The fifth round of European Le Mans Series was run at Spa Francorchamps track in Belgium, and it was an insane race, where all three classes’ winners were first found at the very end of the four-hour race.
Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson in United Autosports #22 had taken Pole Position in the LMP2 category, ahead of Will Stevens, Rene Binder and Julien Canal in Panis Barthez Competition #23, and Duqueine Engineering #30 with Nico Jamin, Pierre Ragues and Richard Bradley.
High Class Racing #20 with Dennis Andersen and Anders Fjordbach started the race from P9 amongst the LMP2 cars.
Realteam Racing #9 with David Droux and Esteban Garcia had the Pole Position in LMP3, in front of M Racing #19 with Lucas Legeret and Laurent Millara, while Ultimate #17 with Jean-Baptiste Lahaye, Mathieu Lahaye and Francois Heriau was P3.
Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen started from fifth with Eurointernational #11 car in the LMP3 class, while RLR MSport #15 with Martin Vedel Mortensen, Christian Stubbe Olsen and Martin Rich would start from P9.
Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 had taken Pole Position in GTE, with Matteo Cairoli, Riccardo Pera and Christian Ried, ahead of Luzich Racing with Nicklas Nielsen, Fabien Lavergne and Alessandro Pier Guidi, as well as Kessel Racing Ferrari #60 with Andrea Piccini, David Perel and Sergio Pianezzola in third.
Michelle Gatting was the last Dane in the race, with her Swiss teammate Rahel Frey and Italian Manuela Gostner in Kessel Racing Ferrari #83. The three of them started the race from P5 amongst the GTE cars.
Both IDEC Sport #28 and Algarve Pro Racing #31 were ready to participate in the race. Both cars had huge accidents in FP2, which demanded the teams to change the chassis over the night. #28 was finished merely a few minutes before the pit closed, afterwards the car had problems getting started in the pits, and it had to get into the garage again. The mechanics worked with their tools and finished repairing the car only two minutes before the pitlane closed. The work on both cars continued on the grid, but they could start the race, after a bit of work on the brakes and recalibration of clutches and other electronics.
G-Drive Racing #26 had to change chassis earlier in the week, when Job van Uitert had a violent exit in the Wednesday practice. But it was ready again Friday morning for the test. After the last race both Cool Racing #37 and Duqueine Engineering #30 also had to change chassis due to their collision at Silverstone. So there was a rift between the ORECA chassis previously, with both new ones from High Class Racing, United Autosports, Panis Barthez Competition as well as necessary purchase and/or rent after an accident.
High Class Racing #20 with Fjordbach behind the wheel had a really bad start of the race, as the Dane spun in the first corner. Luckily he didn’t get hit by anyone, but he had to start overtaking the entire GTE and LMP3 fields, before he could come behind the LMP2 cars. Otherwise the start was relatively calm for the other 36 cars.
Luzich Racing Ferrari #51 had taken the lead after a nice overtake from the outside by Fabien Lavergne, while Christian Ried in Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 had to give up the position.
Mikkel Jensen drove up Eurointernational #11 to third place amongst the LMP3 cars, and stayed in the slipstream of the two Norma cars of Realteam Racing #9 and M Racing #19, while Ultimate #17 dropped down to P5.
Championship leader G-Drive Racing #26 with Roman Rusinov behind the wheel fell back down the LMP2 field, and the Russian seemed to lack speed in the car.
Christian Stubbe Olsen got the RLR MSport #15 forward in the field, winning two places early in the race. Michelle Gatting also won a place in GTE with Kessel Racing Ferrari #83, and put pressure on their sister car #60. Sergio Pianezzola in #60, on the other hand, also put a pressure on Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 and ended up grabbing second place, before Gatting could make any move.
Inter Europol Competition #14 had a very exciting moment on top of Raidillon, but he could keep the car away from the tire barrier.
The two Panis Barthez Competition cars #23 and #24 were so busy fighting with each other, that IDEC Sport #28 squeezed itself between them. A few laps later, #24 got however some technical problems, so Konstantin Tereschenko had to roll slowly before the car could drive in normal speed again.
