The European Le Mans Series season came underway at Circuit Paul Ricard, where the teams had 17 hours of running, to get the last adjustments done before the season starts for real this weekend.
41 teams are competing in the ELMS this year, but not everybody were eager to rush onto the track.
The first practice had all Porsche cars but Proton Competition #88 sitting out, with Team Project 1 #56 and Dempsey-Proton Racing #77 going out in the afternoon session on Monday.
But there still was no sign of life by Ebimotors Porsche #80, and not at BHK Motorsport #35 in LMP2 category either, where the shutters were down all Monday long. Ebimotors #80 finally made it out in the Tuesday morning session, while BHK Motorsport #35 only did the very final hour of the last practice – with times that was three seconds slower than the second-slowest car. So it’s really up-hill from here, even before the season has started.
There were different teams at the top of the charts in nearly all the sessions, but it was common for the laptimes to be super close. At least one team in each session went for a qualifying lap.
Anders Fjordbach ended up setting the fastest ever lap officially recorded in an LMP2 around Paul Ricard. So it looks like that it paid off with their Dallara to ORECA switch. No other teams managed to beat the time set by the Dane in all the five sessions.
The usual suspect from IDEC Sport #28, United Autosports #22 and #32 plus Algarve Pro Racing #25 were mixing it up at the top of LMP2. A bit of a surprise was Cool Racing #37 being fastest in the Monday afternoon session and both Tuesday sessions. They have been an LMP3 team so far, but has raised their goals quite a bit, by stepping into LMP2 in 2019, and getting Nicolas Lapierre on the team – and it was him setting those fast laps in all three sessions.
There was no major surprises in LMP3. Ultimate #17 and Nielsen Racing #7 were constantly fast, but Oregon Team #10 sneaked around top four for the first two sessions, and finished fastest of all in the last three sessions.
Mikkel Jensen tried to keep the Ligier JS P3 banner high, by being the fastest non-Norma M30. The Eurointernational #11 driver had 6 Norma drivers ahead of him, after the five sessions. Jensen said that he felt comfortable in the car, but the team had a different philosophy on the setup than his previous team, AT Racing, so he had to get used to that. But the car model is still the same. We saw the same thing last year at Paul Ricard, with Norma being super fast, but ended up losing out on the victory due to technical issues.
Last year’s championship winning team, RLR MSport #15 with Martin Vedel Mortensen, Christian Stubbe Olsen and Martin Rich were mostly running in the midfield. The teams had a bit of technical gremlins to sort out, but it doesn’t really count before the race weekend starts.
Damiani Fioravanti in Oregon Team #10 ended up being the fastest LMP3 car at the test. A new track record too, by the way.
For quite some time, it looked like none of the teams really bothered to drive in the GTE category. If that has to do with fear of BOP changes, or if there just is a lot of self confidence ahead of the weekend is a bit unclear, but only Kessel Racing Ferrari #60 and #83 has done a whole bunch of laps. The #60 got the reward for that, by being fastest in the first session, while Nicklas Nielsen in Luzich Racing Ferrari #51 posted the fasted lap in the Monday afternoon session. The same thing happened with those two cars during the Tuesday. Andrea Piccini ended up posting the fastest lap for Kessel Racing #60 – also a new track record.
Michelle Gatting in Kessel Racing #83 did the fastest lap for the team during the Monday session, and repeated that on Tuesday. There was however a small battle scar Monday afternoon, after a small touch with another car. But it didn’t take that long for the team to change the splitter and front bumper, and they were back on the track again. Her two teammates, Rahel Frey and Manuela Gostner were all within two tenths of her, so if they can keep that up in the races, it could be a very strong combo.
The Porsche cars had absolutely no rush during the sessions. They posted some very uncompetitive laptimes, but they will probably wake up the races again, or? They were very fast all year long in the ELMS in 2018, and it was the Proton Competition #88 that ended up winning the Championship. Best Porsche time was posted by Marco Seefried in #88, but it was almost one second slower than the Ferrari’s. Is it BOP games or has Kessel Racing really found the right knob that Spirit of Race didn’t find last year? We will have to see during the race.
There wasn’t any major drama during the test. Other than a few bruises here and there, and a tire explosion for the United Autosports #22 at high speed, it was a quite calm test in that regard.
The teams have a couple of days to relax, before the race weekend starts on Friday with a 90 minutes practice, and a 30-minute Bronze driver test, with the Saturday having FP2 and Qualifying, while the race starts on Sunday afternoon 12.30 CET.