On Sunday, GRAFF Racing’s No. 40 ORECA 07-Gibson shared by James Allen, Richard Bradley and Gustavo Yacaman claimed overall victory in the European Le Mans Series’ 4 Hours of Portimao. It is the second consecutive overall victory for the French team.
While the team did win by over 38 seconds on Sunday, by no means was it easy. There was one substantial issue.
“We found out immediately we had a problem with the fuel tank in the car,” Bradley explained after the race. “We were missing 20 liters every stop, which is why we had to make one more stop than planned. [The race] was all about pushing like hell so that we could get the gap to make the extra stop.”
For much of the race, it looked like it was going to be United Autosports’ day. Hugo de Sadeleer had an excellent start to the race. The Swiss racer took the lead away from pole sitter Nathanaël Berthon on lap 2 and held it for much of the early portions of the event. The GRAFF Racing No. 40 started in ninth, but Yacaman was a man possessed early on. Despite three laps being spent under an early full course yellow, Yacaman moved from ninth to third behind de Sadeleer and Léo Roussel in the point-leading G-Drive Racing No. 22.
The pit rules in ELMS tend to jumble the field at times as some teams have different strategies. Regardless, the United Autosports No. 32 and GRAFF Racing’s No. 40 were the class of the field.
However, de Sadeleer made a serious mistake right before he got out of the car that likely cost the team the race. De Sadeleer didn’t get onto the pit lane limiter fast enough. As a result, he was clocked at 80.610 kph in the pit lane. The speed limit was 60 kph. Due to the substantial amount that de Sadeleer was over the speed limit, the United Autosports Ligier JS P217-Gibson was forced to serve a 55 second stop and hold penalty.
There was a period of over 25 minutes between the infraction occurring and the penalty being served. As de Sadeleer got out of the car immediately after the infraction occurred, teammate William Owen had to pit from the overall lead with 82 minutes to go to serve the penalty. Given the amount of time necessary to simply drive down the pit lane at 60 kph, Owen lost about three-quarters of a lap here.
The penalty gave GRAFF Racing an insurmountable lead that simply could not be overcome. A crash in the final hour for the second GRAFF Racing entry driven by Paul Petit in which Petit suffered a suspension failure and spun into the tires at pit entrance nearly caused a Safety Car. However, track crews were able to remove the stricken No. 39 ORECA 07 under a local yellow.
From there, Bradley was able to hold on for the win. As noted, the margin of victory was 38.169 seconds over the No. 32 of de Sadaleer, Owen and Filipe Albuquerque. SMP Racing’s No. 27 Dallara for Russian drivers Matevos Isaakyan and Egor Orudzhev was third. The G-Drive Racing No. 22 of Rojas, Roussel and Ryo Hirakawa was over a minute behind in fourth. However, that was enough to give Rojas and Roussel the ELMS LMP2 Championship for 2017 (Hirakawa missed two rounds). The No. 47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara for Andrea Belicchi, Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Sernagiotto finished a lap down in fifth.
In LMP3, AT Racing’s No. 9 Ligier JS P3 of Mikkel Jensen and the Talkanitsas (Alexander Sr. and Jr.) dominated much of the race from the class pole. However, Alexander Talkanitsa Sr. challenged the track limits one too many times. As a result, the No. 9 had to serve a costly drive-through penalty. The penalty, plus a costly pit stop late dropped the No. 9 to seventh, two laps down at the finish.
That gave the lead to United Autosports’ No. 3 Ligier JS P3 shared by Christian England, Mark Patterson and Wayne Boyd. In the closing laps, England had a nine-second lead over John Falb in the second United Autosports LMP3 entry. However, England was spun out with 14 minutes to go by High Class Racing’s Anders Fjordbach. Luckily, England was able to continue with a minimal loss of time. From there, England held on to take his first win of the year.
United Autosports’ No. 2 for Falb and Sean Rayhall finished second. That was good enough to give the American teammates the LMP3 championship. M. Racing-YMR’s Alexandre Cougnard, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci were a lap down in third, followed by the Duqueine Engineering No. 7 of Antonin Borga, David Droux and Nicolas Schatz that started at the rear.
In GTE, the Spirit of Race No. 55 Ferrari was the best in class early on. However, the team suffered an unexpected engine failure in the third hour. That put the JMW Motorsport Ferrari in the class lead with the Proton Competition Porsche in hot pursuit.
With 14 minutes to go, Proton Competition’s Matteo Cairoli was able to get past JMW Motorsport’s Jody Fannin for the class lead. From there, Cairoli pulled away to take the class win for himself and teammates Joel Camathias and Christian Ried.
Fannin ended up eight seconds back in second. That was enough to give him and teammates Robert Smith and Will Stevens the GTE championship for 2017. The TF Sport Aston Martin for Euan Hankey, Nicki Thiim and Salih Yoluc was a lap down in third.