Saturday, 24 September 2016

European Le Mans Series - 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps: Dragonspeed on top again in qualifying

Third session on track, third time Nicolas Lapierre and the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca05/Nissan is on the top of the timesheets. 

After his unfortunate crash from this morning, Lapierre showed his outright speed again, being 0.445 seconds faster than everyone else in qualifying. His laptime of 2.06.603 was even faster than the fastest lap in qualifying during the WEC race back here in May (2.06.748 by Rene Rast in the G-Drive Oreca) . 

Behind Lapierre, both championship contenders were battling it out for the second spot on the front row tomorrow. Matthias Beche ultimately won the battle with Harry Tincknell, putting the #46 Oreca ahead of the #38 Gibson with a margin of 0.166 seconds. Completing the top 5 are Tristan Gommendy in the #33 Eurasia Oreca and Andrea Pizzitola in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2.

Enzo Guibbert gave the Graff team their first pole in the European Le Mans Series. Right untill the last lap, it seemed like Matthew Bell would claim pole position in his #3 United Autosports Ligier, until Guibbert drove an incredible lap in the dying moments of the session. Pole for the Graff #9 then in 2.14.392, just 0.064 seconds faster than the #3. Nigel Moore was third fastest in the #26 Tockwith Motorsports Ligier, only 0.073 seconds behind Bell.  

Another first in the GTE class where Alessandro Pier Guidi was fastest overall in his #56 AT Racing Ferrari in 2.17.038. Matteo Cairoli, who won the Porsche Superup race here back in August was second quickest in the #88 Proton Competition Porsche, 0.338 seconds behind Pier Guidi. Completing the top 3 in class is Matt Griffin in the #55 AF Corse Ferrari. Championship leaders JMW Motorsport will start from fourth place tomorrow/

As in LMP2, Pier Guidi outpaced the fastest qualifying lap that was set during the WEC race in May (2.17.603 by Davide Rigon in the GTE-Pro Ferrari #71). 

The 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will start tomorrow afternoon at 14.00h. Live broadcast is available at the ELMS website.  

Kristof Vermeulen.

European Le Mans Series - 4 Hours of Spa Francorchamps: Dragonspeed fastest again in FP2

"Indian Summer" at Spa today, with sunshine all over the track, a light breeze and temperatures rising well up above 20° C around noon.

In the second free practice session this morning, Nicolas Lapierre was outright fastest again in his #21 Dragonspeed Oreca05/Nissan. Lapierre drove a 2.07.856, which was 0.671 faster than Tristan Gommendy in the #33 Eurasia Oreca05. Paul Loup Chatin came out third fastest with a 2.08.709. It wasn't all sunshine though for the American team, when Lapierre went off at the final chicane & came back in with damage on the nose of the car.

A few minutes before the end of the session, the red flag came out when Alexander Wirth went off at Blanchimont and had contact with the barriers in his #32 SMP Racing BR01. Wirth made it back to the pitlane where the mechanics immediately started working on the damaged car.  The Belgian WRT car also had an outage in the gravel trap, keeping it in its box for while. 

LMP3 was dominated by United Autosports again. Matt Bell now slightly faster than Alex Brundle in the #2 Ligier with a 2.15.969. Brundle came 0.065 seconds short to beat Bell this morning. Enzo Guibbert set the third time in the #9 Graff Ligier, 0.262 seconds behind Bell. The first seven cars in class stayed within 0.6 seconds, calling out for a close race again tomorrow.

Matteo Cairoli in his #88 Proton Competition Porsche led the field in the GTE class, putting a 2.18.814 on the board. Marco Cioci ended up second fastest in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, but already 0.441 seconds behind the Porsche. Darren Turner in the #99 Beachdean Aston Martin just missed the second spot with 0.028 seconds. 

Qualifying is set to start at 13.25 this afternoon. 

Kristof Vermeulen

Friday, 23 September 2016

European Le Mans Series - 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps: Friday practice sessions

After an incident free first practice session this afternoon, the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca05/Nissan of Hendrik Hedman, Nicolas Lapierre and Ben Hanley set the fastest time in the Ardennes.

