Monday 29 April 2019

FIA WEC: 34 cars to race at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps this weekend

The FIA World Endurance championship returns to the iconic Spa-Francorchamps this weekend for the penultimate round of the 2018/2019 super season ahead of the big finale in Le Mans.  While Toyota in LMP1 and Porsche in GTE Pro are miles away from the competition in the championship, LMP2 and LMGTE Am still have all to play for.

The weather forecast for Francorchamps looks very interesting to say the least.  While we had sunny weather and warm temperatures in the past years, 2019 might be the one race with some real “Spa-weather”.  Temperatures in the Ardennes are dropping down as from Thursday on with (heavy) rain predicted, (almost) freezing temps at night and even a hint for snow on Saturday.

Toyota arrives in Spa, one of their home tracks with the factory based in Cologne, leading both the drivers and manufacturers championship with the TS050 Hybrid.  The TS050 will be equipped in the team’s new low downforce spec, which has been tested recently in a 4.000 km test at Paul Ricard. 

With 151 points after 6 races, Toyota can secure the teams championship this weekend in Spa. They have an advantage over Rebellion Racing of 53 points (98) and 80 points over SMP Racing (71). In the driver’s championship Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alsono are in the lead with 135 points; 15 points more than Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota. Gustavo Menezes and Thomas Laurent (Rebellion #3) are in third position with 81 points, followed by Mathias Beche with 73 points and André Lotterer & Neel Jani with 63 points. 

For the first time this season, the non-hybrid LMP1 cars will have no restriction in the amount of fuel energy they are allowed to use per lap. This means they will no longer have to lift and coast on the long high speed sections at Spa and finally are allowed to race flat out. Whether this will be the case at Le Mans too is still unclear at this moment.  The Rebellion, ByKolles and Dragonspeed however did get a weight increase.  Their minimum weight now up to 824 kg instead of 818 kg.  

At Rebellion, Andre Lotterer takes his seat back in the #1 R13 after missing out the last race in Sebring due to his Formula E commitments.  Both Rebellions are expected to be racing in their new low drag body kit which has been tested in Aragon last week.  James Allen will race the #10 Dragonspeed BR1 instead of Renger Van Der Zande. Allen had a strong performance with the team at Le Castellet, winning the opening race of the ELMS 2 weeks ago with Hedman and Hanley in the Dragonspeed LMP2. (Update: The #10 Dragonspeed entry will not race this weekend at Spa.  The team have not been able to acquire  the electronics that needed fixing after their DNF at Sebring.)

A big driver change in the #11 SMP Racing BR1, where Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne will make his sportscar debut at Spa this weekend.  Even more, it’s only the second time the former F1 driver will race a closed cockpit car in his career.  Vandoorne, who now races in the Formula E championship, will take Jenson Button’s place in Spa and at Le Mans, racing together with Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. 

ByKolles will race its Enso CLM P1/01 for the first time with the Gibson engine after sitting out the 1000 miles of Sebring in March. Tom Dillman and Oliver Webb return to the Austrian team, and will be joined by Italian driver Paolo Ruberti.  Ruberti will make his debut in the LMP1 class, and returns to the FIA WEC after racing with the Larbre Corvette in 2016. 

The race for the title in LMP2 seems to be the one that will go down to the wire.  With the top 3 cars only separated by 7 points, all is still to play for between Jackie Chan DC Racing and Signatech Alpine Matmut.

Jackie Chan DC Racing has both of his cars in the top 3, separated by the Signatech Alpine Matmut.  The #37 Jackie Chan Oreca 07 leads the championship after rather win in Sebring with a completely new driver line-up.  With 130 points after 6 races, the Jota run Oreca has an advantage of just 5 points over the #36 Signatec Alpine.  The second Jackie Chan Oreca (#38) follows closely with 123 points. Best of the rest is the #31 Dragonspeed, which has collected 92 points so far. 

Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet are leading the drivers championship with 125 points, 2 points more than the #38 crew of Gabriel Aubry, Ho-Pin Tung and Stéphane Richelmi. The former drivers of the #37 Oreca are still in third place but won’t race anymore, so third place in the championship is basically for Pastor Maldonado and Roberto Gonzalez in the #31 Dragonspeed with 92 points. 

G-Drive is using the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps as their annual prep for Le Mans by with the recently rebadged Aurus 01 (Oreca) for the first time in the FIA WEC.  Roman Rusinov will share the car with Job Van Uitert and Jean-Eric Vergne, the latter one missing out the ELMS Le Castellet race due to a clash with Formula E in Rome.  After winning the race in 2017 and 2018, Rusinov & co will certainly be out for a third win in a row. 

Norman Nato, who took pole position for G-Drive at Le Castellet earlier this month, will now race with TDS Racing where he will replace Loic Duval.  Duval is tied with the DTM race at Hockenheim next weekend, but will be back with the team for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Nicholas Boulle has been added to the #50 Larbre Competition Ligier JSP217.  He will join team regulars Erwin Creed and Romano Ricci in Spa.  Boulle is no stranger to LMP2 racing as he raced at Le Mans with Jackie Chan DC Racing last year, finishing 8th in the LMP2 class with David Cheng and Pierre Nicolet.  The American driver already ha some experience in Spa after finishing third in last year’s Spa 24 hours in the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari. 

