Spa shenanigans make for a great ELMS finale

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Going into the penultimate round of the European Le Mans Series with a healthy nine point lead and Qualifying on the front row for Sundays race, all look to be running along nicely for TF Sport ahead of the 4hrs of Spa-Francorchamps last weekend.

As with most multi-class racing however, not all the 35 cars entry had read the script and Spa soon became a operation of recovery for the GTE class leaders as early as turn one - lap one when front end damage soon relegated the #90 car of Euan Hankey, Salih Yoluc and Nicki Thiim to the back of the field for most of the race.

For the sister Aston Martin Racing runner from Beechdean AMR however, their recent run of misfortune in the Series was to come to an apparent end as Ross Gunn quickly powered his #99 Vantage GTE from the rear of the starting pack to be pushing for third in class within the first half of his opening stint.

With debris falling from the #90 car after unseen contact with an LMP3 car going into Le Source for the first time, Hankey was obviously immediately in trouble with his car under performing through lack of aero downforce, quickly loosing 3-4 seconds per lap to his class rivals up front.

Unfortunately for the race in general, poor driving again from parts of the LMP3 entry descended the remainder of the race in persistent bouts local and full course yellows with even two appearances from the safety Car - an unusual event these days in ACO rules racing. For the spectator, these interventions fragmented the race with safety car periods breeding the inevitable safety car periods but at least for the #90 car it slowed everything down.

Even by the time AMR works driver Nicki Thiim got into the car in the second hour of the race there was little he nor the team could do without consigning the car to a lengthy stop in the garage.

Both AMR cars did run the race with a revision to their normal driver roster with Bronze drivers Andrew Howard (#99) and Salih Yoluc (#90) both being the third driver of the sequence in their cars before both Gunn and Hankey returned to finish each cars race respectively.

Whilst Beechdean AMR were 'enjoying' their best race since the season opener at Silverstone, including hitting the front of the class on true pace alone thanks to some very determined driving from primarily Gunn and then Howard, the crew of the #90 were enduring several heart stopping moments where their car would stop out on track due to fair means or foul.

The best news for TF Sport came when the #77 Proton Porsche was unceremoniously punted off the track by another errant LMP3 causing them significant damage that would allow the #90 car to overtake it on track for a couple more crucial championship points.

By the end of the four hour race the #99 car crossed the line to end up grabbing the final step of the GTE class podium behind the winning #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari and second placed #66 JMW Ferrari.

From a championship perspective, going into the final round of the series next month in Portimao TF Sport retain the GTE lead from the JMW squad but now by just a single point but with another 26 points on offer next time out it is still mathematically possible for any of the top five cars being able to claim the 2017 title albeit with some needing an extra ordinary level of failure from the leaders of the class.

Although a very difficult race for TF Sport, they all displayed a honorary level of perseverance after their early damage whilst Beechdean drove 'like they stole it' for the entire race and proved that a fast pace in Qualifying is not everything!

Drive of the day - definitely Ross Gunn's opening stint.

Roll on Portimao

Photo credit - ELMS / TF Sport / Beechdean AMR

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