Thursday 8 February 2018

ELMS: An impressive 41 car grid for the 2018 season

An impressive 41 car grid has been announced today for this years European Le Mans Series.  17 cars will feature in the LMP2 class, the highest number ever in the championship. The arrival of 3 new teams in the class, the return of G-Drive with a 2 car effort and a Rebellion Junior team with a few (very) strong driver line-ups will make up for another thrilling season the championship's top class. 

18 cars are on the LMP3 grid, about the same number as last season but with a few noteable newcomers coming over from the Michelin Le Mans Cup. As expected it's Norma vs Ligier again in this class.  GTE has 6 entries this season, equally divided by Porsche and Ferrari, unfortunately no Aston Martins will be on the grid this season. 

Looking into the LMP2 entry list, let's start with Oreca, which won last years' championship with G-Drive and now has 7 cars on the grid. 

G-Drive Racing returns to the ELMS to defend last years title. Not with one car like in the past years, but with a 2-car effort although run by different teams.  The first car, run by TDS Racing, the #26 Oreca 07 will be driven by Roman Rusinov, Matthieu Vaxivière and Jean-Eric Vergne.  The second car (#40) will be managed by Graff and have James Allen, Enzo Guibbert and Jose Guttierez behind the wheel. Whether this means G-Drive won't compete in the FIA WEC Super season is unclear at this time, although it's believed that Rusinov might do a partial super season. Next to the second G-Drive, Graff also fields their own Oreca for Alexandre Cougnaud,  Jonathan Hirschi and Tristan Gommendy.

Dragonspeed who ran the championship winning G-Drive last season returns with one Oreca for Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley and Nicolas Lapierre, the same driver line-up as last season. Busy times ahead for Hedman and Hanley as they both will race with the all new BR1 in the FIA WEC too.

New in the LMP2 class with a Gibson powered Oreca 07 is Duqueine Engineering.  After adding Norma to their Automotive division, they announced to move up a class so they wouldn' race agains their customers. Just 1 driver confirmed so far for the #29 is Frencham Marvin Klein.  Another new team is Spanish Racing Engineering, here also only 1 driver on the provisional entry list: Norman Nato. 

Algarve Pro Racing will run an Oreca as second car under the flag of Rebellion Racing, as a junior team for the Swiss outfit.  With a driver line-up consisting of Harrison Newey, Thomas Laurent and presumably Richard Bradley doesn't seem that "junior" though.  Running the Rebellion Oreca 07 also means APR will stage 2 different cars on the grid, as their own entry is a Ligier JSP217. Mark Patterson who drove for United Autosports in LMP3 last year and Ate De Jong are the first drivers confirmed for the Ligier. 

Ligier will have 6 cars on the grid, entered by 5 different teams. Championship challengers United Autosports add a second Ligier in the LMP2 class this year.  The #2 will be driven by Philip Hanson & Filipe Albuquerque while William Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer will be in the #32 again.

IDEC Sport already announced moving up to two cars last December, and will have two Ligiers on the grid.  The French team leaving no doubt about their ambitions this year with Nicolas Minassian joining the team as racing director and Paul Loup Chatin as lead driver.  Chatin will share the #28 Ligier with Paul Lafargue, Patrice Lafargue will be in the #27. 

Panis-Barthez Competition focuses on the LMP2 class this season with their #23 Ligier for Timothé Buret. Fabien Barthez is also expected for driving duties again, the identity of the third driver still unknown. The team won't enter a car in the LMP3 class this season.

4 Dallara's will race in the ELMS this season, 3 teams returning after last season and the addition of 1 new car.  SMP Racing, who won the 4 Hours of Le Castellet last season return with the #35 Dallara P217, one driver confirmed so far: Victor Shaitar.  Other returnees are Italians Cetilar Villorba Corse with the #47 Dallara driven by the same crew as last season: Roberto Lacorte, Giorgio Sernagiotto and Andrea Belicchi. Danish team High Class racing is also back in the LMP2 class with Dennis Andersen and Anders Fjordbach in the #49.  As reported earlier, Spanish team AVF by Adrian Valles joins the ELMS for the first time with the #30 Dallara driven by Konstantin Tereschenko and Henrique Chaves. 