Contrary to Sebring and Spa last year, all cars in LM GTE Pro will be driven by the team’s regular WEC drivers.  In other years, Spa was the ideal race for most teams to have their Le Mans line-up in the cars.  No driver changes to be noted, but an important change in the sporting regulations. As per decision by the FIA Endurance Committee, all Pro cars must be equipped with a homologated “Fuel Flow Meter”, starting at the Le Mans test day.  A decision that has been made with unanimous agreement of all LMGTE Pro manufacturers and the approval of the Endurance Commission.  So far the Fuel flow meter will only be used to collect data and won’t have any effect on the regulations or a restriction of the fuel flow as in LMP1.

After 6 of the 8 races in the Super Season, Porsche has built up a massive lead in the championship over the other manufacturers.  With a total of 227 points, Porsche leads Ferrari with 110 points.  A lead that big so the team from Stuttgart might be able to clinch the title even before the last race at Le Mans.  The battle for second place will be very intense though with just 2 points between Ferrari (127) and Ford (125).  Aston Martin isn’t far behind with 102 points so far, followed by BMW who have scored 87 points over the first six races of the season. 

Porsche also dominates the drivers championship, with Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen leading with 125 points.  Sebring winners Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz are in second place, with a total of 100 points.  Third place is for Ferrari drivers Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado with 80,5 points, followed by Ford drivers Olivier Pla and Stefan Mücke with 69 points so far.

Team Project 1 leads the GTE Am championship with a total of 103 points after 6 races.  Egidio Perfetti, Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey have an advantage of 25 points over the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Giancarlo Fisichella who have a total of 78 points so far.  9 points further down is the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda with 69 points, with the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin right in their tail with 68 points. If Project 1 manages to win this race in Spa, they might take a big step to the WEC title in their first season in the championship. 

Two notable driver changes in the Am class, in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche and the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin.  Julien Andlauer won’t be able to make it to Spa due to his commitments in the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland in Hockenheim.  He will be replaced in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR by Ricardo Pera who joins team owner Christian Ried and Matt Campbell .  Pera who races with Ebimotors in the European Le Mans Series already drove the #88 sister car during the 6 hours of Shanghai with Matteo Cairoli and Khaled Al Qubaisi.

Euan Hankey makes his return to the #90 Aston Martin Vantage of TF Sport alongside Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood. Since Silverstone last year, Jonny Adam raced the blue Vantage, but will now be replaced by Hanley who returns to the team for the first time since Le Mans 2018.

Track action in Belgium starts on Thursday with the first two 90-minute practice sessions.  Race start is scheduled for Saturday, March 3rd at 13h30.  If you’re heading to the track, bring your snowboots and winter jackets, they might come in handy this year. 

Kristof Vermeulen.
Pictures: Kristof Vermeulen, Erik Junius & Jellybaby.Media

Tuesday 23 April 2019

MLMC/Le Mans: 50 cars on the grid for the 2019 Road to Le Mans race

Curtain-raiser to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the third round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup, the 2019 Road to Le Mans boasts an impressive 50-car grid of 17 GT3s and 33 LMP3s, including 34 cars from the Michelin Le Mans Cup, 12 cars from the European Le Mans Series and participants from the Asian Le Mans Series and the FIA World Endurance Championship. 

The glittering GT3 cast comprises Mercedes, Ferrari, Bentley, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Porsche, with Ligier and Norma in LMP3. Managed by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and its event organisation branch Le Mans Endurance Management, the Michelin Le Mans Cup is a series for both GT3s and LMP3s run alongside the European Le Mans Series at Le Castellet, Monza, Barcelona, Spa and Portimão stages. 

Racing often runs in the family and Road to Le Mans welcomes Yann Ehrlacher, son of Cathy Muller and nephew of Yvan Muller, Freddie Hunt, son of 1976 Formula One world champion James Hunt, two drivers that will represent Frédéric Sausset’s team and finally Jan Lammers, who celebrated his 24th Le Mans 24 Hours last year and who took part to the first edition of Road To Le Mans in 2016. 

Road to Le Mans takes he form of two 55-minute races on the Thursday and Saturday immediately before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking advantage of the same 13.626-kilometre circuit as the 62 competitors in the top-of-the-bill race that takes place over the weekend of 15-16 June. The support race lives up to its name, with many would-be 24-hour drivers revelling in the chance to drive on the legendary circuit cheered on by its world-famous crowds. They are right to dream of greater things: French driver Thomas Laurent won Road to Le Mans in 2016 and has taken up residence on the 24 Hours of Le Mans podium ever since.

The Road to Le Mans entry list automatically includes full-season Michelin Le Mans Cup participants and the selection committee extends invitations to other deserving teams with priority given to endurance series competitors such as the European Le Mans Series, the Asian Le Mans Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. 

