An all Ligier top 4 with the JS P320s at Portimao and a fifth ELMS LMP3 crown for Ligier
October 29 -November 1, 2020 - The Portimão season-finale confirms the domination of the Ligier JS P320s in the ELMS. They sweep the top 4 places at the end of an eventful race. The #2 United Autosports car of Boyd, Gamble and Wheldon, take a well-deserved third victory and clinch both the Driver and Team titles. The Anglo-American team are ELMS champions for third time. With its runner-up finish, the duo of Droux and Gerbi claim third place in the championship for Realteam Racing. The tandem of Hippe and Lunardi in the #13 Inter Europol Competition takes the final spot on the podium. The Polish team is runner-up for the third straight year with a Ligier.
The Ligier JS P320 also scores its fifth win in five races. It won every pole position and took every spot on the podium, except one second place, this season. It locked out the top seven places in the championship. In five seasons, Ligier has won five LMP3 titles.
The title was still up for grabs at the fifth and final race of the European Le Mans Series at the Algarve International Circuit. And four teams, all with the Ligier JS P320, were in contention. Mathematically, because a favourite stood out from the rest: United Autosports and the crew of Wayne Boyd, Tom Gamble and Robert Wheldon in the #2 Ligier JS P320, with 68 points. The #13 Polish Inter Europol Competition Ligier JS P320 was still very much in with a chance on 58 points. Two teams with a little bit of luck could play the role of outsider: Realteam Racing with the #8 Ligier JS P320 on 50 points and 2019 champions, Eurointernational with the #11 Ligier JS P320 with 47 points. The stakes are high because the title comes with an invitation to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in LMP2.
On Thursday October 29, the tone of the weekend in ELMS was set during the collective tests. The Ligier JS P320s dominated the time sheets and two teams stood out: the #2 United Autosports Ligier JS P320 and the crew of Boyd, Gamble and Wheldon and Realteam Racing with the duo of David Droux and Julien Gerbi who replaced Esteban Garcia in the #8 Ligier JS P320. Wayne Boyd and David Droux each went quickest in a session. It was the same story the following day in free practice. On Saturday, Wayne Boyd posted a time of 1:36.277s in qualifying to take his fourth pole position of the season, and the fifth for a Ligier JS P320 in five races.
It was 25C° at 11am local time for the start of the 4 Hours of Portimão. 12 LMP3 cars were in action. Robert Wheldon in the #2 United Autosports Ligier JS P320 started from pole, while Lorenzo Veglia in the #15 RLR MSport entry and Andrew Bentley in the #3 United Autosports car immediately moved up to second and third place to the detriment of the #4 DKR Engineering Duqueine 08. The leading Ligiers were soon joined by the #8 Realteam Racing JS P320 driven by Julien Gerbi and the #9 Graff Ligier of Arnold Robin.
But after ten minutes, the #3 dropped out of the top three. In a scrap with the #15 car for second place, Andrew Bentley made an unforced error and fell to 11th place in the category. The crew of Bentley, McGuire and Tappy had it all to do over.
Five minutes later came the first Full Course Yellow for the removal of a GT car. Some LMP3 cars were able to make one of their mandatory pit stops, including the cars battling for the championship, the #2 from United Autosports, the #8 from Realteam Racing and the #11 Eurointernational with Jacopo Baratto behind the wheel. At the re-start, the #15 was in the lead, followed by the #9 and then the #13 that overtook the #4 Duqueine 08, which in the first hour of the race returned to the pits for lengthy intervention that definitively relegated it to the bottom of the order.
Another Full Course Yellow after roughly one hour and 40 minutes of the race once again shook up the running order and reduced the gaps. After the first big wave of stops, at nearly half-distance, the #2 United Autosports re-took the lead. Further back, Martin Hippe in the #13 Inter Europol Competition overtook Tom Cloet in the #16 BHK Motorsport car. David Droux in the #8 Realteam Racing was the last of the competitors in the lead group.
The safety car was called into service with an hour and 40 minutes remaining to clean the track of tyre debris. This allowed some teams to gain track position and others to lose, during the pass around procedure. This was the case for Tom Gamble in the #2 Ligier JS P320, who held on to the lead, but saw his advantage diminish. Behind the #2 car, three Ligier JS P320s were in a battle: the #15 of RLR MSport, the #8 from Realteam Racing and the #13 Inter Europol Competition entry.
Following the final stops, Wayne Boyd in the #2 car found himself behind David Droux in the #8 Realteam Racing JS P320. While second place would be enough for the United Autosports Ligier to clinch the title, Wayne Boyd kept pushing to retake the lead of the race 25 minutes from the end. The crew of Boyd, Gamble and Wheldon finished the season in style, taking a well-earned victory, the third in five races, along with the Driver and Team titles.
Malthe Jakobsen in the #15 RLR MSport car looked a solid bet for third place when he came in for a final splash of fuel. Sadly, he never returned to the track. A starter issue prevented him from going back out. Despite a very fine race, the #15 crew of Dayson, Jakobsen and Veglia were not classified. The path was clear for the #13 Inter Europol Competition car. Dino Lunardi finished third. After a long march through the field, Duncan Tappy in the #3 United Autosports JS P320 was fourth. The trio of Baratto, Kari and Maulini in the #11 Eurointernational entry could only manage sixth place after being hampered by the pass around procedure.
