Thursday 12 April 2018

ELMS: A stunning 45 car grid for the opening round of the 2018 European Le Mans Series

The 2018 European Le Mans Series starts today with the first free practice session for the 4 Hours of Le Castellet opening race on Sunday.  An impressive 45 car grid has arrived in the south of France for what promises to be the best season ever in the European championship.

The LMP2 class will feature the biggest grid we've ever seen in the championship's history with not less than 19 cars, even outnumbering the LMP3 class ! There's the 17 (!!) full season entries, with 2 additional WEC teams adding the race at Le Castellet to their schedule: Signatech Alpine and TDS Racing. 

Lots of familiar faces and teams in the LMP2 paddock, but also a few noteable newcomers.  The #30 Dallara of Spanish team AVF by Adrian Valles already showed its pace at the prologue, topping the timesheets in one of the sessions.  Another new team in the championship is Racing Engineering, also from Spain but entering an Oreca 07.  Duqueine Engineering is moving up info LMP2 after acquiering Norma at the end of last year.  

Teams expanding their efforts are United Autosports (2 Ligier JSP217's), IDEC Sport (1 Ligier & 1 Oreca 07) and Algarve Pro Racing who will also run 2 different cars: their own Ligier and an Oreca for Rebellion Racing. Roman Rusinov returns with a 2 car effort with his G-Drive team, instead of racing one car in both the FIA WEC and the ELMS as they did last year.  The #26 Oreca will be run by TDS Racing, the #40 by Graff.  SMP Racing holds on to its LMP2 program next to their LMP1's in the FIA WEC. 

Nico Lapierre won't be driving the Signatech Alpine this weekend, as he will be in the #21 Dragonspeed in which he races the full season in the championship.  The TDS Oreca will be driven by its WEC driver line-up, althoug Loic Duval won't be at the track before Saturday.  Another driver missing is Filipe Albuquerque in the #22 United Autosports as he will be racing in the USA this weekend.  He will be replaced by Bruno Senna. 

18 cars will feature on the grid of the LMP3 class this weekend. 

Sean Rayhall and John Falb return with their #2 United Autosports Ligier to defend their 2017 title.  Ecurie Ecosse Nielsen and BHK Motorsport are new in the European Le Mans Series, both debuting with a Ligier JSP3.  A noteable change is Ultimate who have traded in their Ligier for a new Norma M30.  It will be interesting to see how their results will evolve after racing at the top in several races last season. Inter Europol Competition is expanding its efforts this year with a second Ligier. 

LMP3 might be the class where the youngsters will shine this season.  During the prologue both Dutch drivers Kay Van Berlo (#11 Eurointernational) and Job Van Uitert (#15 RLR Msport) have shown their speed, finishing in or near the top 3 on a few occasions.  Another young talent to look forward to is Swiss driver Lucas Légeret who moved from Duqueine Engineering to M Racing-YMR in the #19 Norma M30. 

A bit of controversy is going on around the #8 DKR Engineering Norma which has won last season's Michelin Le Mans Cup title with Jean Glorieux and Alexander Toril. Joining them this season is Toril's brother   who is also a silver qualified driver. As at least one bronze driver is requiered in the LMP3 class, it's still an open question if the ACO will hold on to the waiver they gave to the team to race with these three drivers for the remainder of the season.

As in LMP2, there's 2 additional cars in the GTE class who usually race in the FIA World Endurance Championship: the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci and the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche of Michael Wainwright, Alexander Davidson and Benjamin Barker. 

All 6 full season entries will be at the start of the first practice session today despite the first session of the official test this week took out the #77 Proton 911 RSR and the #80 Ebimotors.  Both cars are being replaced by Proton Competition's WEC entered machinery.  

Action on track will start today with the first 90 minute practice session at 11h15.  The traditional Bronze driver collective test will be held at 16h35. 

Useful links: 

Kristof Vermeulen.