Friday 19 April 2019

FIAWEC: Stoffel Vandoorne to race with SMP Racing at Spa and Le Mans

SMP Racing has announced Stoffel Vandoorne as their third driver in the #11 BR1 prototype for the upcoming 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Stoffel Vandoorne will replace Brendon Hartley, who was initially announced for Spa, and Jenson Button, who was believed to be back in the BR1 at Le Mans.  He will join Mikhail Aleshin and Vitalky Petrov in the #11 BR1.  Rumours are going round about Hartley getting a drive at Toyota next year if Alonso leaves the team, at Le Mans he is already tied to RLR Msport in the LMP2 class.  Hartley agreed to give way to Vandoorne in order to let him and the team be better prepared for the 24 hours race in June.   

The talented Belgian driver won the GP2 title in 2015 before racing with McLaren in Formula for 2 seasons from 2017 to 2018 besides Fernando Alonso. Vandoorne now races in the Formula E championship with HWA Racelab and is one of the simulator drivers for the Mercedes FA team, scoring his and the teams' first pole position in the series in Hong Kong and his first podium in Rome last weekend.

Stoffel Vandoorne said: “I am very pleased to join SMP Racing and drive the BR1 №11 prototype in my home race in Spa-Francorchamps and in the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. The LMP1 cars are really demanding and their performances are very close to Formula 1. I will have the opportunity to re-join ART Grand Prix and a lot of people that I’ve been working with during my succesful campaign in GP2. Also, it´s great to work alongside such experienced drivers as Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. My objective is to contribute to the Team’s performance and work in collaboration with all drivers to develop the BR1 prototype and to make a good impression.”

SMP Racing driver Vitaly Petrov said: “I understand the decision of Jenson and I wish him and his family all the best. Our SMP Racing Team now needs a driver who will be able to successfully drive in the final two rounds of the FIA WEC and I'm happy that Stoffel has joined us. The race in Spa-Francorchamps will help him to get used to the championship and to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I hope he will adapt quickly and we will support him along the way”

SMP Racing driver Mikhail Aleshin also commented: “I welcome Stoffel to our team. He is a professional of the highest class and has a good experience, including in Formula 1, where he drove for the McLaren Team. It is great that Stoffel will spend with us several races. We thank Brendon who helped our team to finish on the podium at Sebring. Brendon drove perfectly and his input into the work on the BR1 was very valuable”

There are more changes due in the entry list for the upcoming 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.  More about that in an upcoming article next week. 

Kristof Vermeulen. 

Thursday 18 April 2019

ELMS: Dragonspeed wins 4 Hours of Le Castellet

The opening race of the 2019 European Le Mans Series gave us 4 hours of uninterrupted racing under sunny French skies and more than a few interesting battles over all three classes.  Dragonspeed scored their first overall win since Spa 2016 in the LMP2 class, while Ultimate scored their first ever win in the LMP3 class.  In LMGTE it were the series debutants who took the top 2 spots of the podium with the Luzich Racing Ferrari on top, followed by the all female Kessel Racing Ferrari.

Roman Rusinov started from pole in the #26 Aurus G-Drive with Paul Lafargue in the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca and James Allen in the #21 G-Drive close behind him.  Allen had a flying start and went on from fifth to third in the first round before taking over the lead from Rusinov in lap 10.  It took Allen only 5 laps to ease away from the competition, building his lead already up to 20 seconds in lap 15. 

Rusinov dropped back to fifth place in his first stint, while Andrea Pizzitola stormed through the field from P12 to P2 in his #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca 07.  Behind him, Paul Lafargue held on to third place, followed by another Oreca, the #30 Duqueine Engineering of Pierre Ragues.  Ragues moved ahead of Lafargue and Pizzitola and after nearly 20 laps into the race, he got into second place, although 24 seconds behind Allen in the leading Dragonspeed. 

Henrik Hedman took over the leading car in the first round of pitstops but saw his lead over Ragues, who stayed in the car, dropping down quickly before Ragues took over the lead.  Hedman was up against some of the quickest drivers of the field, dropped back a bit in the order but managed to hold on to sixth place before handing the car back over to James Allen at the second stop. Meanwhile Job Van Uitert was in the G-Drive Aurus, making up lost time caused by a tyre problem Rusinov had in his first stint.

After the third round of pitstops, all was still to play for in the LMP2 class. Nicolas Jamin still lead the pack in the #30 Duqueine but had Ben Hanley now behind him in the Dragonspeed, who was in a different pitstop strategy.  When Jamin had to stop for fuel, Hanley got in the lead with a margin of 46 seconds on the #28 IDEC Sport of Paul Loup Chatin with Norma Nato in the G-Drive right on his tail. 

Hanley held on to the lead and scored the team’s first victory since Spa 2016. Chatin crossed the line in second place 16 seconds later with a comfortable margin over Richard Bradley in the Duqueine Engineering who went past Nato in the closing stages of the race.  Behind the leading pack, the #22 United Autosports Ligier was the first non-Oreca at the finish in sixth place, one lap down from Hanley & co. 