The LMP3 class has 18 entries this season, of which 3 teams are new to the championship.  3 Norma's will face 15 Ligiers this season but with a few fast drivers in the Norma's, it's going to be an interesting season again. 

United Autosports leads the pack with 2 Ligiers JSP3's.  Americans John Falb and Sean Rayhall return to defend their title and will be joined by Anthony Wells and Matthew Bell in the #3 Ligier.  Other teams returning with the Ligier are Cool Racing with Alexandre Coigny, Iradj Alexander and Antonin Borga; BySpeed Factory (now C NEFIS by Speed Factory) and 360 Racing.  

The first new team, moving up from the Michelin Le Mans Cup is British Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen, bringing another Ligier to the championship. The #7 will be driven by Colin Noble, Alex Kapadia and Christian Stubbe Olsen. Last years Michelin Le Mans Cup champions DKR Engineering also step up to the ELMS with their fast and reliable Norma M30. Jean Glorieux and Alexander Toril will on driving duties again.  Two new teams, but two teams to watch out for in the new season !  The third newcomer is British BHK Motorsport with another Ligier JSP3, Francesco Dracone and Jacopo Baratto are announced as their drivers. 

AT Racing is set for its second season in prototype racing, so far with father and son Talkanitsa confirmed in the #9. The colourful Oregon Team Norma will also be back on the grid with Andres Mendez.  Eurointernational fields two cars again, the #11 for the returning Ricky Capo and prototype debutant Kay Van Berlo; the #12 for Andrea Dromedari and Maxwell Hanratty.  Inter Europol will also be on the grid with two Ligiers, expanding their effort in the championship. The #13 will be driven by Jakub Smiechowski and Martin Hippe again, the new #13 is manned by Paul Scheusner and Hendrik Still. 

RLR Msport has a new line-up in their #15 Ligier since Kapadia moved over to Ecurie Ecosse. John Farano, Rob Van Uitert and Robert Garofall will be driving for the team this season. Ultimate returns with Mathieu & Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and François Heriau in their red/white #17 Ligier.  Yvan Müller's M Racing-YMR is the final team in the LMP3 class, and will race with last years cars again: the #18 Ligier JSP3 for Laurent Millara and Nathan Bihel and the #19 Norma for Nicolas Ferrer. 

The GTE Class will be a battle Porsche vs Ferrari this season.  6 cars will be on the grid, equally divided between Porsche and Ferrari.  No Aston Martins this season in the ELMS, TF Sport moving up to the FIA WEC and Beechdean seem to focus on British GT (or will they step up to the WEC too ?). 

JMW Motorsport is back after clinching the 2017 title and leads the Ferrari entries with the #66 F488 GTE. Only one driver is confirmed so far: Liam Griffin.  Also back in 2018 is Duncan Cameron with his Spirit of Race Ferrari, sharing his car again with Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott like last year.  The third Ferrari sees Tracy Krohn returning to the championship after being absent for a year.  Krohn Racing raced with a Ligier in LMP2 back in 2016 but now gets back in a Ferrari in the GTE class. Tracy Krohn will be joined by Niclass Jonsson and Andrea Bertolini. 

Proton Competition will race with 2 new - not to be called mid-engined - Porsche 911 RSR's. The #77 has Matteo Cairoli listed as designated driver, the #88 sees Matt Campell on the entry list so far.  The third Porsche is for Italian Ebimotors, the 2017 Michelin Le Mans Cup champions. For their step up to the ELMS, the team switched their Lamborghini for a Porsche, with Fabio Babini behind the wheel. 

Download the 2018 entry list here !!

Kristof Vermeulen.