European Le Mans Series finale

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The fifth and final round of the 2015 European Le Mans Series took the times to a very unseasonal Estoril circuit in Portugal this weekend. Unlike previous years when the cars had been racing off into the sunset the race weekend this year left the teams 'fighting' to stop their possessions from being literally blown or washed away.

For this round we would be blessed with two further Aston Martin Vantages in addition to the single full season GTC entry from Massive Motorsport in the guise of TF Sport and their Euan Hankey - Salih Yuloc - Richie Stanaway GTC entry together with Beechdean Motorsport's GTE entry with Andrew Howard - Jonny Adam and Alex MacDowall at the wheel.

With gale force winds and multiple millimetres of rain falling during Free Practice 1 the organisers had no choice but to curtail that session on the grounds of safety for all those at the circuit. Those who did complete laps in the GT categories were all twenty seconds plus off the optimum lap time so set up potential was at a minimum anyway.

Free Practice 2 was better in terms of track conditions but all the teams would be on the back foot. TF Sport were still looking to give Salih Yoluc as much track time as possible whilst Howard in the Beechdean was still climbing that GTE 'learning curve' despite having privately tested at the circuit two weeks ago. 

Both teams were saddled with the fact of having fewer sets of Dunlop's to 'play with' for being new entries.

After yet more overnight rain the teams returned to the track on Sunday ready for Qualifying on what would be a very 'green' track again. Not surprisingly and in class the Beechdean GTE would ultimately line up eighth out of nine on the starting grid whilst the TF Sport GTC would be forth with Massive Motorsport bringing up the GTC class rear. Subsequent post session penalties meant that other, higher class cars would start the race behind the red and white V12 Vantage.

Come the formation lap prior to the start of the race the track may have been damp but at least it wasn't raining - yet!!

It would be Euan Hankey in the #77 TF Sport who would have the most notable of starts slotting his way up to the lead of the whole GT field whilst those who started ahead of him got delayed at the first corner by a spinning prototype. Despite then being subsequently passed by the faster GTE cars Hankey would retain that class lead through to the end of his first stint.

AMR factory driver Alex Macdowall would also have a good start easing his V8 Vantage GTE up from P8 to P3 after just half an hour. Simon Moller in the Massive car would however have an early scare with two prototypes coming together and spinning off just inches behind his car. He would again be blessed with fortune just a few minutes later when an over optimistic move going into turn 1 by the #88 Proton Competition Porsche GTE side swiped his V12 Vantage fortunately only breaking their own rear suspension linkage allowing the Dane to continue without effect. The Porsche's dilemma also moved the Beechdean up to P2 in class.

With Hankey now having pitted and swapped with Salih Yoluc, the GTC championship leading TDS BMW was now gaining ground on the inexperienced Turk. Not to be outdone by experience Yoluc did successfully manage to fend off the BMW for a number of laps much to the frustration of the TDS team.

Just after the hour mark track humidity rapidly began to rise again and with a large black cloud just off centre to the circuit more rain was imminent. With a P2 car stranded in the gravel and with rain pouring onto the circuit a Full Course Yellow was issued because of the circuit conditions and at least allowing the cars to get back to the pits at a relatively safe speed. Such was the briefness of the deluge the rain may had even have stopped before the last car had pitted tyres!

Ten minutes later and with cars (fitted with full wets) looking for a wet line to save their tyres the second band of intense rainfall passed through. A second Full Course Yellow was issued.

The trouble for all the drivers was that the lower autumnal sun together with the intense spray being lifted by all the cars presented some treacherous driving conditions for those without a clear view ahead of them. Severall cars, including the #77 TF Sport car would have time wasteful, low speed spins all around the circuit but at the race half way mark a dry line was at least re-establishing itself. 

The #99 Beechdean would find itself in P4, #68 Massive in P4 and #77 TF Sport P5 in class respectively with the #77 also receiving a stop and go penalty for crossing the pit exit line at its last stop.

Just after the halfway point AMR Factory driver Jonny Adam joined the European Le Mans Series quickly establishing himself a rhythm and a couple of places to boot bringing the #99 up to P2 in class. Fellow AMR factory driver Richie Stanaway also got his first racing taste of the series trying to lift the #77 car back up the leader board - first target on track being fellow AMR driver of Francesco Castellacci in his AF Corse Ferrari!!

With just an hour and fifteen minutes remaining Massive Motorsport's up and down ELMS season finally came to a grinding halt with terminal drive failure. All that was left for these guys was to have their Vantage GTC removed from the track under the third and final Full Course Yellow. Three consecutive podiums just weren't to be!!

Jonny Adam and Richie Stanaway would both have little over their minimum drive time in their respective cars before pitting and allowing MacDowall and Hankey back in for the final hour or so. MacDowall would be chased hard by the Gulf Racing Porsche but was able to maintain a gap of at least 6-7 seconds from the #86 car until the chequered flag.

Without ever compromising the races of the full season entries around them the two one off entries from Beechdean and TF Sport completed their ELMS inauguration at the four hour mark with honours. The #77 TF Sport car would finish in a commendable fifth in GTC whilst the #99 Beechdean would go three more and finish P2 in the GTE class.

A great result for both the cars - hopefully this result will confirm Beechdean's full season participation in the European Le Mans Series in 2016 whilst TF Sport may now consider the new for 2016 Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup (GTC class being dropped by ELMS in 2016).

Photo credits - ELMS / TF Sport / Massive Motorsport

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