Nicolas Lapierre was the fastest man on track with a 2.08.629, closely followed by Stefano Coletti in the #32 SMP Racing BR01, just 0.098 seconds behind the Frenchman. Third fastest was Olivier Pla in his #40 Krohn Racing Ligier in 2.08.832. The first six cars in the LMP2 class finished within one second. Newcomers WRT were sixth fastest, Laurens Vanthoor putting a 2.09.582 on the table.

Championship leaders Thiriet by TDS Racing set the fourth fastest time, their nearest competitors G-Drive Racing didn't get further than 11th fastest.

In LMP3 the #2 United Autosports Ligier was fastest overall in 2.15.517 with Alex Brundle at the wheel. Brundle was 0.611 seconds faster than the #16 Panis Barthez Competition driven by Simon Gachet. Yann Erlacher completed the top 3 in the M. Racing YMR Ligier.

Quickest in the GTE class was Allesandro Pier Guidi in the #56 AT Racing Ferrari in 2.19.130. Pier Guidi was 0.290 seconds faster than fellow Italian Andrea Bertolini in the #66 JMW Ferrari. Wolf Henzler set the third fastest time in the #77 Proton Competition Porsche, nearly 0.6 seconds slower than Pier Guidi.

In  the Bronze driver collective test this morning, Fabien Barthez set the fastest time in his #23 Panis-Barthez Competition Ligier JSP2. Barthez' fastest lap in 2.13.970 was 1.357 seconds faster than Michael Munemann in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier. Third fastest was Thomas Laurent in the #18 M Racing YMP Ligier LMP3.  

Alexander Talkanitsa was the fastest GT driver, with a laptime of 2.22.517 in his #56 AT Racing Ferrari. Gianluca Roda set the second fastest time in the #88 Proton Porsche (2.22.715) ahead of Pierguiseppe Perazzini in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari F458.

The second free practice session for the European Le Mans Series is scheduled tomorrow morning at 9.30h. The qualifying sessions will be run in the afternoon, starting at 13.25h. 

Results Bronze collective driver test
Results Free Practice 1

Kristof Vermeulen.

European Le Mans Series: Monza and Portimão on the 2017 calendar

Pierre Fillion, president of the ACO and Gerard Neveu, CEO of the ELMS have presented the provisional calender for 2017 during a press conference at Spa-Francorchamps this afternoon.

The announcement of the 2017 European Le Mans Series calendar reveals consistency and the continued promise of plenty of exciting and enjoyable racing for competitors and fans. The four-hour races in Great Britain, Italy, Austria, France, Belgium and Portugal, so popular with ELMS teams and drivers, all still figure on the calendar. However, two new venues have been announced today !

The ELMS official two-day pre-season test in March, and the second round of the championship in May will, in 2017, be held at the temple of Italian motorsport, Monza. The addition of the high-speed circuit to the calendar will be a welcome addition for teams as part of their preparations for the jewel in the crown of endurance racing, the Le Mans 24 Hours in June. The 2017 ELMS season will once again conclude in October in Portugal at the Algarve-located Portimão circuit. 

The LMP2 class will in 2017 continue in the Pro-Am formula, requiring at least one Bronze or Silver rated driver in the driver line-ups. The LMP2 class will consist of 2 separate "classes" next season. First of all the new for 2017 LMP2 cars and second the "grandfathered" cars which are running the championship this year. Both LMP2 classes will have their own championship and podiums at every race.  

The maximum amount of cars on the grid will be limited to 40 cars as from 2017. This will be done to give the teams a certain amount of comfort in the garages & pitlane and also to keep everything manageable. However, if there's a possibility on a track to host more cars (like Spa this weekend), that still might be the case. The maximum amount of cars who will be invited to take part in the full season will be limited to 40 though. 

The raceweekends themselves will have the same schedule as this season, with the continuing support of the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, the Renault Sport Trophy and the Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup.

Pierre Fillon, President of Automobile Club de l’Ouest: “The 2017 calendar offers competitors and fans the very best opportunity to be part of what has rapidly become Europe’s leading endurance series. The stability of maintaining six rounds, with races of four-hours in length, at well-established and prestigious tracks, can only increase the popularity of these events.”

