The 35 cars in the European Le Mans Series delivered an awesome race at Spa Francorchamps, which held the fifth Round of this year’s championship.
The drama already happened in Turn One, where Leo Roussel in the G-Drive Racing #22 outbraked himself, and almost hit teammate Henrik Hedman in DragonSpeed #21. The #22 ran wide out of the first turn, and instead it was United Autosports #32 jumping into the lead ahead of Graff #39. By Speed Factory #5 had a solo spin in Turn 1, but Tim Müller was last anyway, so he wasn’t hit by anybody.
#22 made it into second position, while Mikkel Jensen in AT Racing #9 had fallen all the way back to third, before eventually going back into second.
TF Sport Aston Martin #90 received some damage on the front after being in contact with a competitor. Euan Hankey instantly lost speed and fell back though the GTE field. It was going to be a very long afternoon for them, running 10-15 seconds per lap slower than their GTE competitors.
Anders Fjordbach in the High Class Racing #49 had made a great start from P12, going all the way up to P7 within only a few laps.
Eurointernational #11 and 360 Racing #6 make contact with each other at Les Combes resulting in the #6 spinning. That gave a warning to #11.
Aaron Scott in Spirit of Race #55 took the lead in the GTE category from Joel Camathias in the Proton Competition #77, with a slightly late outbraking manouvre going into Turn One, and the two cars only missed each other by a few centimetres.
Eurointernational #11 and Panis Barthez Competition #16 had contact in the Bus Stop Chicane, after #11 suddenly changed the direction. That resulted in a Stop & Go penalty for #11.
There was a short Full Course Yellow to remove the debris from that contact, but it only lasted a few minutes.
Meanwhile, Panis Barthez Competition #23 had slowly risen to second position in the LMP2 category, while Graff #40 had made it into third..
Alex Kapadia in RLR MSport #15 and Sean Rayhall in United Autosports #2 had an amazing battle for 6th in the LMP3 category, while Morten Dons/John Farano and John Falb were watching from the pits.
Joel Camathias in Proton Competition #77 and Ross Gunn in Beechdean AMR #99 had a tough fight at the end of the straight, with #99 overtaking but making a small mistake so #77 could re-pass a few corners later. One lap later, the #99 made the move stick, in the battle for second in GTE.
One hour into the race we saw a Safety Car period. Algarve Pro Racing #25 with Andrea Roda had crashed heavily at Double Gauche, after going into the barrier at nearly unabated speed. He hit the tire wall sideways, making the car flip on its roof. Fortunately a shaken but otherwise perfectly fine driver could climb out of the car, with a bit of help from the marshals. It’s always a bit difficult getting out of a car upside down, requiring a very different technique than usually.
During this Safety Car period there was two drivers making a big mistake. Terrence Woodward in 360 Racing #6 and John Farano in RLR MSport #15 overtook the Safety Car. Both teams got a 2 minutes and 20 seconds Stop & Go penalty each. That send both out well behind the podium positions in LMP3.
AT Racing #9 had made it back into the lead of LMP3, but made a mistake during their pitstop, where they refueled the car with engine on. That resulted in a Stop & Go penalty.
After 25 minutes behind the Safety Car, the field was released again. But it didn’t last long until the next SC. Proton Competition #77 was hit by the By Speed Factory #5, with #77 going deep into the gravel, with a lot of damage to the rear of the car. #5 had to retire on the spot, while #77 could drive slowly back to the pits. 50 minutes of repair time later, they were able to rejoin the race but as dead last car in GTE. Christian Ried from #77 didn’t have many praises for the LMP3 driver in an interview with TV following the incident.
That gave a total of 20 minutes SC before the track was cleared from gravel again.
The restart had a small incident again when Eurointernational #12 spun at the end of the Kemmel Straight following contact with M.Racing – YMR #19.
Shortly thereafter there was a pile up in the Bus Stop Chicane with Duqueine Engineering #8 spinning, joined by Panis Barthez Competition #16 and RLR MSport #15 also spinning. All cars did it all by themselves without contact, but within a few seconds of each other.