French team Ultimate scored their first victory in the series with their #17 Norma M30 LMP3 after 4 years thanks to a late race challenge over the #11 Eurointernational.  Mikkel Jensen went on from fifth on the grid to first in the opening lap, holding off Lucas Legeret in the #19 M.Racing Norma and Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in the #17 Ultimate. David Droux in the #9 Realteam Norma also had a strong opening stint, moving up to second place tailgating Jensen in the Eurointernational Ligier, but unable to take over the lead. 

The top 2 remained the same after the first round of stops with Jensen still in front of Droux.  Damiano Fiorivanti who had been quick all week and set Saturday’s pole time now was in the #10 Oregon Norma and up to third place right behind Droux.  The two battled for several laps until Fiorivanti was cut off by the #39 Oreca who went into pitlane and sent the Italian into a spin. Luckily without any damage, but Fiorivanti lost precious time to the leading 2 cars. 

Jens Petersen took over the #11 Eurointernational but was chased by the more experienced Matthieu Lahaye in the #17 Ultimate Norma who quietly got up into the order after the second round of stops. Lahaye quickly caught up with Peterson, passed him and never looked back.  By the end of the race the French team had a gap of 1 lap over the rest of the field. Petersen managed to hold on to second place and a well deserved podium finish, despite being under pressure from Nigel Moore in the #13 Inter Europol Ligier who drove an impressive final stint from sixth to second.   The #10 Oregon and #7 Nielsen Racing Norma’s completed the top 5 of an exciting race in the LMP3 class.  

In LMGTE it was ELMS debutants Luzich Racing who took the honours after dominating the race from start to finish. Fabien Lavergne got into the lead in the opening lap, passing the #77 Dempsey-Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Ried. The Frenchman stormed away from the rest of the field giving himself a comfortable lead. Behind him, Egidio Perfetti in the #56 Team Project 1 passed Ried and Felbermayr in the second Proton Porsche up to second place. By the end of the first stint, Wei Lu got up to the front in the #66 JMW Ferrari in third position. 

By the end of the second stint, Lavergne had a gap of about a minute when he handed over the #51 Ferrari to Nicklas Nielsen. The second round of pitstop shook up the order quite significantly, with Rahel Frey now in second place in the #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari after passing Christian Ried in the #77 Porsche. Frey had a scare when she clipped the #8 Nielsen LMP3 into a spin but got away with a warning flag before she turned the car over to Michelle Gatting. 

© ELMS/ Jakob Ebrey-JEP

Alessandro Pier Guidi ran the final sting in the #51 Luzich Ferrari, bringing the car home with a one lap lead over Michelle Gatting in the #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari. 12 seconds behind her, Matteo Cairoli finished third in the #77 Dempsey-Proton after a late pass over the #66 JMW Ferrari. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari completed the top 5. 

The second round of the 2019 European Le Mans Series is scheduled for Sunday May 12th at  the Italian temple of speed in Monza. 

 Kristof Vermeulen.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

MLMC: Lanan Racing wins incidentful opening race of the season

The Michelin Le Mans Cup season kicked off last Saturday in a grand style, filled with scrappy but great battles, incidents, safety cars, full course yellows and a raft of penalties applied!

In a race that was dominated by the speed of the Norma M30’s Duncan Tappy and Mike Benham in the #25 Lanan Racing Norma took the chequered flag for the win winners, the British duo keeping out of trouble after a penalty for the #3 DKR Norma pushed them into the lead late in the race. With the Lanan car on the top step the next seven places all went to the Norma M30 chassis, the first Ligier being the #24 United Autosports car of Boyd and Husain in ninth place.

Second on track was the #9 GRAFF Norma, however a 35 second post-race penalty for not reducing its speed to 80kph under FCY dropped them to fifth overall. The car was in contention throughout and led the race in the second half, before Tappy made a bold move up the inside past Eric Trouillet into Signes corner for second place. The #39 sister car which originally finished fourth received the same penalty dropping it to sixth overall. The two Graff penalties pushed the #3 DKR Engineering Norma of Kirmann and Horr to an eventual second place.

Fifth on the road was the #2 Nielsen Racing Norma of Tony Wells and Colin Noble 12 seconds behind the leader. Despite taking advantage of the two safety car periods Noble was unable claim a podium on a race result only but posthumously got to taste the champagne for third following the Graff penalties.

The first safety car period came after John Schauerman lost control of the #4 Cool Racing Ligier at the final corner, which sent him flying backwards into the inside armco hard. The second SC period came shortly after the race restarted, following contact between the #5 DKR Norma and #12 Eurointernational Ligier of Jean-Marc Littman at the same corner, ending Littman’s race and earning the DKR car a penalty. Penalties were handed out across the board for all sorts of infractions, including a 12 cars that had to head to the pits for two-minute stop and go for passing through a red light in pit lane resulting in a massive shake-up of the final positions. Finally, a Full Course Yellow (FCY) was thrown due to the RLR Msport Ligier of Tom Olsen hitting the barriers at the exit of Signes hard ending the team’s race.  