Gérard Neveu, European Le Mans Series CEO: “Among the many well-known European motorsport venues, there are some which speak for themselves through their tradition and history. As well as Silverstone and Spa we now have Monza which has a long history in endurance racing. We very much look forward to going there in 2017, just as we also look forward to creating new traditions and history at more modern venues such as Portimão in the sunny Algarve area where we will close the season.”

More details about the sporting regulations will be revealed at the race in Estoril next month.

Provisional ELMS 2017 Calendar

28/29 March         ELMS official test at Monza    (Italy)

15 April                4 Hours of Silverstone (UK)

14 May                 4 Hours of Monza (Italy)

23 July                  4 Hours of Red Bull Ring (Austria)

27 August             4 Hours of Le Castellet (France)

24 September        4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium)

22 October            4 Hours of Portimão (Portugal)

Kristof Vermeulen.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

European Le Mans Series - 4 Hours of Spa-Franchorchamps: Thursday gallery

More pictures in the gallery below

2017 FIA World Endurance Championship provisional calendar

Today, the FIA Endurance Commission has presented the provisional FIA World Endurance Championship calendar for 2017 which will be submitted to the FIA World Motorsport Council in the following days for validation.

One major change is the Prologue which now will be held at Monza instead of Le Castellet as in the past years during the last weekend of March. The addition of the high-speed circuit to the calendar will be a welcome addition for teams as part of their preparations for the cornerstone event of the world championship, the Le Mans 24 Hours.

All other venues on which the series run in 2016 will return, with no major date changes. The 6 Hours of the Nürburgring is planned one week earlier than this year, causing a clash with the Formula E series in which several LMP1 factory drivers are active at the moment. 

The main race of the season, the 24 Hours of Le Mans will take place on June 17 & 18, with the testweekend 2 weeks in advance on the 3th and 4th of June.  

All events will be of a duration of six hours, other than Le Mans.  The season starts, as is now tradition, with European rounds at Silverstone, Spa, Le Mans and Nürburgring, before the trans-continental journey begins to Mexico, USA, Japan, China and Bahrain.

“We are very pleased to have maintained this level of stability in the five years of the WEC to date, and our 2017 calendar allows us to continue to build on the tradition of endurance racing around the world,” said Pierre Fillon, President of the ACO.  “Our increasing number of fans year on year is proof that returning to a venue at a similar time of year encourages people to make their plans to attend well in advance…and to bring friends with them to enjoy all the entertainment and access that the WEC offers.  The Le Mans 24 Hours needs no introduction, but we know that audiences in countries such as Mexico can only increase as their knowledge and interest in the WEC grows.  We look forward to an exciting 2017 starting with our first visit to Italy.”

“The opportunity to start our season at Monza is one we are sure will please competitors, fans and media alike,” said Gérard Neveu, CEO of the WEC. “We hope that our calendar not only meets the expectations and requirements of all our partners and competitors, and makes economic and logistical sense, but also that it fits in with the increasing number of events that each venue hosts.  The WEC continues to offer fans access to the most technologically relevant, competitive, and open championship possible, as well as offering our manufacturers Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Ford, Porsche and Toyota the perfect showcase for their products on and off track.”

2017 FIA World Endurance Championship Provisional Calendar**

24/25 March                 The WEC Prologue, Monza                        (Italy)

16 April                        6 Hours of Silverstone                                 (UK)

06 May                         WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps         (Belgium)

17/18 June                   Le Mans 24 Hours                                        (France)

16 July                         6 Hours of Nürburgring                               (Germany)

03 September              6 Hours of Mexico                                        (Mexico)

16 September              6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas               (USA)  

15 October                   6 Hours of Fuji                                              (Japan)

05 November               6 Hours of Shanghai                                     (China)

18 November               6 Hours of Bahrain                                       (Bahrain)

** Subject to approval by the FIA World Motor Sport Council

Kristof Vermeulen.

European Le Mans Series - 4 Hours of Spa-Franchorchamps: 41 cars on the grid

41 cars will be on the grid on Sunday for the first race of the renewed European Le Mans Series at Spa-Francorchamps. The Belgian track hosted the opening round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup back in 2011, since then the championship hasn't returned to the Ardennes.

With the addition of Spa-Francorchamps to the championship, the series return to a mythical and probably one of the most beautiful tracks in the world. The combination of long straights, fast and technical corners and natural altitude differences always guarantee an amazing background for an endurance race.

