This weekend the curtain will fall on another dramatic season of the European Le Mans Series. The fifth and final round of the championship, the 4 Hours of Estoril, will decide three of the four class victors this Sunday, October 18.
The main focus will be cast upon two British teams, Greaves Motorsport and Jota Sport, which are now separated by a solitary point in the battle for overall spoils. Jota Sport, with its strong line-up of Harry Tincknell, Simon Dolan and Filipe Albuquerque has consistently been the strongest team in 2015 with four consecutive podium finishes, but a post-race penalty at Paul Ricard in September cost the team of a valuable win, and allowed Greaves to bridge the deficit to 76-75.
The altered result placed the full 25 points in the hands of Greaves Motorsport, which runs the same Gibson 015S Nissan configuration as Jota. Bjorn Wirdheim, Jon Lancaster and Gary Hirsch were not initially fancied to take the LMP2 championship after entering the Paul Ricard race 10 points behind their Jota rivals, but now the Silverstone-winning trio is just one point away.
Therefore, the highest placed Gibson will – likely – win the championship.
But that all depends on the performance of the French interloper – 2013 champion Thiriet by TDS Racing. Xavier Combet’s team also has a mathematical chance of winning the LMP2 championship, but a nightmarish round at Paul Ricard has left it as the relative outside contender.
However, despite the tirade of mechanical and penalty-related issues that plagued the #46 ORECA 05 in France, Thiriet did pick up eight points and so faces a steep but conquerable 10 point gap to Jota Sport.
This means that, should Thiriet win on Sunday, Jota will have to take pole position and finish third at the very least to win the title, while Greaves will need to finish second and rely on a Jota non-finish. Anything less will hand the championship to Thiriet.
LMP3, by contrast, involves far less arithmetic head-scratching. Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson’s third win in a row at Paul Ricard was enough to clinch the category’s inaugural title a round early, and as such they head to Estoril with the principal aim of equalling SMP Racing’s 2013 record of four race wins in a season.
There is still plenty to play for behind Team LNT’s flying Scotsmen, though, as a slim margin of 12 points separates the second to fifth placed entries. SVK by Speed Factory is comfortably second with 45 points, but any slip ups could cause the Villorba Corse (36 pts) and #2 Team LNT (33 pts) Ginettas to catch up and modify the final appearance of the class podium.
Formula Racing will be looking to shut out its nearest opposition as it closes in on a maiden ELMS crown in the LMGTE class. The Ferrari-backed Danish squad won imperiously at the Red Bull Ring and Paul Ricard, and now holds a much envied 19 point lead over BMW Team Marc VDS. Formula Racing’s recent 50 point haul from the previous two rounds means that it needs a sixth place finish or better from Johnny Laursen, Mikkel Mac and Andrea Rizzoli to win the championship.
However, anything less would open the way for BMW Team Marc VDS, which is competing in its final race as a GT team this weekend. The Belgian squad will be able to go out in style with a first ever ELMS title if Andy Priaulx, Jesse Krohn and Henry Hassid can win at Estoril – but only if Formula Racing finishes outside the top six.
Despite missing out on the top spot all season (the second place result at Paul Ricad ended a run of three straight fourth place finishes), Team Marc VDS’ BMW Z4 GTE should be in contention for the win, especially after its victorious performance as a GTC guest at the same race last year.
Likewise, AF Corse’s #55 Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott is also in the running, but faces a 22 point deficit to Formula Racing. The Italian team is therefore the outside bet, and will require a victory and a finish outside the top eight from Formula Racing to win the title.
In GTC, TDS Racing’s pole position and victory at Paul Ricard allowed the BMW Z4 GT3 of Franck Perera, Eric Dermont and Dino Lunardi to extend its lead over the #62 AF Corse Ferrari to 13 points.
This means that a podium finish of any kind for TDS Racing will seal the title, regardless of the Ferrari’s performance. Likewise, the #62 machine must finish in the top three if it is to overtake the #59 BMW, but even then it will have to rely on its rival’s retirement in order to win. That is unless it can take pole position and win the race: such a result would rely on a non-podium finish for TDS Racing in order to swing the advantage around.
The final round of the European Le Mans Series will get underway on Sunday, October 18 at 13:00. Qualifying will take place on Sunday morning, while the two 90 minute free practice sessions will be held throughout the day on Saturday, October 17.