In the GT3 class the #8 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 of Sergio Pianezzola and Giacomo Piccini won with an enormous lead after the Luzich Racing Ferrari was one of the cars handed a two-minute penalty for jumping the pitlane red light. However, the #8 were handed a penalty for a drive time infringement in the final minutes but their lead was so big that even after serving it, they finished over a minute ahead.

The #54 SPS Automotive Mercedes crossed the line second, benefitting from the penalties and various dramas in the class, ahead of the Luzich car which salvaged third. Two cars had late-race issues, the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari, which suffered a puncture and eventually fell to seventh and the #7 Scuderia Villorba Corse Mercedes which lost a wheel in the closing laps and retired from fifth.  The Krypton Mercedes also promised a strong result but an early collision with the BHK Ligier damaged its front-end terminally meaning #83 SVC Lamborghini finished fourth and the #99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage took fifth.

John Stevens

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Record breaking 62 car grid for Le Mans: High Class Racing and United Autosports receive extra invite

The 87th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the finale of the FIA World Endurance Championship will have a record breaking grid of 62 cars on June 15th.  The Automobile Club de l’guest announced the expansion of the grid today, and confirmed High Class Racing and United Autosports as the 2 extra invitees for the 24 hour race. 

To accommodate the extra cars, the pitlane will be extended with 2 temporary garages. They will be set up next to the first ones, towards the entrance of pit lane, inbetween the module sportif (tower) and the first 2 pitboxes (which were used by Toyota in the past years). Work on extending the pitlane began several weeks ago, in time for the test day on June 2nd. 
The 13.626-kilometre track will therefore welcome a record 62 competitors on 15 June. Since 2016, a maximum of 60 garages accommodated the teams. 

Pierre Fillion, President of the ACO said: “In February, the selection committee faced a harder task than it has in many years. There were 75 applications – all of a high standard – and it was particularly difficult to choose 60, only 60 of them should I say. We quickly came to the conclusion that we had to find a way of accepting additional competitors, and our crews confirmed the feasibility of adding two garages to pit lane. We knuckled down and are overjoyed to be able to accept 62 entrants for the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s a record number and a sign that this race is as popular as ever.”

For High Class Racing, this will be their first appearance at Le Mans, after missing out an invite in the past 2 years. The Danish team is now in its third year in the European Le Mans Series, and switched from the Dallara P217 to the Oreca 07 this session.  Anders Fjordbach and Dennis Andersen will drive the car with the third driver still to be announced. 

“It’s a huge surprise to be granted an entry to the 2019 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours,” said Anders Fjordbach, who was a reserve driver for SMP Racing the past two years at Le Mans. While it was originally disappointing to be turned down for a second year running when the first list came out, we understood the ACO’s decision and remained patient, expecting to have a greater chance in 2020."

“However, this new plan by the ACO has given us the chance to make our debut in the race this year, and race as part of a record-breaking 62-car entry at the event with our new ORECA 07 Gibson. Although there isn’t much time to plan our trip to France in June, we will be working extremely hard over the coming weeks to ensure we are ready and have the best chance of scoring a strong result in our first attempt. It’s been a dream for us, long-term, to race as a Danish team at the Le Mans 24 Hours, and add to our country’s ever-growing heritage at the race. We thank the ACO for its support in this process and can’t wait to hit the track at Le Mans in two months time.”

United Autosports wasn’t too happy after the release of the initial entry list for this year’s Le Mans.  Despite the teams’ wlarge involvement in the ELMS, Michelin Le Mans Cup and Asian Le Mans Series, only the auto invite they received by winning the Asian Le Mans Series was granted to the American team.  With the addition of two extra entries, United Autosports now gained a second invite in the LMP2 class.

ELMS regulars Ryan Cullen and Alex Brundle will be joined by a third driver who is still to be confirmed. They will join Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta as part of the team’s two driver line ups. Alex Brundle has raced at Le Mans five times, finishing on the podium in both 2013 and 2017, while this year marks Ryan Cullen’s Le Mans 24 Hours debut. 

Zak Brown, Team Owner and Chairman, United Autosports said: “I’m really pleased United have been given a second entry into the Le Mans 24 Hours. It’s the greatest race in the world and to have a two-car entry for the second year running is fantastic.”
Richard Dean, Team Owner and Managing Director, United Autosports: “The ACO have worked hard to make this happen and we are very pleased for United to have both our Ligier JS P217s in the race. Hopefully we can get another great result like we did last year – or even go two spots better.”

5 teams remain on the reserve list for the 24 Hours: 
- Eurasia Motorsport - Ligier JSP217 (LMP2)
- Panis Barthez Competition - Ligier JSP217 (LMP2)
- IDEC Sport - Ligier JSP217 (LMP2)
- Team Project 1 - Porsche 911 RSR (LMGTE AM)
- TF Sport - Aston Martin Vantage (LMGTE Am)

Kristof Vermeulen. 

Saturday 13 April 2019

ELMS: Norman Nato and G-Drive on pole for the first race of the season

Defending Champions G-Drive Racing will start in pole position for tomorrows 4 Horus of Le Castellet after a thrilling end of the 15 minute qualifying session.  Last year's race winner Norman Nato put the #26 G-Drive Aurus 01 on pole just ahead of Paul Loup Chatin in the #28 IDEC Sport. 