13 LMP2 cars will be racing at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, one more than last month at Le Castellet with an new Belgian effort in the class.

Championship leaders Thiriet by TDS Racing arrive in Francorchamps after winning the last three rounds of the championship in Italy, Austria and France. Ryo Hirakawa takes up his driving duties again in the #46 Oreca05/Nissan. With 78 points, the team is just 8 points ahead of the Mighty 38 G-Drive Racing Gibson 015S. Simon Dolan, Giedo van der Garde and Harry Tincknell will be keen to reduce that gap and try to get on top of the championship table again.

Vitaly Petrov replaces Julian Leal in the #32 SMP Racing BR01/Nissan, sharing the car with Stefano Coletti and Andreas Wirth. SMP Racing is defending its third place in the championship, with the addition of Petrov to their line-up, they'll be focussed on getting another podium finish Sunday evening.

LeSports by Eurasia Motorsports shares fourth place in the championship after just missing out the podium at Paul Ricard last month. Pu Jun Jin who missed out the race in France after a hefty crash at Signes, will return to the wheel of the Oreca05 this weekend, joining Pieter De Bruijn and Tristan Gommendy again.

Sean Doyle is in the #38 Murphy Prototypes Oreca again, now joined by Gary Findlay and Brazilian Bruno Bonifacio. Findlay returns to the team after racing in Imola in May. 21 year old Bonifacio is making his debut in sportscar racing, but has lots of experience under his belt in Formula 3, Formula Renault 2.0 and 3.5.

A new addition to the grid is Belgian team WRT who will race the Judd powered Ligier JSP2 which was run by So24! earlier in the season. Ex Manor driver Will Stevens will share the car with Belgian brothers Laurens and Dries Vanthoor.  Laurens Vanthoor already knows the car well, having driven it twice at Le Mans, but with a Nissan engine.  For now this is a one time outing of the succesfull team in the ELMS championship. The team is exploring new horizons for the future, so who knows of they might return to sportscar racing in the future.

Swiss team Race Performance again won't race their #34 Oreca03 as in the past 2 races and are in Spa with the Ligier LMP3. They will race the car again in the Asian Le Mans Series, starting at the end of next month. 

In LMP3 we"ll have 19 cars competing this weekend. Tockwith Motorsports returns for their second race in the championship after a very competitive debut at last months race at Le Castellet.

The #2 United Autosports Ligier of Alex Brundle, Christian England and Mike Guash comes to Spa as leaders in the championship with 3 wins under their belt. With 90 points, the have a 30 point lead over the #19 Duqueine Engineering Ligier and the #9 Graff JSP3. If they can keep a lead of 26 point after Sundays race, they will be crowned champions on Sunday evening.

One noticeable driver change in the LMP3 field. In the #4 OAK Racing Ligier, Carlos Tavares will race instead of Jean-Marc Merlin. Tavares is the CEO of PSA Peugeot Citroën with already a lot of racing experience in the past.

© Erik Junius -

Although announced for this race earlier in the season, the Ave-Riley LMP3 which will be run by Murphy's men won't race at Spa or Estoril next month. The car was on display at the Lone Star Le Mans event at COTA last week, but they opted to further develop and test the car before putting it through the whole homologation process in december.  It certainly looks the part, and first reports from testing seem to confirm that it has already shown some good speed at the track.

The GTE grid is roughly the same as at Paul Ricard, with the same eight cars. Just two driver changes are to be noted: Christina Nielsen returns to the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari F458 Italia and Matteo Cairoli takes his seat back in the #88 Proton Porsche.

The championship battle in GTE is very close, with just 8 points separating the top 3 teams. The yellow #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari leads the table with 68 point, only 5 points ahead of the #99 Beachdean Aston Martin. Third in the championship is the #56 AT Racing Ferrari, with the #77 Proton Porsche further down.

The race weekend at Spa will be action filled with the GT3 Michelin Le Mans Cup, Renault Sport Trophy, Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and a few Renault F1 demo's over the weekend. 

Track action for the ELMS resumes tomorrow morning with the Bronze driver collective test at 10h10. The first free practice session will be run at 15.20h in the afternoon. 

Useful links : 

Kristof Vermeulen