Kessel Racing Ferrari #60 had run a bit over the white lines on the asphalt, and got a ten-second time penalty for their next pitstop.
34 minutes into the race, Bruno Senna in RLR MSport #43 did a very unusual driving error, when he ended up in the gravel and tire barrier in Turn 14 after being pressured by IDEC Sport #28. It deployed the Safety Car, to get the car pulled back onto the asphalt. Afterwards, the Brazilian had to drive the car to the pits to get it cleaned and for a new front.
The majority of the race chose to pit, and it changed the order in the LMP2 field, where Duqueine Engineering #30 was now the leading car, ahead of Cool Racing #37 and DragonSpeed #21, while United Autosports #22 fell back to P4.
Eurointernational #11 was one of the few LMP3 cars, that did their long pitstop and driver change right away. It caused them to fall down the field, but now they could utilise the time for their Bronze-ranked driver, before Mikkel Jensen would come back later in the race.
It took fifteen minutes before the race got restarted.
Antonin Borga in Cool Racing #37 spun by himself, when he pressed a bit too hard as he tried to fight for the first place.
Nielsen Racing #7 drove themselves past M Racing #19, and thus was up in second place in LMP3.
United Autosports #22 slowly but surely worked themselves up behind the leading Duqueine Engineering #30, where Phil Hanson put Pierre Ragues under pressure.
Kessel Racing Ferrari #60 was really on the move in the GTE field, where they overtook Spirit of Race Ferrari #55, and later also Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77, which since then got back in front after the Safety Car period and different pitstop.
IDEC Sport #28 had fought themselves up all the way from last place to fourth in the LMP2 class, with a car that just got done before the race. Impressive driving, and no less impressive work from the mechanics. It didn’t take long before they got past United Autosports #32, and was up to third place.
360 Racing #5 had a bit of contact and had to pit to change the rear of the car.
Realteam Racing #9 got hit by Nielsen Racing #7 on Kemmel Straight, when the latter tried to exploit the slipstream and attacked in the very last moment, but they misjudged the distance, so #9’s rear wing got hit and #7’s front also got a small damage. Both cars could continue driving without an extra pitstop the first time around. It gave #7 a Stop & Go penalty for the offence.
Spirit of Race Ferrari #55 and JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66 had an intense duel for third place in the GTE class, where there was a close battle but still respectful between the two.
Kessel Racing Ferrari #83 had a spin in the Stavelot corner, but it could continue by itself.
Fjordbach had gotten High Class Racing #20 back in top six. He was the fastest driver on Dunlop tires, beating big names such as Jean-Eric Vergne and Andrea Pizzitola amongst others, who also had the same tires on their G-Drive Racing #26 and Algarve Pro Racing #25.
A few minutes later there was another problem for Manuela Gostner in #83. This time she was hit by OREGON Team #10 in the La Source hairpin, when it tried to overtake the Ferrari from the outside, but instead ended up hitting it a bit sideways. Luckily the Ferrari wasn’t too damaged, while #10 lost one of its front wings, which flew off on Kemmel Straight and lay close to the grass, but still on the asplhalt.
RLR MSport #15 had to pit with a damage on the car’s rear, when Martin Rich got hit by a competitor. It cost them eight minutes in the pits, sending them down the field in LMP3.
Halfway into the race, Duqueine Engineering #30 was leading LMP2, ahead of IDEC Sport #28 and Graff #39. Realteam Racing #9 was in front in LMP3, followed by M Racing #19 and Nielsen Racing #7. Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 was the GTE class leader, ahead of Luzich Racing Ferrari #51 and Kessel Racing Ferrari #60.
Eurointernational #11 was gradually down to P8 in LMP3, since the tires got worse and worse, so Jens Petersen got slower and slower with every lap. Furthermore, he also got nearer the end of his stint, before Mikkel Jensen would get back in the car.
All of a sudden, High Class Racing #20 went still on the track. After a quick reset, he began to drive again, but very slowly going back to the pits. It later appeared to be a stone chip, which had caused a hole in the car’s cooling system, so the engine got hot. It cost twelve minutes repair in the pits, which unfortunately made it impossible for them to get a top result. The Danish team is just super unlucky time after time, and they deserve a chance to show what they can actually do.
