The final weekend of the 2017 European Le Mans season kicked off this afternoon with the Bronze driver test and the first 90 minute free practice session. The day started with fog and an occasional spot of (light) rain, but by the time track action was set to go, temperatures started to rise up and the sun broke through the clouds.
Nicolas Lapierre set the pace this afternoon in his #21 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 with a laptime of 1.34.182. Second fastest was Nathanaël Berthon in the #23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier, 0.240 seconds behind Lapierre. The #27 SMP Racing Dallara of Matevos Isaakyan and Egor Orudhzev took third place, Isaakyan the fastest of the 2 Russian youngsters in 1.34.942. All three manufacturers were present in the top 3 this afternoon, within a margin of 0.760 seconds.
Both title contenders were further down the order. Ryo Hirakawa drove the fifth fastest time in the #26 G-Drive Oreca: 1.35.897. Challengers United Autosports didnt get higher than 12th position, Filipe Albuquerque going round in 1.36.810, just under a second slower than Hirakawa.
Apart from a few spins and minor offs there were no noteable incidents in this afternoons sessions. There was one short full course yellow when the #49 High Class Racing Dallara stopped on track and had to be towed off to the pitlane. The session was shortly red flagged due to the #10 Oregon Norma which also stopped on track.
In LMP3, Mikkel Jensen in the #9 AT Racing Ligier showed his speed again, setting the fastest time of the afternoon in 1.40.758. An excellent start of the weekend for the Austrian team who won their class in Spa last month. Second fastest was Anontin Borga in the #7 Duqueine Engineering Norma M30 in 1.41.555, 0.144 seconds faster than Dario Capitano in the Oregon Team Norma.
United Autosports won the first battle with M.Racing-YMR for the title. Sean Rayhall set the fifth fastest time in his #2 Ligier in 1.42.093. Antoine Jung was quickest in the #18 M.Racing-YMR Ligier, but got no further than 1.42.897 in 13th place overall. Alexandre Cougnaud’s times have all been cancelled though, due to a pitlane infringement by exceeding the maximum speed in the pitlane.
There’s one last minute driver change to be noted in the LMP3 class: Davide Roda isn’t able to drive this weekend due to an injury. He will be replaced by Toni Forne in the #10 Oregon Team Norma M30.
Ferrari dominated in GTE, Matt Griffin putting the #55 Spirit of Race 488 GTE on top of the leaderboard in 1.43.760. Will Stevens was second fastest in the #66 JMW Ferrari, 0.616 seconds behind Griffin. Euan Hankey in the championship leading TF Sport Aston Martin completed the top 3 in 1.44.671, just under a second slower than the fastest Ferrari.
Fabien Barthez was fastest this morning in the Bronze driver test in Portimao. His best time of 1.37.491 was 0.046 second faster than Hendrik Hedman in the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca. Third fastest was Roberto Lacorte in the #47 Cetilar Villorba Cose. Martin Hippe set the fastest time in the LMP3 class with his #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier in 1:42.877. Quickest GTE driver was Gianluca Roda in the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari (1.45.358).
The second free practice session for the 4 Hours of Portimao is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9.50h. Qqualifying will start at 14.40h in the afternoon. The qualifs will be streamed live on the series website: www.europeanlemans.com.
This article was written by Kristof Vermeulen and originally appeared on Club Arnage.