Friday 22 September 2017

ELMS 2017: Title showdown kicks off at Spa-Francorchamps today

The title showdown of the 2017 European Le Mans Series kicks off this weekend with the 4 hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the penultimate race of the season. With a packed grid of 35 cars, the iconic track in the Belgian Ardennes is set for another weekend of great endurance racing. 

Weather-wise it seems like we dodged a bullet again at Spa, with sunny forecasts and a hint of an indian summer in the air, temperatures rising up to 20 degrees on race day.  It's still Spa though, so our raincoats won't be too far away. 

With just 2 races to go, the battle for the 2017 championship in LMP2 is likely to be battled out between the #22 G-Drive Racing Oreca and the #2 United Autosports Ligier.  G-Drive Racing leads the championship with 80 points; winning at Monza and scoring second place on all other races. United Autosports follows with 68 points, after winning at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring. Losing out their podium finish at Paul Ricard last month due to a full course yellow infringement cost the American team 5 points in the championship, so it could have been even closer. Graff Racing is third in the standings right now with the #39 Oreca, but with 49 points already 19 adrift from United Autosports in second place.  A DNF or bad result by one of both leading teams might bring them back in contention though with 25 points for grabs for a race win. The first Dallara is the #49 High Class Racing on fourth place. 

Last months winners, Russian young guns Mates Isaakyan and Egor Orudhzev in the #27 SMP Racing Dallara will be one of the teams to watch this weekend. Spa-Francorchamps should be a track that suits the Dallara's with its high speed sections and corners. 

A few driver changes are to be noted in the LMP2 class: 
Ryo Hirakawa is back in the #22 G-Drive, joining Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel again in the Oreca07 after missing out the races at the Red Bull Ring and Le Castellet due to his commitments in the Japanese Super GT Championship. He was replaced by “quick Nick” Minassian who scored two podium finishes in the past 2 races. 

Absent on the #28 IDEC Sport Raicng Ligier is Olivier Pla. The Ford GT factory driver is bound to race in the IMSA race at Laguna Seca this weekend. Pla will be replaced by Paul-Loup Chatin, who returns to the European Le Mans Series for the first time since last season. Chatin raced with Signatech Alpine and Panis-Barthez competition in the past 3 seasons in the FIA WEC and ELMS and will team up with Paul and Patrice Lafargue.. 
Another driver missing this weekends race is Eric Trouillet in the #39 Graff Oreca. He will be replaced by Jonathan Hirschi who drove with Manor in the FIA WEC earlier this season and at Le Mans. 

The LMP3 field will be the biggest one on the grid again with 17 cars ready to tackle the Ardennes. Compared to the race at Paul Ricard, just a few driver changes are to be noted in the class. 
Giorgio Mondini will be joined by Marco Jocaboni in the #12 Eurointernational Ligier.  Jocaboni replaces season regular Davide Uboldi. Erwin Creed won't race the #19 M.Racing-YMR Norma M30, he is replaced by Australian Neale Muston. No sign either of Tristan Viidas on the #5 BySpeed Factory Ligier which will be driven by Tim Müller and Jurgen Krebs. 

The #2 United Autosports arrives at Spa as leaders in the championship with 70 points after a win at Silverstone and Le Castellet and second place at the Red Bull Ring. Second so far is the #18 M.Racing-YMR Ligier with a total of 58 points, 12 points behind the leaders. The #18 hasn't won a race so far this season but scored four podium finishes in a row.  The red/white #3 Ultimate Ligier is in third place with 53 points.  The #11 Eurointernational and #13 Inter Europol Competition are currently fourth and fifth in the championship and not to be counted out for a top 3 finish by the end of the season.  Especially the Inter Europol team who came in second at Le Castellet and won their last race in the VdeV series.

One major change to note in the driver line-up of the LMGTE class: Will Stevens returns to the JMW team in the #66 Ferrari F488GTE. It's the first time Stevens will drive the car again after winning the GTE-Am class at Le Mans. He will join Robert Smith and Jody Fannon in the yellow Ferrari.  Stevens will also race with the team at the season finale in Portimao next month. 
TF Sport leads the LMGTE championship in their #90 Aston Martin Vantage. After 4 rounds they have scored 77 points so far, winning the first race in Silverstone and finishing on the podium of every other race so far. JMW Motorsport is second with 68 points and one win so far at Monza. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari climbed to third place in the standings with 64 points. After a though start of the season, not scoring any points at Monza, the Swiss team of Thomas Flohr & co has scored two successive victories at the Red Bull Ring and Paul Ricard and is in full contention for the title. Spa is a track that should fit the Ferrari's more than the Aston Martin, the title showdown on the GTE class will probably be very close until the final laps in Portugal next month ! 

Track action starts today with the Bronze driver test at 11h20. The first 90 minute free practice session for the ELMS is scheduled at 15h20 this afternoon. 

Useful links: 

Kristof Vermeulen.