2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Portimão 2019, Portimão, Portugal. Photo © John D Stevens.
The 4 Hours of Portimão provided a drama filled end to the 2019 season with the #28 Idec Sport Oreca-Gibson crossing the line to take the Team and Driver titles after championship leaders G-Drive Racing finished sixth at the chequered flag.
 

Paul Lafargue, Memo Rojas and Paul Loup Chatin took the top step of the podium to celebrate their championship victory that brought to an end G-Drive’s three-year dominance of the ELMS LMP2 category.  G-Drive Racing finish as 2019 vice champions and with it that all important automatic invitation to the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside IDEC Sport. 

At the end of the race it was all smiles in the Inter Europol Competition garage as Nigel Moore brought the Ligier JS P3 home in second place to claim the LMP3 titles for the Polish team.  Moore crossed the line twenty seconds behind Terrence Woodward in the #6 360 Racing Ligier, taking a debut ELMS victory for the British team and his teammates Ross Kaiser and James Dayson.  

Luzich Racing had already claimed the 2019 LMGTE Team and Driver titles at Spa-Francorchamps last month and the Swiss team finished their season off in style by claiming the victory in Portugal with Fabien Lavergne getting the race of to a great start, with Nicklas Nielsen and then Alessandro Pier Guidi bringing the no51 Ferrari F488 GTE EVO home 50 seconds ahead of the #60 Kessel Racing Ferrari.

However, in a final dramatic twist after the race, a 9-lap penalty was given to the #13 Euro Interpol Competition Ligier when it was discovered that Martin Hippe had not respected the driving time, only taking the wheel for 1:05:53.881 instead of the mandatory time of 1:22.06 for a bronze driver (Stewards Decision no.19).  This meant that the #11 Eurointernational Ligier of Jens Petersen and Mikkel Jensen, which was classified 6th in class, would be 2019 LMP3 champions.  The Inter Europol Competition team have lodged an appeal against the stewards decision and the amended result is provisional subject to the appeal being heard.

Dramatic Race for Season Finale

The race began with the #22 United Autosports Oreca of Phil Hanson leading the #39 car field into the first corner.  All cars made it around the first few turns but at the exit of Turn 5 the #45 Carlin Dallara of Jack Manchester spun and was hit hard from behind by the #3 United Autosport Ligier of Christian England.  

The following cars tried to avoid the stricken LMP2 Dallara and LMP3 Ligier, with most doing so but the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche of Christian Ried clipped the rear of the Dallara, destroying the rear end of the Porsche.  

The #83 Kessel Racing Ferrari, the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari, the #10 Oregon Team Norma and the #88 Proton Competition Porsche were all caught up in the accident. Other cars got through the debris, but some suffered some damage.

2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Portimão 2019, Portimão, Portugal. Photo © John D Stevens.

The race was red flagged at the end of the first lap and was suspended for 55-minutes while the track was cleared of the seven cars involved and made safe. Two of the seven drivers, Jack Manchester (#45 Carlin Dallara-Gibson) and Christian England (#3 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan) went to the local hospital for precautionary checks while the others were released after checks at the circuit medical centre.  

#83 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GTE AM. 2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Portimão 2019, Portimão, Portugal. Photo © John D Stevens.

The #83 Ferrari made it back under its own power but was too badly damaged to continue while the #66 JMW Ferrari was repaired and Wei Lu was able to rejoin the race.

The restart was made under the Safety Car and after a couple of laps the race went green again.  However, the Safety Car was deployed ten minutes later after the #66 Ferrari spun off into the gravel at T1 and had to be recovered by the marshals.

Portimao safety car re-start
2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Portimão 2019, Portimão, Portugal. Photo © John D Stevens.

Racing resumed with just over 2 hours and 30 minutes on the clock with the #22 Oreca of Phil Hanson leading from the #32 United Autosports Oreca of Ryan Cullen, with Paul Lafarge in the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca in third.  Lucas Legeret was leading the LMP3 category in the pole sitting #19 M Racing Norma, with the #17 Ultimate Norma of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in second.

The LMGTE category had just five competitors left running, with the #60 Kessel Racing Ferrari of newly crowned Michelin Le Mans Cup GT3 Champion Sergio Pianezzola leading from Fabien Lavergne in the #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari F488.

Just past the half way point the #15 RLR MSport Ligier of Martin Rich was collected by the #37 Cool Racing Oreca, with both cars going off at T14.  This resulted in the first Full Course Yellow of the race to recover both cars from the gravel. The #37 was given a drive through penalty for causing the collision.

