The European Le Mans Series kicked off their 2017 season last week at the Autodromo Internazionale Monza with the official two day pre-season test.
The ELMS test marked the first “official” appearance of the all new Gibson powered LMP2 prototypes on a European race track. With 3 out of 4 manufacturers present in the series (Oreca, Ligier and Dallara), they all face som fierce competition this season. Over the sessions some cars still showed some electrical and minor mechanical gremlins, but after 14 hours of track time, they all seem to be ready for what announces itself as a very interesting season with some close racing ahead of us.
In 4 of the 5 sessions during the two day test, an Oreca 07 was fastest on track. Except for the morning session of the second day - when Olivier Pla put an impressive 1.36.461 on the timetables with his #28 IDEC-Sport Racing Ligier JSP217. A time that wouldn't be beaten in the final session. Second fastest over the two days was the #22 G-Drive Oreca (1.36.741), ahead of the #40 Graff Oreca 07 of Richard Bradley.
3 Dallara P217's will run in the European Le Mans Series this season. Over all five sessions, the Dallara's were consistently running in the middle of the pack. Fastest was the #49 High Class Racing of Danish drivers Dennis Andersen and Anders Fjordbach with a best time of 1.37.800.
The new LMP2 cars impressed with their speed at the fast Italian track last week. Richard Bradley set the fastest top speed in his Gibson powered #40 Graff Oreca 07 with an impressive 311 km/h. Although Bradley admitted afterwards that he achieved this speed “with a tow”, it's still a massive improvement. The last time the Le Mans Series visited Monza was back in 2008, when only the Audi R10 TDI managed to go faster.
Fastest LMP2 in the FIA WEC, which ran their prologue at Monza last weekend, was the TDS Racing Oreca in 1.36.078, almost 0.4 seconds faster than the quickest ELMS Oreca.
22 LMP3 cars were on track at Monza, seeing the European debut of the Nissan powered Norma M30. The new LMP3 showed some outright speed during the second session of the first day, when the #19 M.Racing-YMR was second fastest, just 3 tenths behind the Ligier sister car of the team.
Lots of driver errors were seen in the LMP3 class, resulting in several full course yellows and red flags over all 5 sessions. AT Racing, debuting in the class after racing a Ferrari in GTE the past seasons, was fastest in Tuesday's first session and the night session. The other sessions were being lead by M.Racing-YMR, United Autosports and Panis Barthez Competition.
After 2 days, the fastest time was set in Wednesday's morning session by the #2 United Autosports Ligier of John Falb & Sean Rahall in 1.45.219. Second fastest overall was the #9 AT Racing Ligier in 1.45.626 (night session), third quickest the #16 Panis Barthez Competition in 1.45.672.
Whether we will see the #20 Norma LMP3 of M.Racing-YMR on the grid in Silverstone next week is still unsure. After the violent crash of Gwenaël Delomier just before the entry of Ascari, the car suffered severe damage. Although the tub of the car wasn't infected by the crash, it will still be a race against time for the team and Norma to get the car build up again and find a replacement driver. Another victim of a crash was the # Gulf liveried United Autosports Ligier when Richard Meins destroyed the front of the car, damaging the tub. The Gulf Ligier was set to enter the Michelin Le Mans Cup in the opening race at Monza next month. United Autosports had a tough 2 day test behind them, damaging almost all of their cars who took part in the test.
All seven season entries in GTE were present at Monza, which saw 3 Ferrari's, 2 Aston Martins and 2 Porsches on track. The #88 Proton Competition Porsche however only managed to do 4 laps inWednesdays first session and sat out all other sessions. During the night session on Tuesday, the only GTE car on track was the #99 Beechdean Aston Martin.
Both Aston Martins of Beechdean AMR and TF Sport dominated all but one session. The fastest time in class was set in the very first session by WEC champion Nicki Thiim in the #90 TF Sport Vantage V8. The #99 Beachdeen AMR got the second fastest time in 1.49.237, ahead of the TF Sport Aston again in 1.49.451 (in the second session). The fastest on Aston Martin of the weekend was the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari F488 GTE in 1.50.041, which was the fastest time overall in the final session. The TF Sport Aston didn't participate in the final session on Wednesday after contact with an LMP3 damaged the right front of the car.
JMW Motorsport is the only team fielding a non-2016 car in the GTE Class. They return to the ELMS with their yellow Ferrari F458 Italia in which they became vice champions last season. The fastest time set in this car was a 1.50.560. This is just half a second shy of the fastest time set in the turbo powered F488 GTE, showing that the F458 still will be competitive over the season.
The European Le Mans Series kick off the season with their first race next Saturday on Easter weekend in Silverstone.