Nerve-wrecking finish to the ELMS season

Portimao delivered another sunny day, for the 6th and final round of this years European Le Mans Series.

35 cars stormed towards Turn 1, resulting in a lot of troubles when the start was about to go. The start was held for a long time, and that meant some of the cars towards the rear had to go hard on the brakes again, to not hit the cars ahead.

Fabien Barthez in Panis Barthez Competition #23 led the first lap of the race, but was overtaken by Hugo De Sadeleer in United Autosports #32 going into Turn 1 on lap 2. In the middle of the field, Inter Europol Competition #13 received a Drive Through penalty for jump start.

Panis Barthez Competition #16 had a spin on the very first lap, and then DragonSpeed #21 spun on the second lap, after a contact with IDEC Sport Racing #28. That sent out a Safety Car to get the #21 pulled out of the gravel. #16 soon headed for the pits to get its nose changed, with a big hole in it after a contact with an unidentified car.

Proton Competition Porsche #77 had taken the lead in the GTE category while Mikkel Jensen in AT Racing #9 kept the LMP3 lead.

The race was resumed shortly after, giving a lot of wild battles through the whole field. The wide track with a lot of elevation changes gave plenty of overtaking opportunities.

Alex Kapadia had taken the RLR MSport #15 all the way up to P3 in LMP3 after starting only in 8th.

High Class Racing #49 had a tough start to the race, with Anders Fjordbach being stuck behind IDEC Sport Racing #28, which was faster than Fjordbach at some of the clear overtaking spots, but having the Dane right up under the rear wing in other places of the track.

The Oregon Team #10 had been starting the race towards the end of the field, following their trip to the gravel in the qualifying yesterday. Antonio Forne was so busy, trying to regain the lost ground, that he misjudged an overtaking manoeuvre on the two leading cars in GTE. He made it past the Spirit of Race #55 but slammed into the rear of poor Joel Camathias in #77, who spun round and lost a lot of time.

TF Sport Aston Martin #90 & Spirit of Race Ferrari #51
Photo: JJ Media

United Autosports #2 came into contact with Eurointernational #12, resulting in the #12 spinning around, and having to pit with damage to the rear. The Race Stewards decided that it was a race incident with no further action – probably because #12 had closed the door on #2, rather than #2 hitting the #12.

Fjordbach had finally made it past #28 and then started to hunt down Andrea Pizzitola in Algarve Pro Racing #25. After overtaking him, he did another overtake on the Pole man Barthez only a few corners later, and therefore getting into P7.

Camathias in #77 had plenty of pace in the car once again after the contact, and he was quickly back up to P3 in class, making it P2 only a few minutes later, after passing Spirit of Race Ferrari #51.

Hugo de Sadeleer in the leading #32 had a few troubles getting past the slower traffic, making Leo Roussel in G-Drive Racing #22 close right up. The two cars went side by side through several corners, but #32 could keep its nose in front.

All this happened just within the first 30 minutes of the 4 hour race.

G-Drive Racing #22
Photo: JJ Media

Spirit of Race #51 was in a battle with JMW Motorsport Ferrari #61, but it lost the rear end of the car all by its own, and slid backwards into the gravel with the rear wheels only. A Full Course Yellow was needed to get it towed out of the gravel.

Several teams used that period to take their first pitstop, making the pitlane very busy, almost NASCAR like, with big parts of the entrants pitting at the same time.

That shook up the standings, sending the SMP Racing #27 into the LMP2 lead ahead of High Class Racing #49 – without both of those teams having done their first pitstops yet. United Autosports #32 was right behind the #49, following its pitstop.

Duqueine Engineering #7 had to pit with a right rear puncture, while Spirit of Race #51 had a front left puncture. The two cars had made contact going into Turn 1, and had to do a full lap, before they could pit. #7 was awarded a Drive Through for the contact.

Beechdean AMR #99 had a high speed spin, after being overtaken by the Graff #39 LMP2, in a very risky dive on Andrew Howard. Howard quickly got the car pointing in the right direction again, and continued to be stuck in last position in GTE. Sanchez in #39 received a Drive Through for not respecting the other car.

Proton Competition Porsche #77
Photo: JJ Media

Inter Europol Competition #13 went into the gravel all by themselves. It was able to be towed out under a local yellow but eventually had to retire.

After the first hour of the race, there was a Mexican battle on the track between Memo Rojas in G-Drive Racing #22 and Ricardo Sanchez i Graff #39. At the same time, Gustavo Yacaman in Graff #40 took the lead of the race, pushing Hugo De Sadeleer in United Autosports #32 into a mistake in Turn 1.

