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 no6 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 no60 Kessel Racing Ferrari.
However, in a final dramatic twist after the race, a 9-lap penalty was given to the no13 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 no19). This meant that the no11 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 no22 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 no45 Carlin Dallara of Jack Manchester spun and was hit hard from behind by the no3 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 no77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche of Christian Ried clipped the rear of the Dallara, destroying the rear end of the Porsche. The no83 Kessel Racing Ferrari, the no66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari, the no10 Oregon Team Norma and the no88 Proton Competition Porsche were all caught up in the accident. Other cars got through the debris, but some suffered some damage.
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 (no45 Carlin Dallara-Gibson) and Christian England (no3 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan) went to the local hospital for precautionary checks while the others were released after checks at the circuit medical centre. The no83 Ferrari made it back under its own power but was too badly damaged to continue while the no66 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 no66 Ferrari spun off into the gravel at T1 and had to be recovered by the marshals.
Racing resumed with just over 2 hours and 30 minutes on the clock with the no22 Oreca of Phil Hanson leading from the no32 United Autosports Oreca of Ryan Cullen, with Paul Lafarge in the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca in third. Lucas Legeret was leading the LMP3 category in the pole sitting no19 M Racing Norma, with the no17 Ultimate Norma of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in second.
The LMGTE category had just five competitors left running, with the no60 Kessel Racing Ferrari of newly crowned Michelin Le Mans Cup GT3 Champion Sergio Pianezzola leading from Fabien Lavergne in the no51 Luzich Racing Ferrari F488.
Just past the half way point the no15 RLR MSport Ligier of Martin Rich was collected by the no37 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 no37 was given a drive through penalty for causing the collision.
The race went green again and the no7 Nielsen Racing Norma of Tony Wells was leading from the no13 Euro Interpol Competition Ligier of Nigel Moore, the championship contenders well ahead of his rival Jens Petersen in no11 Eurointernational Ligier and looking good for the championship win.
Job Van Uitert had taken over the driving duties in the championship leading no26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01, with the Dutch driver moving up to third by overtaking the no24 Panis Barthez Competition Oreca of Timothe Buret at T3.
Van Uitert then closed up behind the no28 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 no30 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 no22 United Autosports Oreca of Phil Hanson was back at the head of the field, the British driver taking over from Filipe Albuquerque. The no26 G-Drive RacinG Aurus was six second behind when Jean-Eric Vergne has to compete a drive through for the earlier incident with the no28 IDEC Sport Oreca during Job Van Uitert’s stint.
The French driver rejoined in 8th place behind the no25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca. With Paul Loup Chatin in 2nd place in the no28 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 no26 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 no26 G-Drive Racing Aurus now had to finish third to secure the title.
In LMP3 the order had shuffled again and the no6 360 Racing Ligier of Terrance Woodward was heading the class ahead of the no2 United Autosports Ligier Nissan of Tommy Erdos, with the no13 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 no19 meant a penalty for the no13 Ligier of 9 laps for not respecting the driving time of Martin Hippe. This promoted the no2 United Autosports Ligier into second place and the no17 Ultimate Norma into third place.
The no11 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 no51 Luzich Racing Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi held a comfortable lead in the LMGTE class, with the no55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Matt Griffin and the no80 Ebimotors Porche of Fabio Babini battling hard for third behind the no60 Kessel Racing Ferrari. There was a clash between Griffin and Babini as the two fought for the final podium, with the no55 Ferrari running wide and spinning at T4.
The no22 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 no39 Graff Oreca-Gibson claimed the final podium position at the end of the 4 Hours of Portimão.
While the no51 Luzich Racing Ferrari finished at the head of the LMGTE class, claiming the automatic invitation to the 2020 24Hours of Le Mans, there was some consolation for the no77 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.