Halfway through the race we had Graff #40 leading United Autosports #32 and Panis Barthez Competition #23. In the LMP3 category, AT Racing #9 was ahead of Ultimate #17 and Duqueine Engineering #7, while Beechdean AMR #99 lead GTE ahead of Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 and JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66.
Another FCY period was needed when Eurointernational #11 grinded to a halt after La Source and a tow truck had to be send out and lift the #11 away.
After only a few minutes of racing, FCY was out again, with M.Racing – YMR #19 slamming into the concrete on top of the ultra fast Raidillon, right after Eau Rouge. Luckily there was only mechanical damage to the Norma M30 – and a small repair bill heading the way of Neale Muston, who had been behind the wheel.
Slowly but surely, the Spirit of Race #51 had made its way to the front of the GTE category, while Graff #40 kept the lead of LMP2. AT Racing #9 kept the lead of LMP3 even though they had been in for their Stop & Go.
That gave quite a calm start to the finale hour – but that was about to change.
SMP Racing #27 was running very fast and was catching up on Graff #40, while G-Drive Racing #22 also was gaining on the leader. United Autosports #2 and Duqueine Engineering #7 was battling for the last two podium spots in LMP3, with AT Racing #9 having more than a lap lead.
During the final 45 minutes of the race, the line outside the stewards office suddenly got very long.G-Drive Racing #22 was handed a Drive-through penalty for not respecting a Safety Car period earlier in the race, while Graff #40 also was handed a Drive-through due to making an overtaking manoeuvre outside the white lines that defines the track limits.
Cool Racing by GPC #4 was turned around by Inter Europol Competition #13 in the final corner, with just 25 minutes left on the clock. No penalty was issued in this instance.
Graff #40 didn’t get their Drive-through penalty until 2 minutes left of the race, so they drove through the pits at the starts of the final lap of the race. They exited the pits right in front of G-Drive Racing #22.
So the last lap battle was very intense. Graff #40 with James Allen, Richard Bradley and Gustavo Yacaman ended up winning the race by only 0,581 of a second ahead of G-Drive Racing #22 and SMP Racing #27 in third, who was only 0,949 of a second ahead of United Autosports #32.
High Class Racing #49 with Dennis Andersen and Anders Fjordbach finished 8th, in a race where the car was still bothering them. After changing the set-up on the starting grid, the problems from the previous day was solved – but instead there was problems with the cars Traction Control not talked correctly with the Engine ECU. So the car didn’t drive perfect, but they made it through the race.
AT Racing #9 with Mikkel Jensen, Alexander Talkanitsa Jr and Sr won the LMP3 category with an impressive margin over Duqueine Engineering #7 and United Autosports #2.
It was a Ferrari 1-2 in GTE with Spirit of Race #51 driven by Andrea Bertolini, Giorgio Roda Jr and Rino Mastronardi beating JMW Motorsport #66, before Beechdean AMR #99 came home third.
Nicki Thiim, Euan Hankey and Saleh Yoluc in the TF Sport #90 finished 5th. That was just enough for them to keep the lead in the GTE Championship ahead of JMW Motorsport #66 and Spirit of Race #55. Beechdean AMR #99 still have a theoretical chance of winning the championship, but both #90 and #66 needs to retire, and then #55 finishing 4th at best.
United Autosports #2 continues to lead the LMP3 Championship with a big lead over M.Racing – YMR #18 and Ultimate #17. Only the #18 however have the chance to battle for the Championship win.
G-Drive Racing #22 has a good lead over United Autosports #32 in the LMP2 category, with Graff #40 in third. Only #32 have the possibility to steal the Championship away from #22 while #40 still have 5 competitors hot on their heals.
After starting out the season on a high, High Class Racing #49 only have a very theoretical chance for third, but they need a lot of things for the competitors ahead of them, to be able to even think about that last podium spot.
The finale in this years European Le Mans Series will be run on 22 October in Portimao, Portugal.