Fortunately the race calmed down a bit after the first hour, with the cars stretching out across the track and not being in big groups, like at the start.

Graff #39 got another Drive Through penalty for track limits, after several warnings. Shortly after that, Anders Fjordbach in High Class Racing #49 got pinged for the same mistake, and received the same penalty.

In the meantime, Mikkel Jensen in AT Racing #9 continued to lead the LMP3 field ahead of M.Racing – YMR #19 and United Autosports #3. Jensen had build a 93 seconds gap to the #19, so there was plenty of buffer for his teammates later in the race.

90 minutes into the race, we saw the Cool Racing by GPC #4 have a solo spin, with a few troubles getting back on track, but eventually doing so.

Cetilar Villorba Corsa #47 and High Class Racing #49 had a close fight for P5 in LMP2 with #47 ending up being the quicker of the two Dallara chassis.

United Autosports #3
Photo: JJ Media

Spirit of Race Ferrari #55 had a lonely race out front of GTE while JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 had just as lonely a P2 ahead of TF Sport AMR #90, who had climbed into third in class.

Anders Fjordbach in High Class Racing #49 got another hit over the knuckles for once again exceeding track limits. After getting a Drive Through earlier, this was now a Stop & Go. Right after that was announced, Graff #39 was pinged for exactly the same – in a bizarre side by side penalty, just like their first penalty.

Hugo De Sadeleer in #32 got under pressure once again by Graff #40, which was now piloted by by James Allen.

Sean Rayhall in United Autosports #2 had slowly made it into second position in LMP3, after starting right at the back. The team could take it quite easy, since their championship rivals was right behind them and needed to gain a lot of points, to actually snatch the Championship from #2.

There was a drama after one hour and 50 minutes, when United Autosports #32 clipped the rear end of By Speed Factory #5, and received slight damage to the front of the LMP2 car. In the same instance, it lost the lead to Graff #40.

JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 came out of the pits right in front of Spirit of Race Ferrari #51. The former Formula 1 driver Will Stevens in #66 should have an advantage over Aaron Scott in #51, but only the next two hours would tell. Scott however really pushed Stevens on the first few laps after the pitstop.

Graff #40
Photo: JJ Media

With two hours and 10 minute remaining on the clock, Mikkel Jensen handed over the AT Racing #9 to the father and son combination of Talkanitsas to do the rest of the race.

Darran Turner was put in the Beechdean AMR #99 midway through the race, trying to improve on the last position in the GTE category. He should try to catch up with Nicki Thiim, who had taken over the TF Sport #90.

By Speed Factory #5 got a Drive Through penalty for speeding at one of the pit visits.

Scott in #55 put Stevens in #66 under a lot of pressure, trying to stick his Ferrari up the inside on every possibility.

Oregon Team #10 stopped on the track with 1 hour and 50 minutes left of the race. That needed another FCY, resulting in a very busy pitlane once again.

The battle between #55 and #66 came to and end with one hour and forty minutes minutes left of the race. Scott stopped on the track with white smoke pouring out of the exhausts of the Ferrari 488 GTE. He managed to get the car restarted and get back to the pits, where the mechanics pushed it into the garage. The team quickly gave up, when the car let out another big white cloud of smoke in the garage, when they tried to start the engine again. So that made the GTE standings have #66 ahead of #77 and #90, with just two seconds between the latter.

Morten Dons was behind the wheel of the RLR MSport #15, pushing Francois Heriau in Ultimate #17, in the battle for fifth in LMP3. The fight got interrupted when IDEC Sport Racing #28 was try to lap the two cars in the same corner but ended up turning the #17 around. Dons had almost half a minute to P4, but he kept pushing on, in the aim to advance further.

AT Racing #9 was still leading in the LMP3 category, with a 44 seconds lead over M.Racing – YMR #18, followed by United Autosports #2 in third.

United Autosports #32 was still leading the LMP2 category ahead of Graff #40.

Inter Europol Competition #13
Photo: JJ Media

With 82 minutes left of the race, a 55 seconds Stop & Go penalty was handed to the leading LMP2 car, United Autosports #32, for speeding in the pitlane. That was a huge problem for the team, which absolutely had to win the race, to keep a chance of winning the title, while G-Drive Racing #22 would have to finish outside Top-6. That put the #22 very much in the favour as Title candidates. But #22 had to take the chequered flag to be 100% sure.

With just over one hour to go, the two title candidates in LMP3, United Autosports #2 got a bit close to M.Racing – YMR #18, but had to abort in the very final moment, which send Falb into a spin. Fortunately for the #2 driver, he was quickly back on the track, still in P3 and with only a few seconds lost.