With another lap record for the LMP2 class, the third one this week and the second one today, the Frenchman secured pole position in 1.40.052, just 25 thousands of a second faster than Paul Loup Chatin in the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca.  What better way to start the season with a pole position in the first race for the re-badged Aurus 01 ?  A top result too for Nato who replaces Jean-Eric Vergne who is racing in Formula E this weekend. 

Paul Loup Chatin secured the second spot on the front row of the grid, ahead of Alex Brundle who had a very strong outing in the #32 United Autosports Ligier, splitting up the top 4 Oreca’s.  His best laptime of 1.40.293 was 0.241 second off Nato’s pole time, but a big improvement from the times the Ligiers set earlier this week(end). Rounding out the top 5 were Nico Lapierre in the #37 Cool Racing Oreca and Ben Hanley in the #21 Dragonspeed. 

In LMP3, Oregon Team secured their first ever pole position in the championship thanks to Damiani Fioravanti who has been quick all week here at Paul Ricard.  After a session which saw several drivers on top of the timetable, the Italian took pole position in his final lap with a 1.49.686.  Matthieu Lahaye had been on provisional pole until the dying moments of the session in the #17 Ultimate Norma, but eventually lost out 0.128 seconds to Fioravanti.

In an ultimate effort at the end of the session, Lucas Légeret got up to third position in the #19 M.Racing Norma, despite being briefly held up a bit by another car. 

(Dempsey) Proton Competition seemed to be on its way to lock out the front row with Thomas Preining in the #88 ahead of Matteo Cairoli in the #77 Porsche 911 RSR.  However, when Alessandro Pier Guidi dived 0.030 seconds under Preining’s  time in the final minute of the session it seemed like the experienced Italian would snatch the pole away from Porsche and hand it to Luzich Racing in their first race in the series.  

Matteo Cairoli did save the best for last though.  In his final lap, he went pushed his Porsche round the track in 1.52.499, shaving off an extra 0.273 seconds off Pier Guidi’s provisional pole time and giving Proton Competition its first pole of the season. 

The 4 Hours of Le Castellet will start at 12h30 tomorrow, and will be broadcasted live on the ELMS website and social media feeds.  

Kristof Vermeulen. 

ELMS: IDEC Sport and Dragonspeed set the pace in first practice sessions at Le Castellet

For the second time this week, the lap record at Circuit Paul Ricard was broken in the LMP2 class.  Monday night Anders Fjordbach set a new record in his #20 High Class Racing Oreca 07, this morning Paul Loup Chatin shaved another 0.068 seconds from his time to set the new record at 1.40.336 in the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca.  

Nico Lapierre was second fastest this morning in the #37 Cool Racing, just under half a second behind his fellow Frenchman. Ben Hanley - who set the quickest time yesterday - got himself into third place with a 1.41.227.  The Oreca’s dominated the LMP2 class again, while Paul Di Resta was the fastest of the Ligier drivers for the second time this weekend, putting his #22 United Autosports Ligier JSP2 on sixth place, 1.6 seconds off Chatin’s record lap. 

David Droux was the first driver to beat Damiani Fiorivanti in the LMP3 class since Monday evening.  Droux’ lap of 1.51.449 was just 0.051 seconds quicker than the Italian, but enough to put his #9 Realteam Norma on top of the list this morning.  Nigel Moore was third fastest in the #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier, breaking through yesterday’s domination of Norma in the class. 

The Proton Competition Porsches continued to set the pace in the GTE Class.  Thomas Preining in the #88 took the honours for the fastest lap in 1.53.473, holding off Matteo Cairoli in the #77 Porsche and Michelle Gatting in the #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari. 

Ben Hanley was the fastest man on track yesterday morning, the Englishman setting a time of 1.41.227 in the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca 07. Arjun Maini didn’t miss his debut in the LMP2 class, immediately putting the #43 RLR Msport Oreca on second place, 0.858 seconds behind Hanley.  Job Van Uitert obviously feels right at home in the LMP2 machinery, setting exactly the same time on the board as Maini in the #26 G-Drive Aurus 01. 

More Oreca’s followed with an impressive Antonin Borga setting the fourth time in the #37 Cool Racing, holding off new lap record holder Anders Fjordbach in the #20 High Class Racing Oreca 07. 

United Autosports took command of the Ligiers with Paul Di Resta in seventh position; 1.42.288 his best lap in the #22 Ligier JSP2. Leo Roussel was the second fastest Ligier driver with the #34 Inter Europol Competition in 10th place overall.  The sole Dallara on the grid of Jack Manchester, Olivier Pla and Ben Barnicoat only managed three outlaps yesterday morning, leaving the #45 Carlin on last place after the first practice session.