Realteam Racing #9 had to pit with a damaged rear, from the earlier contact. Thus they lost any chance to finish in top three in the close LMP3 field.
Kessel Racing Ferrari #60 had to do an extra tour through the pitlane for a 45-second Stop & Go penalty, because they had driven 79 kph in the pitlane, where the maximum speed is 60 kph.
There were more problems in LMP3 when M Racing #19 suddenly stopped with their car pointing on the wrong direction in Turn 13, where the right rear tire no longer stayed on the car. It required the second Safety Car period of the day to get the car removed, since it could no longer drive.
Graff #39 had a spin under the Safety Car period, where Jonathan Hirschi did it by himself.
The Safety Car period went by quickly, so the cars still had ninety minutes to race.
Nicklas Nielsen in Luzich Racing Ferrari #51 was again in front in the GTE category, but he had Riccardo Pera in Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 breathing down his neck, and had to defend the position with all his might, while he also had to deal with traffic. But the Dane performed well under pressure, even though the Italian tried both from the inside and outside. If #51 finished in front of #77, there was a possibility for the Ferrari to win the championship already today.
G-Drive Racing #26 and Cool Racing #37 had an intense duel that lasted through several corners, before #37 with Nicolas Lapierre finally got past. A few minutes later #37 took the lead of the race when they overtook Duqueine Engineering #30 on the Bus Stop Chicane. United Autosports #22 fell further and further back and was all the way down to P8.
United Autosports #32 had problems with their left door as it rattled in the wind. The mechanics were quick to solve the problem with a big roll of tank tape, making sure the door wouldn’t fly open again.
With 67 minutes on the clock, Panis Barthez Competition #24 went off track and rolled backwards into the tire wall. It caused a Full Course Yellow, so the car could get removed.
It took about ten minutes before the race got restarted.
Jean-Eric Vergne in G-Drive Racing #26 used the chance to pass IDEC Sport #28 from the outside in the Les Combes corner combination at the end of Kemmel Straight.
With three quarters of an hour left, Mikkel Jensen drove the black Eurointernational #11 up to third place in the LMP3 class, but there was still a big gap to the two leading cars.
Nielsen Racing #8 had a spin in the Bus Stop chicane with 40 minutes left.
There was another FCY with 38 minutes left of the race, when Realteam Racing #9 and Nielsen Racing #7 again had a collision. This time it was in Turn 1, where #7 lost one of their front wings, while #9 could continue.
Five minutes later there was green flag again, and almost immediately popped a message – team boss for car #39 was called by the race director – and up on the screens. It was no other than the leading Graff car.
Panis Barthez Competition #23 got a Drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane.
Luzich Racing Ferrari #51 had built up a nice gap to Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77, in front of GTE, where Alessandro Pier Guidi was now behind the wheel on the red Ferrari car. There was still half an hour left, so many things could happen.
Spirit of Race Ferrari #55
Photo: JJ Media
Mikkel Jensen had 45 seconds up to the leader of the LMP3 class, but if they ended up with another podium place, it wouldn’t be bad for the championship, even though it was always better to win.
Realteam Racing #9 had an exciting moment through the Blanchimont corner, when Graff #39 dived late on the inside, sending #9 out to the run-off area, where Esteban Garcia luckily could correct the car before hitting the tire barrier. So sometimes it’s good to have a big, asphalted run-off area.
IDEC Sport #27 stalled on the track with 18 minutes left, which required a quick Full Course Yellow period, to get the car removed.
Graff #39 got a Drive-through penalty for not respecting a Full Course Yellow procedure earlier in the race. Tristan Gommendy took it partly under FCY so they didn’t lose as much time. Thus they went down to second place, but not far ahead of Cool Racing #37 in third place, and with United Autosports #22 as the new leader.
Inter Europol Competition #13 had to pit under FCY period due to a slow puncture, and lost therefore the lead in LMP3, but they could hold on the second place behind Nielsen Racing #7, and head of Eurointernational #11.
