No 22 G-Drive Racing, Oreca 07, LMP2, Memo Rojas, Ryo Hirakawa, Léo Roussel, ELMS Portimao 2017

39 cars will be on the grid for the final race of this years European Le Mans Series at the Autodromo do Algarve  in Portimao this weekend. With the team and drivers titles in LMP3 and LMGTE still to be decided, tension will be high in the beautiful Algarve region.  The weather forecast seems a bit unstable and even unpredictable (chance of rain on Friday and Saturday, dry on Sunday but cold), so could play its role again this weekend.  And as we know from previous years, nothing is for granted until the chequered flag falls down on Sunday afternoon, so we should be in for another thrilling weekend of endurance racing ! 


LMP2: who finishes second and third overall ?
G-Drive Racing secured their overall and LMP2 title in a rain soaked Spa last month, when Roman Rusinov, Andrea Pizzitola and Jean-Eric Vergne scored enough points after a disastrous race for them.  Rusinov and Pizzitola claimed the drivers titles, Vergne missing out on what could have been his second title of the season due to not being able to race in Silverstone. 
Behind the 2018 champions, the battle for the remaining podium places will be fierce with 3 teams fighting for 2 spots.  Racing Engineering and IDEC Sport both scored 56 points so far and are completely tied up.  Norman Nato, Paul Petit & Olivier Pla (#24 Racing Engineering) and Memo Rojas & Paul Loup Chatin (#28 IDEC Sport) all scored the same amount of points so far.  The #24 crew mainly by winning the first race of the season in Le Castellet and with a podium in Austria, the #28 by scoring podiums in Monza and Silverstone, and finishing in the points all other races too.  Paul Lafargue will have to miss his second race in a row, still recovering from a nasty back injury which also kept him out of the car in Spa.  He will be replaced by Gabriel Aubry again. 

The third car chasing down that 2018 podium spot is the #21 Dragonspeed of Ben Hanley, Nicolas Lapierre and Hendrik Hedman.  After a disappointing start of the season, and remaining without a win so far, the American team showed some good form in the last races, scoring 50 points so far, just 6 points shy of second place.  

Further down in the standings are TDS Racing, who only raced up until the Red Bull Ring before strictly focussing on their FIA WEC entry, the #22 United Autosports Ligier of Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque and the #23 Panis Barthez Competition of Julien Canal, Timothy Buret and Will Stevens.  Both Ligiers too far away though to challenge for the season’s podium.  One car is absent this weekend: the second IDEC Sport Ligier

(#27).  LMP3: title showdown with 3 (or 5) teams

No 15 RLR MSport, Ligier JS P3 – Nissan, LMP3, John Farano, Job. European Le Mans Series Round 1. Circuit Paul Ricard, France. April 2018.

5 teams are mathematically still in the running for the 2018 LMP3 title and the auto invite in the LMP2 class at Le Mans next year.  On a more realistic view, the title fight is down to three cars, with the #15 RLR MSport of John Farano, Job Van Uitert and Rob Garofall in pole position after 5 of the 6 races.  With a total of 67,5 points so far, they have a lead of 14 points over Ross Kaiser and Terrence Woodward in the #6 360 Racing Ligier. Kaiser and Woodward didn’t win a race so far this season but were consistent in scoring points at every race, finishing on the podium in Monza and Spa. 
Anthony Wells, Gareth Grist and Matthew Bell in the #3 United Autosports are trailing 360 Racing with just 1 point, 15 points behind championship leaders RLR Sport.  They also still have a chance for the title, if RLR doesn’t make it to the top of the ranking on Sunday afternoon.

The #11 Eurointernational of Giorgio Mondini and Kay Van Berlo (46,75 points) and the #13 of Jakub Smiechowski and Martin Hippe (45,25 points) also could have a shot for the title, but they might have to pray for a miracle then.
As usual, there’s several driver changes to be noted in the LMP3 class.  Sean Rayhall apparently isn’t recovered fully yet and will be replaced again by Scott Andrews in the #2 United Autosports Ligier JSP3.  In the #4 Cool Racing Ligier, Iradj Alexander takes his place again after missing the deluge in Spa last month.  Another driver returning to his team is Mikkel Jensen in the #9 AT Racing of father and son Talkanitsa. No sign anymore of last years Michelin Le Mans Cup winners Alexander Toril and Jean Glorieux at DKR Engineering.  The #8 Norma will be driven by Christian Vaglio, Marvin Klein and Nicolas Maulini.  Another new face in the LMP3 class is Vadim Meschcheryakov who joins James Dayson and Luca Demarchi in the #12 Eurointernational.  Romano Ricci won’t return to the #19 M.Racing-YMR Norma, his place is being taken by British driver Michael Benham who has been driving with Lanan Racing in the Michelin Le Mans Cup.

LMGTE: The “Roda family” vs JMW and Spirit of Race

No 66 JMW MOTORSPORT Ferrari F488 GTE, Portimao 2017.

Everything is still to play for in the LMGTE class and with two auto invites for the 2019 Le Mans 24 hours the battle will be fierce and down to the wire on Sunday.  Leading the championship are father and son Gianluca and Giorgio Roda in the #88 Proton Competition Porsche.  With 80,5 points so far, they have a lead of 11,5 points over last years champions, the #66 JMW Ferrari of Miguel Molina, Alex MacDowell and Liam Griffin.  Matteo Cairoli – who also drives the #88 Porsche – has scored 70,5 points so far since he missed the race in Monza. Third in the championship, and also still in the running for the title is the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Aaron Scott and Matthew Griffin, who have a total of 67 points after 5 races. To secure the championship, the “Roda family” just needs to finish on the podium after Sunday’s 4 hour race.  JMW takes the title if they win and the #88 doesn’t get a podium result. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari also still has a shot for the title, but they need to take pole position, win the race and the #88 has to finish on 4th place or lower. Which would then give them a margin of just 1 point !! As said before, all to play for in Portugal this weekend, and we know from past seasons that the final race still might have some surprises up its sleeve …

Track action will start tomorrow at 11h35 local time, with the first 90 minute free practice session.  The Bronze driver test is scheduled at 16h20 in the afternoon.  Qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday will be streamed live on the ELMS website (www.europeanlemansseries.com) and their social media channels.

Timetable: http://elms.alkamelsystems.com/Results/13_2018/06_AUTODROMO%20DO%20ALGARVE/00_Timetable%20V8.pdfProvisional Entry List: https://storage.googleapis.com/ecm-prod/assets/1/course/4572/elms2018-provisional-entry-list-portimao-17102018_c72c44.pdfSpotter Guide: https://storage.googleapis.com/ecm-prod/assets/1/course/4572/elms-2018-spotter-portimao-18-10-2018_e84b6d.pdf
Kristof Vermeulen.