The race went green again and the #7 Nielsen Racing Norma of Tony Wells was leading from the #13 Euro Interpol Competition Ligier of Nigel Moore, the championship contenders well ahead of his rival Jens Petersen in #11 Eurointernational Ligier and looking good for the championship win.

Job Van Uitert had taken over the driving duties in the championship leading #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01, with the Dutch driver moving up to third by overtaking the #24 Panis Barthez Competition Oreca of Timothe Buret at T3.  

#26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 Gibson LMP2. 2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Portimão 2019, Portimão, Portugal. Photo © John D Stevens.

Van Uitert then closed up behind the #28 Idec Sport Oreca of Memo Rojas and dived down the inside of the Mexican at T4.  There was a collision and the Idec Oreca was left facing the wrong direction while the G-Drive Aurus moved into second place.  

The Safety Car was deployed once again with 65 minutes left on the clock when the #30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca went straight on into the barriers at T1.  Richard Bradley climbed out of the car unharmed, but the tyre barriers had to be repaired before racing could resume.  Many cars came in to complete another pitstop which shuffled the order once again.

At the restart the #22 United Autosports Oreca of Phil Hanson was back at the head of the field, the British driver taking over from Filipe Albuquerque. The #26 G-Drive RacinG Aurus was six second behind when Jean-Eric Vergne has to compete a drive through for the earlier incident with the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca during Job Van Uitert’s stint.  

The French driver rejoined in 8th place behind the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca.  With Paul Loup Chatin in 2nd place in the #28 Oreca, Vergne needed to finish 7th or higher for G-Drive to claim the 2019 title.  However, Andrea Pizzitola was not going to be passed easily and kept the #26 Aurus at bay for several laps.

Meanwhile Paul Loup Chatin was closing on Hanson’s Oreca and with 34 minutes remaining took the lead on the inside at Turn 6.  This meant that the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus now had to finish third to secure the title. 

2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Portimão 2019, Portimão, Portugal. Photo © John D Stevens.

In LMP3 the order had shuffled again and the #6 360 Racing Ligier of Terrance Woodward was heading the class on its way to the top step of the podium ahead of the #2 United Autosports Ligier Nissan of Tommy Erdos, with the #13 Ligier of Nigel Moore closing on the Brazilian rapidly.  

Moore took the place at the end of the race to claim the second spot on the podium behind the 360 Racing Ligier. However Steward’s Decision no.19 meant a penalty for the #13 Ligier of 9 laps for not respecting the driving time of Martin Hippe.  This promoted the #2 United Autosports Ligier into second place and the #17 Ultimate Norma into third place.  

#11 Eurointernational Ligier JS-P3 Nissan LMP3. 2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Portimão 2019, Portimão, Portugal. Photo © John D Stevens.

The #11 Eurointernational Ligier of Jens Petersen and Mikkel Jensen finished 6th and the 8 points were enough to give the team and the drivers the championship.  However the LMP3 results remain provisional subject to the appeal by Inter Europol Competition against the stewards decision.

The #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi held a comfortable lead in the LMGTE class, with the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Matt Griffin and the #80 Ebimotors Porche of Fabio Babini battling hard for third behind the #60 Kessel Racing Ferrari.  There was a clash between Griffin and Babini as the two fought for the final podium, with the #55 Ferrari running wide and spinning at T4. 

The #22 United Autosports Oreca of Phil Hanson started to close up on the leading Idec Sport Oreca with five minutes of the race remaining and with the G-Drive Racing Aurus now running 6th, Paul Loup Chatin knew he had to hold on to take the win to secure the 2019 title.  The French driver did just that and crossed the line 0.496s ahead of Hanson’s Oreca, in a nail biting finish that had the entire Idec Sport team cheering with delight.  The #39 Graff Oreca-Gibson claimed the final podium position at the end of the 4 Hours of Portimão.

Marshals applaud class-winning #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari 488 GTE-AM. 2019 European Le Mans Series 4h Portimão 2019, Portimão, Portugal. Photo © John D Stevens.

While the #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari finished at the head of the LMGTE class, claiming the automatic invitation to the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans, there was some consolation for the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche, which had retired at the start of the race four hours earlier.  The point for pole position and the fact their main rivals failed to score enough points either, meant the second LMGTE invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans was secured by the German team.

Words: European Le Mans Series