Norma was on top in the LMP3 class, with four Nissan powered M30’s quickest overall. Domiani Floravanti continued to impress in the #10 Oregon Team Norma with another fastest time in 1.50.592.  For Florivanti the fourth session in a row where he’s fastest since setting the lap record in an LMP3 car on Monday evening.  The Italian driver was 0.782 seconds faster than David Droux in the new #9 Realteam Norma, followed by Yann Ehrlacher and Lucas Legeret in the #19 M.Racing.  Both team mates within 0.16 seconds from each other which might give them a big advantage during the race on Sunday. Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in the #17 Ultimate Norma was fourth fastest on Friday morning. 

Best of the rest was Wayne Boyd in the #2 United Autosports Ligier with a best tome of 1.52.068, over 1.3 seconds off the pace of the quickest Norma. He was followed by Ross Kaiser, the only driver to go round in the #6 360 Racing and Colin Noble in another Norma, the #7 of Nielsen Racing. 

Contrary to the results of both test days, Porsche took the GTE class in hand yesterday with a clean sweep of the first three places. Proton Competition took the first two spots with Matteo Cairoli quickest in the #77 911 RSR (1.54.473), ahead of Thomas Preiling in the #88 sister car (+0.048). Jörg Bergmeister completed the top 3 for Porsche in the Team Project 1 Porsche (1.54.679). 

Aaron Scott in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari was the fastest non-Porsche driver, leading a pack of 3 Ferrari’s.  His best laptime of 1.55.332 was just under a second slower than Cairoli’s.  The #83 all female Kessel Ferrari and last year’s runner up JMW Motorsport 488 GTE rounded out the top six of the GTE Class. 

The Bronze driver test on Friday afternoon was run in wet conditions, but still saw 22 cars venturing out on track.  John Falb was quickest in the #25 Algarve Pro Oreca 07 in 2.02.588, with John Farano about 0.250 second behind him in the #43 RLR Msport Oreca.  Alexandre Coigny made it an Oreca top 3 in the #37 Cool Racing. 

Paul Scheusner set the pace in the LMP3 class with the #14 Inter Europol Ligier (2.08.349), followed by the youngster of the field, Gustas Grinbergas in the #10 Oregon Norma.   Fastest in GTE was WEC driver Egidio Perfetti in the Project 1 Porsche (2.10.786).

Thursday 11 April 2019

ELMS: 4 Hours of Barcelona will race into the night

The third round of the European Le Mans Championship at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona has been rescheduled to Saturday evening on the 20th of July into a night race.  The race will now start at 18.30h, with the chequered flag being waved four hours later after sundown.

A new format for the ELMS, and the first time the championship will race after sunset since the 4 Hours of Le Castellet back in 2013 wich finished at dusk.

Gérard Neveu, CEO of the European Le Mans Series, said: “The race in Barcelona is new for 2019 and we wanted to make this event more attractive for the Spanish fans and more comfortable for our teams.  The weather in July is hot, so moving the race to Saturday evening will be better for the fans and for the competitors, especially the drivers. 

“Having the race finishing after sunset will also make the 4 Hours of Barcelona unique on the ELMS calendar.  We are looking forward to come back to Barcelona after so many years.”

The 4 Hours of Barcelona event starts on Friday 19 July and now concludes on Saturday 20 July.  The event is Round 3 of the 2019 European Le Mans Series and Round 4 of the Michelin Le Mans Cup.

ELMS: Nico Lapierre & Cool Racing quickest on day 2 at Le Castellet

The ELMS official test ended Tuesday afternoon after a very busy end of the final session.  Where as the final hours of a 2 day test usually seem to be rather quiet, Tuesday was just the opposite. The final hour was a frantic one, with almost all cars venturing out on track.  

Nicolas Lapierre was the quickest man of the day, putting his #37 Cool Racing Oreca on top of each session. Unlike on Monday, the differences between the teams in LMP2 were much smaller yesterday. At the end of the morning session, the first 12 cars set their best laptimes within a second from eachother.  Lapierre's best effort of 1.41.179 was exactly 0.998 seconds faster than Filipe Albuquerque in the #22 United Autosports Ligier. Job Van Uitert seems to have adopted real fast to the speed of the LMP2 machinery, setting the second quickest time in the morning session, 0.120 seconds behind Lapierre in the #26 G-Drive Aurus. 

The afternoon session saw larger gaps between the LMP2 protypes. Ben Hanley (1.40.457) did nearly manage to beat Lapierre (1.40.432) in the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca but was 0.025 seconds short. Laptimes dropped further down in the afternoon, but the fastest of the weekend was Anders Fjordbach in the #20 Highclass Racing Oreca 07.  Fjordbach set a new lap record during Monday's night session, going round the 5,842 km track in 1.40.404 with an average speed of 207.6 km/h. The #35 BHK Oreca 07 eventually also made it out for its initiak roll-out, managing 19 laps but well off the pace of all other LMP2 cars.