Vincent Capillaire and the Robin brothers in the #9 Graff car were not rewarded for the strong pace they showed in the race. They suffered a slow puncture, which saw them finish a disappointing seventh, ahead of the crew of Cloet, Adomavičius and Fontana in the #16 BHK Motorsport machine, which posted their best result of the season.
At the conclusion of this season-final chalk-full of plot twists, the #2 car brought United Autosports its third LMP3 title in the European Le Mans Series in a Ligier.
The second-place finish for the duo of Droux and Gerbi sees Realteam Racing finish third in the championship.
The Polish Inter Europol Competition finishes runner-up in the championship for the third consecutive year.
Inter Europol Competition also entered the #34 Ligier JS P217 in LMP2, but the Polish team didn't finish on the high note it hoped for in the 4 Hours of Portimão.
After a good opening stint by Kuba Smiechowski, a slow rear puncture unfortunately obliged the #34 car to make a stop just prior to a Full Course Yellow, which penalised it more than a lap. The #34 was back in contention and Rene Binder handed over to Kuba Smiechowski when in the final minutes of the race, a broken brake disc sent the car into the tyre barriers at the very fast turn one. The driver managed to walk away, but the #34 car could not be classified.
Michelin le Mans Cup: the #37 Cool Racing Ligier JS P320 is runner-up in the championship
In the sixth and final round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup the Ligier JS P320s were unlucky and the podium eluded them. A result that doesn't do justice to what was a fine season. And in particular for the #37 Cool Racing Ligier JS P320, which was heading to a well-deserved victory until an unfortunately timed appearance of the safety car relegated it to sixth place. Here's hoping that the runner-up place in the LMC Driver and Team Championships will make up for the legitimate frustration of Édouard Cauhaupé and Nicolas Maulini and the Swiss team. The #26 Graff Ligier JS P320 of Matthias Kaiser and Rory Penttinen finish third in both the Team and Driver Championships.
The chance to win the title were slim for Nicolas Maulini and Edouard Cauhaupé in the #37. While Wolfgang Triller and Laurents Hörr in the #3 DKR Engineering Duqueine 08 could wrap up the title with a 10th place result, their challengers, head to above all else capture the pole position and the win. And this victory was within reach for most of the race.
The meeting got off to a good start for the Ligier JS P320s with the best time in free practice for Alessandro Ghiretti in the #12 Team Virage entry and the pole position for Nicolas Maulini with a lap of 1:35.919s, one second faster than the #21 Duqueine 08. The #26 Graff car with Rory Penttinen set the second-best time. The #69 Cool Racing with Maurice Smith finished in fourth place. The start of the race got off without trouble, but the race was going to take an ominous turn.
The first safety car came at the six-minute mark of the race for the removal of the #5 CD Sport Ligier JS P320 driven by Michaël Jensen, which was damaged after contact with another car and forced to retire.
At the re-start, the #12 Team Virage Ligier JS P320 with Miguel Cristovão behind the wheel was given a drive-through penalty. The #69 spun and lost fourth place. This incident worked in favour of Fabien Lavergne in the #27 MV2S Racing Ligier JS P320, who after a strong drive through the field was up to fifth place.
After the first mandatory stops the leading duo reformed. This time it was Édouard Cauhaupé in the #37 Ligier JS P320 and Matthias Kaiser in the #26 Ligier JS P320.
With 22 minutes remaining in the race an incident brought an end to the hopes of the two leading Ligier crews. Returning to the track after a spin, the #27 MV2S Racing entry with Christophe Cresp aboard was centre-punched by Andrew Meyrick in the #24 United Autosports car. It looked worse than it was for Christophe Cresp and Andrew Meyrick, but their races were over. The safety car came out at the worst possible moment for Édouard Cauhaupé, who had a comfortable lead in the #37 Ligier JS P320, and had just passed the pit lane entry. The pack of LMP3 cars behind the safety car were much luckier as they could come in immediately to make their second mandatory stop. The #37 car lost a full lap and any chance for a well-deserved win and eventual title.
At the re-start, seven minutes from the chequered flag, four GT cars followed the safety car and were ahead of the #26 race leading Graff Ligier JS P320 and Matt Bell in the #69 Cool Racing machine. Matt was quick on the accelerator and passed Matthias Kaiser in the #26, but then he went off the track shortly afterwards. The #26 entry was on its way to victory. Alas no! The two drivers just barely overtook a GT car too soon at the restart. It wasn't long before the drive-through penalty came costing the #26 squad 29 seconds. Nothing changed for the #69 car in the gravel, which could take small solace with the fastest lap of the race in 1:36.881s, but the #26 Ligier JS P320 lost out on the win and finished seventh. Same story, same punishment for Dino Lunardi in the #98 Motorsport98 Ligier JS P320 that he shared with Eric De Doncker. They finished eighth. The #23 United Autosports Ligier JS P320 crossed the line in fourth place.
The victory and the podium thus escaped the Ligier JS P320 at the end of a race with disappointing results. Cool Racing and the outstanding duo of Édouard Cauhaupé and Nicolas Maulini in the #37 car finished sixth and had to settle for runner-up in the Team and Driver Championships. Matthias Kaiser and Rory Penttinen in the #26 Graff Ligier JS P320 finished third in both the Team and Driver Championships.