With one hour left of the race, Graff #40 with James Allen lead LMP2, AT Racing #9 with Alexander Talkanitsa was leading LMP3, and Will Stevens in JMW Motorsport #66 was leading GTE.

Algarve Pro Racing #25 had a solo spin, but it was far way from the points anyway, after problems for the team earlier in the race.

With 56 minutes left of the race, there was another drama. Paul Petit in Graff #39 was going onto the start-finish straight, when he slid slightly off the track. By doing so, he lost the rear end of the car, spinning backwards at high speed into the pit entry, and got the rear end of the ORECA 07- Gibson ripped off. Fortunately he could step out of the car himself, and the marshals could start removing the car and sweep the track from all the debris. The pitlane entry was blocked, making Darren Turner having to wait for a few seconds, before he could enter the actually pitlane.

Duqueine Engineering #8 received a Drive Through penalty for track limits.

JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66
Photo: JJ Media

With fifty minutes left of the race, Racing Team Nederland #29 with Frits Van Eerd behind the wheel, and By Speed Factory #5 with Jürgen Krebs coming into a collision. That released another FCY period, to get the latter removed from the gravel. The contact gave #29 a Drive Through penalty.

Many teams headed into the pits for a hopefully last refuelling stop. It was right on the fuel capacity limit, so the pitting teams had to cross their fingers, to make it to the flag.

The FCY period cost dearly for AT Racing #9, who had lead the whole race. United Autosports #2 was one of the team pitting under FCY, making them get back on track 6 seconds ahead of #9. Clever pit work for #2 but a great shame for #9 to drop a 90 seconds lead after two hours – but that is how racing is. Shortly afterwards, the second position was lost to United Autosports #3.

Morten Dons handed the RLR MSport #15 in fifth place, to the Bronze driver John Farano, with just under one hour left of the race. It was his task to bring the car to the flag.

With 20 minutes left of the race, a Drive Through penalty popped up for AT Racing #9, having exceeded track limits one time too many.

Only a few minutes before the chequered flag, High Class Racing #49 hit the leading LMP3 car, United Autosports #3. #3 lost 6 seconds but could continue in the lead. It gave #49 a warning, but no further action.

Matteo Cairoli in Proton Competition Porsche #77 was catching Jody Fannin in JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 hand over fist, and ended up gaining P1 with too much of a fight, with P2 enough for #66 to win the Championship, by having TF Sport AMR #90 behind them.

Filipe Albuerquerque in United Autosports #32 caught Matevos Isaakyan in SMP Racing #27 with almost 2 seconds per lap, and with only 5 minutes left of the clock, the local hero was right under the rear wing of the Russian. He quickly made it past, but had almost half a minute up to the leading Graff #40.

United Autosports #2
Photo: JJ Media

After 4 hours of race, Richard Bradley could cross the finish line as first car with the Graff #40 in LMP2, in the car that he shared with James Allen and Gustavo Yacaman ahead of United Autosports #32 and SMP Racing #27.

In the LMP3 category, the winner was Christian England together with Mark Patterson and Wayne Boyd in United Autosports #3 ahead of United Autosports #2 and M.Racing – YMR #18.

Proton Competition Porsche #77 with Matteo Cairoli, Christian Ried and Joel Camathias took the victory in the GTE category ahead of JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 and TF Sport #90.

G-Drive Racing #22 with Leo Roussel and Memo Rojas could lift the LMP2 Championship trophy 2017 ahead of Filipe Albuerquerque, Hugo De Sadeleer, and Will Owen in United Autosports #32, with James Allen and Richard Bradley in Graff #40 finishing third.

United Autosports #2 with John Falb and Sean Rayhall won the LMP3 Championship, beating Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci in M.Racing – YMR #18 with United Autosports #3 driven by Christian England, Wayne Boyd and Mark Patterson in P3.

JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 won the GTE Championship with Rob Smith and Jody Fannin ahead of TF Sport AMR #90 with Nicki Thiim, Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc, followed by Christian Ried, Joel Camathias and Matteo Cairoli in Proton Competition Porsche #77 in third.

With those results, G-Drive Racing #22 and United Autosports #2 will get an automatic entry for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP2 category while JMW Motorsport #66 and TF Sport #90 will have a ticket for the GTE category at Le Mans.

That was the finish of an amazing season in the European Le Mans Series, delivering action from start to finish. The rumours point towards an even bigger grid in the ELMS 2018, so if it’s even possible, next year might be even better than this year.

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