More lap records were set Monday evening in the LMP3 class when Damiani Fioravanti set a 1.49.400 in the #10 Oregon Norma. Fiorevante kept leading the LMP3 class on Tuesday with his Norma, setting the fastest time in both sessions (1.49.887 and 1.50.184).  Colin Noble, who was a vast top 3 runner on Monday continued to perform strongly in another Norma: #7 Nielsen Racing,  with a third (morning) and second (afternoon) time.  Mikkel Jensen was quickest of the non Norma drivers again, climbing up to second in the final session of the day in his #11 Eurointernational Ligier JSP3.

In LMGTE the Ferrari's topped the timetable again with Claudio Schiavoni in the #60 Kessel Racing fastest in the morning session (1.53.977) and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the afternoon session with the #51 Luzich F488 GTE (1:53.603).  The official lap record in GTE was also broken on Monday evening by Andrea Piccini in the Kessel Ferrari with a 1.53.977.  The Ebimotors Porsche drove in both sessions on Tuesday Fabio Babini posting a 1.54.870 as best time over both sessions. 

Track action for the opening race of the season here in Le Castellet starts tomorrow morning at 11.05h with the first practice session and the Bronze driver collective test at 15.05h. 

Kristof Vermeulen.   

Tuesday 9 April 2019

ELMS: Recap of the first testday at Le Castellet

IDEC Sport, Cool Racing and High Class racing were the fastest cars on track yesterday during the ELMS first day of testing at Paul Ricard.   In the LMP3 class, the Norma's outpaced the Ligiers, while Ferrari was quickest in the LMGTE class in all three sessions. 


Oreca dominated the morning session, with 5 cars fastest after 4 hours running.  Paul Loup Chatin set the fastest time in the #28 IDEC Sport with a 1.40.747, beating his qualifying time he set last year for the 4 Hours of Le Castellet (1.41.194).  Nicolas Jamin was second fastest in the #30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca, just over a second slower than Chatin.  Bruno Senna in the #43 RLR Msport rounded out the top 3.  The first non Oreca car was the #22 United Autosports Ligier of Filipe Albuquerque in sixth place. 

Nico Lapierre put the #37 Cool Racing Oreca on top of the afternoon session in 1.40.725, slightly faster than Chatin. The #32 United Autosports Ligier now went up to second quickest with Ryan Cullen behind the wheel with Jean Eric Vergne in the G-Drive Aurus behind him in third. 


Where Oreca dominated the LMP2 class in the morning session, Norma did so in LMP3 all day long.  The #17 Ultimate Norma was as quick as they have been all season last year, Mathieu Lahaye on top of the morning session in 1:51.062, an improvement of almost a second of last year's pole time. Colin Noble in the #7 Nielsen Racing Norma M30 was right on Lahaye's heels, 9 thousands of a second slower than the Frenchman. David Droux in the #9 Realteam Racing was third fastest. 

Times dropped further down in the afternoon session, Mathie Lahaye improving down to a 1.50.240. Colin Noble in the #7 was second fastest again, but now just under 0.4 seconds behind the Ultimate.  The #10 Oregon Norma of Gustas Grinbergas moved up to third fastest by the end of the session.  Mikkel Jensen in the #11 Eurointernational Ligier was the fastest non-Norma driver in both sessions, his best time a 1.51.423 which put him on fourth place in the afternoon session. 


The Ferrari's were fastest in both 4 hours sessions yesterday, and it's the new teams in the championship who were in command.  Andrea Piccini put the #60 Kessel Racing 488 GTE on top in the first session with a 1:53.288.  He was followed by Nicklas Nielsen in the #51 Luzich Racing and Matteo Cressoni in the #66 JMW Ferrari. Just one Porsche made it to the track in the morning session, the #88 "Felbermayr" which ended up in P4. 

Luzich Racing claimed the top time in the afternoon session, again with Niclas Nielsen who set a time of 1.53.411.  Claudio Schiavone in the #60 Kessel Racing Ferrari was over half a second slower to finish in second place, followed by Manuela Gostner who put the all female #83 Ferrari in third place.  The shiny Project1 Porsche drove his first laps of the week and went up to fourth place with a 1.54.531 by Egidio Perfetti. 


The 2 hour "night session" ended yesterday's action on track at 21h.  Just 17 out of the 41 cars got out on track for the session into sunset.  Anders Fjordbach in the #20 High Class Racing was quickest of the 12 LMP2's who made it out on track Monday evening.  His laptime of 1.40.404 was just over a second faster than Arjun Marni in the #43 RLR Msport Oreca. Tristan Gommendy in the #39 Graff made it another top 3 for Oreca.  

Only five LMP3 cars came out of their pitbox last night.    None of the LMGTE contenders set a laptime in the nightsession. Damiani Fioravanti set the best time in his #10 Oregon Team Norma (1.49.5000), beating 4 Ligiers.  None of the contenders in LMGTE made it out of the pitlane in the evening.  

Two cars haven't been out on track in any of the three sessions yesterday: the BHK Motorsport Oreca 07 and the Ebimotors Porsche 911 RSR.

Track action resumes today with a four hour session in the morning and a three hour session in the afternoon.  Weather forecasts are changing daily around here, but with the track bathing in sunshine at this time, it seems like we'll have another dry day of testing ahead of us. 

Kristof Vermeulen.