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Graff Racing survive for the victory
Graff took their first victory in the European Le Mans Series LMP2 class by just half a second over the G-Drive by DragonSpeed Oreca. The French squad survived a late race drive through penalty and further investigations to take the win.
The chaotic race was littered with incidents and penalties, and split up by 3 Full Course Yellows and 2 Safety Cars. The messy nature of the race put cars on different strategies and kept the result in doubt until the end. #40 Graff served a drive through penalty for overtaking off SMP Racing Dallara off the circuit with 40 seconds left of the race, emerging ahead of the G-Drive car for the final lap.
SMP Racing took third, a second ahead of the title contending United Autosports Ligier. #21 DragonSpeed car finished 5th, a further 22 seconds back.
Both DragonSpeed cars took advantage of early race cautions, making a pit stop within the first 20 minutes of the race. DragonSpeed continued the trend of reacting best to FCY and Safety Car situations throughout the race, pitting the cars at the end of FCYs to minimise the chance of requiring a splash. The strategy looked to have worked for the #22 G-Drive Oreca as the timing sheets suggested it would take the lead when the pit stops shook out. Unfortunately a drive-through penalty for disrespecting the safety car procedure cost the car the win.
Title contenders United Autosports were unable to snatch the final podium place from SMP Racing, despite a late charge from Filipe Albuquerque. The Ligier finished a second behind the SMP Dallara, making it 3 different chassis in the top 4 places. With G-Drive finishing second, the battle for the LMP2 championship has extended to 18 points.
The most significant LMP2 incident of the race was for the Algarve Pro Ligier. An hour in, Andrea Roda went backwards off the road at Pouhon, making heavy contact with the tyres. The Ligier rolled over and settled on its roof. Fortunately, Roda was uninjured and discharged from the circuit medical centre.
AT Racing take first LMP3 victory
AT Racing took a comfortable victory in the LMP3 class, with Duqueine Engineering finishing a strong second with their Norma. The AF Corse run team quietly made their way to the front as others suffered incidents and penalties.
#2 United Autosports Ligier rounded off the podium, just 4 seconds behind the Duqueine car. An uncharacteristically rough day for the United Autosports Ligiers means that the LMP3 title battle goes to the final race. Ultimate only managed an 8th place finish, ending their title chances. The battle is between #2 United Autosports Ligier and the #18 M.Racing YMR Ligier at Portimao, 19 points separating them.
Spirit of Race dominate GTE class
The #51 Ferrari 488 of Spirit of Race dominated the GTE class, taking victory with a gap of around 45 seconds to the JMW Ferrari 488. The #51 took the lead shortly after the second hour and never looked back, taking the first victory for the #51 numbered Spirit of the Race/AF Corse entry.
Beechdeen AMR finished third, 33 seconds behind the JMW Ferrari. In contrast, championship leaders TF Sport had a miserable race. The #90 Aston Martin picked up front end damage in the opening laps and the day continued downhill from there. The car stopped on track twice, requiring a reset each time. The crippled championship leaders finished 5th in class, 3 laps off the lead. With JMW finishing second, the GTE title battle closes up for the final race at Portimao. TF Sport lead JMW by a single point, but Spirit of the Race are mathematically in-contention. The #55 is 11 points behind, #51 is 17 points behind.
Early leaders Proton Competition suffered damage at the hands of the #11 Eurointernational Ligier LMP3 (one of many incidents for the #11). The damaged, caused a puncture, had team owner Christian Ried nurse the Porsche back to the pits. The car finished 22 laps behind the leader after extensive repairs in the garage.
All 3 titles to be decided at Portimao
The European Le Mans series returns to Algarve International Circuit, Portimao, for the first time since 2010. All 3 titles are still up in the air, with GTE being especially close. 4 cars that can win the championship and the lead two are separated by a single point. Although LMP2 and LMP3 look as though they could be formalities, the same was assumed last year and Estoril threw a spanner in the works. Can G-Drive and United Autorsports take their second ELMS titles in a row? Can JMW take the GTE title after last years heartbreak? Tune in, October 22nd to find out.