ORECA 07s have dominated the 2018 European Le Mans Series. On Sunday (Oct. 28), Onroak Automotive struck back. United Autosports’ Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson claimed victory in the 4 Hours of Portimão in their Ligier JS P217-Gibson. The French-built prototypes swept the podium in a wild race.
“It was a crazy race,” Albuquerque said after the race. “The top three were separated by less than five seconds! I must give credit to Phil [Hanson]. Phil did an amazing job. I don’t know how he did four stints on this track. I did two and I’m pretty beaten, I must say.
“Panis Barthez [Competition] were really quick with Will Stevens,” Albuquerque continued. “I managed the tires well and the traffic to stay ahead, but it was really, really hard due to…oversteer.”
At the start, Pierre Ragues in the pole sitting Duqueine Engineering ORECA 07-Gibson had to fight hard to keep Panis Barthez Competition’s Timothé Buret behind. In the process, Ragues clipped a raised secondary curb. Buret was able to get past for the lead, but Ragues re-took the lead after a short full course yellow. It is unclear whether the curb hit was the root cause, but the Duqueine team was forced to withdraw early in the second hour after suffering a suspension failure.
With the Duqueine team out, the race ended up being a duel between the Paniz Barthez No. 23 of Buret, Stevens and Julien Canal, along with both of United Autosports’ Ligiers. The champion No. 26 G-Drive Racing ORECA struggled for much of the day, but really came on strong once Jean-Eric Vergne got in the car. Vergne was able to race up to the leaders and had a tough battle with the No. 22 United Autosports Ligier with Albuquerque driving. With just under an hour remaining, Vergne was able to take the overall lead from Albuquerque, but went outside of the track limits to do so. This move angered the stewards.
Ultimately, pit strategy and drive time decided the race. G-Drive Racing was forced to pit out of the lead with under 40 minutes to go to put Andrea Pizzitola in the car. That gave Albuquerque the advantage. From there, he held off a charging Stevens to take the second straight overall victory for the No. 22. Unlike Spa, this race went the full four-hour distance.
The margin of victory was just over a half a second over Stevens, Buret and Canal. The No. 26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 07 of Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov crossed the line in third, but was assessed a 10-second post-race penalty for abusing track limits. As a result, United Autosports No. 32 for Wayne Boyd, Hugo de Sadeleer and William Owen was promoted to third. The G-Drive No. 26 had to settle for fourth. Racing Engineering’s Norman Nato, Paul Petit and Olivier Pla were a distant fifth, nearly 84 seconds back.
In LMP3, M. Racing-YMR’s Lucas Légeret led early, but AT Racing’s Mikkel Jensen took the class lead away on Lap 2. For nearly the entire first half of the race, AT Racing dominated. Then, pit strategy came into play. Also, a number of teams including the No. 9 were hit with similar 10-second penalties for violating track limits.
Five different teams entered the race with a chance at the championship. These were RLR MSport, 360 Racing, United Autosports’ No. 3, Eurointernational’s No. 11 and Inter Europol Competition’s No. 13. Very quickly, the contenders were whittled down. Eurointernational’s Giorgio Mondini had a terrible weekend, spinning in qualifying on Saturday. In the race, he crashed with the EBIMOTORS Porsche driven by Gianluca Giraudi and broke the rear suspension, ending the day for both teams. 360 Racing had mechanical issues and spent significant time in the garage before finishing 33rd overall. United Autosports’ No. 3 had a miserable day with penalties, but still managed seventh in class.
That meant that the title came down to the RLR MSport No. 15 of former Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge champion John Farano, Rob Garofall and Job van Uitert and the Inter Europol No. 13 of Martin Hippe and Jakub Smiechowski. Farano led the class until just after the race’s sole Safety Car period for Mondini’s crash when Hippe was able to take the lead.
With the varying pit strategies at play, Hippe’s pass of Farano with 68 minutes remaining ended up being the pass for the win. Despite damage to the rear of the No. 13, Hippe was able to hold on to the finish to take the class victory for him and Smiechowski. The victory also moved the duo up to second in points.
Hippe and Smiechowski’s margin of victory was 12.52 seconds over the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen entry of Alex Kapadia, Colin Noble and Christian Olsen. United Autosports’ No. 2 Ligier JS P3 for John Falb and Scott Andrews was third, followed by the NEFIS by Speed Factory No. 5 of Timur Boguslavskiy, Aleksey Chuklin and Danill Pronenko. Farano, Garofall and van Uitert had to settle for fifth, but that was still good enough to win them the LMP3 championship.
In GTE, much of the race was dominated by Proton Competition’s two Porsche 911 RSRs. The No. 88 Porsche with Gianluca Roda at the wheel led early despite having the rear diffuser knocked off the car. Once that was finally repaired, the car actually dropped back down the order. That allowed the No. 77 Porsche of Marvin Dienst, Dennis Olsen and Christian Ried to come to the front. The EBIMOTORS team was their primary competition, but once they were eliminated in the aforementioned crash, the No. 77 team held on to take the victory.
Proton Competition’s margin of victory was a lap over the JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Liam Griffin, Alex MacDowall and Miguel Molina. The No. 88 Porsche of Matteo Cairoli and the father and son duo of Gianluca and Giorgio Roda were third. The third-place finish was good enough for the Rodas to take home the GTE championship.