Luzich Racing Ferrari #51 and Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77’s advantage was heavily reduced when #51 got caught behind an LMP3 car, that didn’t drive the allowed speed of 80 kph, so their eight second gap was gone, down to just one second.
The leader in LMP3, Tony Wells in Nielsen Racing #7, lost several seconds per lap to Inter Europol Competition #13, while Mikkel Jensen in Eurointernational #11 was catching up both cars in lightning speed.
Cool Racing #37 also caught up with Graff #39, it what looked like to be a duel on the last lap. The two cars started the last lap bodywork against bodywork. In the very last corner, on the last lap, there was a contact between the two as #37 wanted to overtake from the outside, while #39 tried to defend the line. The stewards looked into the case and decided that #37 was the guilty one, and sent them back to P3, but later changed it. Though it wasn’t until after the podium ceremony.
United Autosports #22 with Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque won the LMP2, ahead of Cool Racing #37 with Antonin Borga and Nicolas Lapierre, and Graff #39 with Tristan Gommendy, Alexandre Cougnaud and Jonathan Hirschi. DragonSpeed #21 was the best team with a Bronze-ranked driver, in the shape of Henrik Hedman. He shared the car with Ben Hanley and James Allen.
High Class Racing #20 with Dennis Andersen and Anders Fjordbach finished in P15 in LMP2, after yet another bad day. But at least they showed that they could be fast.
In the LMP3 category, the winner was also decided on the last lap. Mikkel Jensen started the lap in P3 but three corners before finish, he overtook the car in second place and in the very last corner he drove past the leader and thus won the race, together with Jens Petersen for Eurointernational #11. The big loser in the three-way-battle would be Nielsen Racing #7 with Colin Noble and Tony Wells, who lost the lead and ended up in P3 on the last lap – behind Inter Europol Competition #13 with Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore.
RLR MSport #15 with Martin Rich, Martin Vedel Mortensen and Christian Stubbe Olsen finished in P11 amongst the LMP3 cars.
United Autosports #2 retired on the last corner, just a few metres from the finish line, and hence they weren’t classified, even though they had completed 99,999% of the race – but that’s the rule in ACO races. You either complete the race by crossing the finish line on the last lap or you retire.
In the GTE class, Luzich Racing Ferrari #51 with Nicklas Nielsen, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Fabien Lavergne took a victory home, ahead of Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 with Christian Ried, Riccardo Pera and Matteo Cairoli, and Spirit of Race Ferrari #55 with Andrew Scott, Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin in third.
Michelle Gatting, Manuela Gostner and Rahel Frey took a fourth place home for Kessel Racing Ferrari #83, after two spins and a contact earlier in the race. Better luck next time, because they have showed that they can fight for the top spots, earlier in the year.
G-Drive Racing #26 continues to lead the LMP2 championship, even though they only finished fourth in the race today. IDEC Sport #28 is still second, after finishing sixth today, while Graff #39 holds on their P3 in championship. If Graff #39 DOESN’T take Pole in the final race, the duel for the championship will only be between #26 and #28.
In LMP3 is now a close battle between Eurointernational #11 and Inter Europol Competition #13. Even though #11 leads by three victories against one. Ultimate #17 in third place can no longer win the championship, but instead they should start worrying about United Autosports #2 and Nielsen Racing #7, which both are only eight points behind.
Luzich Racing Ferrari #51, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry anymore – Alessandro Pier Guidi, Fabien Lavergne and Nicklas Nielsen are the GTE champions in ELMS 2019, and thus also winning a ticket for the 24 hours race at Le Mans in 2020. Both Pier Guidi and Nielsen have however other tasks with their WEC programme, but it’s likely for Lavergne to find a car to drive.
Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 is second, ahead of Kessel Racing Ferrari #83, JMW Motorsport Ferrari #66, and Spirit of Race Ferrari #55, and all of them still have a chance to finish in second place in the championship. Four cars fighting for two trophies – some of them are gonna end up disappointed next time.
And next time is 27 October at the Portimao track in Portugal, where the sixth and last round of the European Le Mans Series 2019 will be run.