Story of the season
LMP2 champions: Greaves Motorsport (Gary Hirsch, Bjorn Wirdheim, Jon Lancaster)
LMP3 champions: Team LNT (Chris Hoy, Charlie Robertson)
LMGTE champions: Formula Racing (Mikkel Mac, Johnny Laursen, Andrea Rizzoli)
GTC champions: TDS Racing (Dino Lunardi, Eric Dermont, Franck Perera)
The fourth season of the European Le Mans Series had a tough act to follow. Five different race winners in 2014 led many to question whether or not the latest offering would match the highs of the previous year. By October, though, it had become clear that the series was continuing to produce endurance racing of the highest standard as the race for honours once gain went to the wire.
Greaves Motorsport ended the year as overall champions after a dramatic Estoril finale that saw a three-way fight for the title rage on until the chequered flag. The British team, featuring drivers Jon Lancaster, Gary Hirsch and Bjorn Wirdheim, finished second in Portugal to win the title by two points, justifiably gaining their entry to the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans in the process.
For much of the year Jota Sport had been the team to be beat, setting four pole positions courtesy of Harry Tincknell and Filipe Albuquerque and winning in Austria. However, a post-race penalty at Paul Ricard and a cruel weather-induced spin for Simon Dolan at the final round dropped the British squad below Greaves and Thiriet by TDS Racing in the final standings.
Thiriet won the Estoril race, and quite possibly could have won a maiden championship for the Oreca 05 had it not encountered a tirade of problems at Paul Ricard.
Another team that impressed in 2015 was the BR Engineering operation, which entered the season under a number of different guises. Despite the name changes the new BR01-Nissans were fiercely competitive on track, bringing a considerable challenge to the three protagonist entries in the second half of the season. Ultimately Mikhail Aleshin and Kirill Ladygin finished fifth in the drivers’ standings, 10 points ahead of the Krohn Racing duo of Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson.
Murphy Prototypes was the only other team to finish on the podium as Nathanael Berthon, Mark Patterson and Michael Lyons recorded second at Imola, but mechanical retirements at three of the five rounds put the Irish squad out of contention.
The LMP3 title went to the formidable Scottish partnership of Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson in their Team LNT Ginetta, which won three out of five races to seal the championship at the penultimate round. Formula Racing were victorious in the LMGTE category despite a late-season charge from BMW Team Marc VDS that could have disrupted the order, but a brace of wins in Austria and France allowed the Danish team to prevail and secure its first automatic Le Mans entry. While TDS Racing just missed out on LMP2 honours, the French team’s GTC entry delivered a string of impressive performances – including two victories – to win the class at the first attempt.
Cause for Controversy
The last lap altercation between Jon Lancaster of Greaves Motorsport and Tristan Gommendy of Thiriet by TDS Racing will live long in the memory of those who were at Silverstone on that gusty afternoon in April. With six minutes remaining Gommendy’s position at the head of the field had come under siege by Lancaster, who took his chance at victory with a bold inside move at the Aintree left-hander. Did Gommendy close the door? Did Lancaster force his way through? Either way, the Thiriet-badged ORECA 05 was sent into a wild spin that would cost the French team a top two finish and lead to an early season triumph for Greaves Motorsport.
The drama didn’t stop on track, however, as verbal shots were fired across the Silverstone press conference table from all sides. Despite the evident tension, this incident served as an appetiser for the epic three-way championship fight between Greaves, Thiriet and Jota Sport that continued until the final round at Estoril.
Season defining moment
2015 was a phenomenal year for the European Le Mans Series, so resting upon a single moment that encapsulates the season is no straightforward task. However, one episode that rises above all – even those that occurred on track – was the brief press conference held by ELMS director Gérard Neveu and Automobile Club de l’Ouest president Pierre Fillon after the 4 Hours of Le Castellet in September.
It was here that Neveu, addressing the small rassemblement of reporters, photographers and team members present, outlined his and the ACO’s plans for the future of the European Le Mans Series. An expanded calendar, three-day race weekend and a full Renault-backed support package garnered an enthusiastic response. While the ‘season defining moment’ wasn’t a great overtake or a specific wheel-to-wheel battle, it proved that the European Le Mans Series had successfully completed its phoenix emergence after sitting on the brink of extinction in 2012.
Honourable mentions: Jota Sport’s post race penalty at Paul Ricard, the battle for second between Victor Shaytar, Bjorn Wirdheim and Ludovic Badey at Estoril, the nailbiting final hour at Silverstone
Team of the year
At the start of the year Formula Racing set out with the specific goal of winning the European Le Mans Series LMGTE class and gaining automatic qualification for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A tall order, but for the AF Corse-backed Danish squad it was a golden opportunity to showcase the driving talents of Mikkel Mac, Johnny Laursen and Andrea Rizzoli in a competitive Ferrari 458 Italia. They started the year with a modest sixth place finish at Silverstone, but bounced back with a string of highlight-reel performances including Mac’s astounding last-lap win at the Red Bull Ring and the commanding victory at Paul Ricard. Considering the strength of the GTE field this year, and the late challenge applied by BMW Team Marc VDS in the final rounds, this victory and the subsequent Le Mans invite were justly deserved.
Honourable mentions: BMW Team MarcVDS, TDS Racing, Jota Sport
Car of the year
If anything encapsulated the spirit of motor racing in this year’s European Le Mans Series more than anything else it was the appearance, against all odds, of five Ginetta-Nissan LMP3 prototypes at a dreary Silverstone in mid April. Although the final chassis was assembled and trucked down from Yorkshire mere hours before the on-track activity started it was the beginning of a strong and successful debut campaign. Despite being the only car in the class for much of the season the Ginetta demonstrated both pace and reliability, showcased the talents of several sportscar proteges and contributed to the ACO’s goal of reducing costs while providing a competitive platform for prototype entrants. Multiple entries have been bookmarked for 2016, from Ginetta and the three other LMP3 manufacturers, setting up what promises to be a bumper sophomore year in 2016.
Honourable mentions: BMW Z4 GT3, Gibson 015S-Nissan, BR01-Nissan