #9 Graff Ligier got settled into third place behind Brundle & Boyd.

The first series of pitstops saw both leading cars taking their long pitstop and first driver change. Mike Guash took over the #2 Ligier, Mark Patterson got behind the wheel of the #3. Not long after taking over the #2, Mike Guash got into an incident with the #8 Race Performance Ligier, losing him precious time. An incident in the pitlane occured with the #17 Ulitmate catching fire during refueling, but able to proceed in the race.

With different pitstop strategies, three new cars emerged at the top of the LMP3 ranking. Now the #11 Eurointernational was leading the #15 of RLR Motorsport and the #9 Graff Racing. Thomas Laurent in the M. Racing-Yvan Müller Racing was now the fastest car on track. Just before the second round of pitstops, about 2 hours into the race, he was up to second place. Mike Guash got caught in another incident when he got off the track at the exit of turn 2, spun and went hard into the side of the #66 JMW Ferrari which going slow off the racing line. The safety car came out, triggering the start of the second round of pitstops.

When the safety car came back in, the #18 M. Racing-YMR now had the lead, the #3 United Autosport second and the #11 Eurointernational in third. Simon Gachet now was in the #16 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier, going into third position when the #11 got caught up into traffic and fell down the order. Laurent had a spin when he got caught by oil on the track but managed to keep on to his lead. Behind him Gachet got into second, but had to retire when technical problems emerged on the Ligier.

The #18 drove a strong race and even got into sixth overall with an hour to go, eventually finishing in seventh place. The final hour of the race saw a battle between the #9 Graff Racing and the #3 United Autosports for second place. Bell ultimately won the plot, finishing one lap down to the #18.

During most of the race, the LMP3 class was a festival of cars spinning, going off the track or through the gravel traps. Not exactly showing the driving standards you might expect in a championship like the ELMS. With the addition of LMP3 to the Michelin Le Mans Cup, the ACO has a tool in hand to select team, cars and drivers which will be allowed to race in either the ELMS or the Le Mans Cup. New teams and drivers with less or none experience in prototype and/or endurance racing will be able to have a “learning” year in the Le Mans Cup before getting into the highly competitive European Le Mans Series.


In GTE Christian Ried didn't have the best start behind the LMP3 chaos. Rui Aguas in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari Alexander Talkanitsa Jr in the #56 AT Racing storming past Ried when the green flag fell. Talkanitsa however suffered from a puncture early in the race, and dropped down the order.

When Ried had tyre damage after a collision with an LMP3 and Aguas made contact with the #38 Gibson of van der Garde, both championship contenders came to the front of the field. Alex Mc Dowel now lead in the #99 Aston Martin, closely followed by Rory Butcher in the #66 JMW Ferrari. By the end of the first hour, Johnny Laursen parked his #60 Formula Racing Ferrari at turn 7, electrical problems forcing the Danish team to retire from the race.

The #66 JMW Ferrari was the first car into the pits but lost a lap to the leading cars. Disaster struck for the championship leaders when seeing smoke at the back of the Ferrari. Butcher managed to keep the car running and back into the pits where the car was rolled in with a gearbox issue. After long repairs, Robert Smith brought the car back out. Smith almost immediately got intro trouble again, going round at low speed off the racing line when Mike Guash spinned in his #2 United Autosports Ligier and hit the Ferrari in the flank. Smith somehow managed to get the car back into the pitlane, only to retire after the mechanics tried everything possible to get the car back on track.

With the #66 out of contention, the #99 Beachdean Aston Martin had just one mission for the remainder of the race: win it. Turner was now in the lead, but the safety car brought the whole field back together. Rui Aguas in the #51 Ferrari was right on his tale, with the #56 AT Racing Ferrari behind him, despite an incident in the pitlane with spilled fuel. Aguas lost contact with Turner when he lost valuable time after a spin of an LMP3 just in front of him. Darren Turner now was flying around the track, building up a comfortable gap over the #56 AT Racing Ferrari and both AF Corse's #51 and #55.

Alex MacDowell took over the Aston Martin Vantage at the final round of pitstops, with a comfortable lead around 30 seconds over the #56 who still had both AF Corse Ferrari's behind him. In the final hour of the race MacDowell drove one of his best stints ever, bringing the car home with a 1 lap advantage over the #56 AT Racing Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi and the #55 AF Corse Ferrari. The #51 Ferrari excluded itself from the batlle for third when ... got a drive-through penalty late in the race for causing a collision with the #8 LMP3 car.

The Aston crew did what they had to do to secure the championship by winning the race and getting their entry for Le Mans next year. A very harsh outcome for the JMW team which dominated the whole season in GTE. At the end of the year, their lost win at Silverstone due to an illegal front splitter ultimately did cost them the championship. 

Kristof Vermeulen.