A post-race stewards’ decision at Paul Ricard dramatically changed the complexion of the European Le Mans Series standings, with Jota Sport’s advantage slashed to just one point heading to the Estoril finale.
An electronic glitch caused Jota Sport platinum driver Filipe Albuquerque to surpass his allocated 90 minute driving time requirement by 1 minute 57s during the middle portion of the race, which forced race control to impose a 45 second penalty.
Harry Tincknell had crossed the line a convincing 30s ahead of the Greaves Motorsport Gibson after four hours of running at the French circuit, but the time penalty demoted Jota Sport to third overall, bringing the now-victorious Greaves squad within to a point of their rivals.
“I’m absolutely gutted over the penalty as we gained no advantage,” said Jota Sport starting driver Simon Dolan. “We actually were worse off because of the driving time and I feel it’s a very, very harsh penalty. In terms of the race, we won on track by a considerable margin due to fast pit-stops and all three drivers setting the top-seven fastest times.”
Albuquerque echoed his teammate’s sentiments but is confident that Jota Sport can bounce back from the disappointment and take its maiden ELMS title at Estoril.
“I had been very happy with this win and it’s a shame what happened to us but rules are rules,” the Portuguese driver said. “It still means we go to my ‘home’ race at Estoril next month leading the championship so the spectators there will again have a tremendous championship finale to watch.”
Jota Sport started the Paul Ricard race from pole, with Dolan making his first race start in six years. The 46 year old was immediately challenged at the start by the Dunlop-shod BR01 coupes and the Pegasus Racing Morgan that had charged its way up from fifth on the grid.
However, Dolan soon recovered and after gaining a position from a penalty inflicted on the Thiriet ORECA was able to lay down a pursuit of the leading BR01s.
Audi factory driver Albuquerque soon took over after a strong opening stint from Dolan, taking the lead briefly during the pit-stops. During this time Albuquerque came into the pits for his team’s final service, handing the car over to Tincknell who had a narrow 5.8s advantage over the Greaves Gibson of Jon Lancaster.
Pole-sitter Tincknell then commanded the final 40 minutes to take the flag and the plaudits, before the post-race decision put a dampener on an otherwise faultless performance for the Jota squad.
“By the time I took over the Gibson for the final 40 minute stint of the race it was fairly easy for me,” reflected Tincknell. “It was a good race, my stint was just about bringing the car home which I did. Fast and consistent and it was the perfect weekend until a silly software error cost us the race victory.”
“We still lead the championship but I’m obviously bitterly disappointed to have lost the win,” he added. “It was an innocent error and didn’t gain us any time or advantage whatsoever. But rules are rules and we have to abide by them.”
The final (and deciding) round of the European Le Mans Series will take place on October 17-18 at the Autodromo do Estoril near Lisbon. The LMP2 championship is still wide open, with Jota Sport on 76 points and Greaves close behind on 75. A poor weekend for Thiriet by TDS Racing places the French squad in third, 10 points adrift of Jota.