G-Drive Racing reversed a 14 point deficit heading into the 4 Hours of Estoril to win the European Le Mans Series in dramatic fashion.
The Jota-run Gibson 015S-Nissan driven by Harry Tincknell, Simon Dolan and Giedo van der Garde won a tense encounter which saw the Thiriet by TDS Racing squad lose the title despite winning three rounds in 2016.
The championship was effectively won when the Thiriet crew were forced to wheel their ORECA 05 back into its garage with a mechanical problem during the middle portion of the race.
Lengthy repairs lasting around 90 minutes plummeted the ORECA – shared by Mathias Beche, Pierre Thiriet and Ryo Hirakawa – down the order.
It eventually finished ninth in class and 29th overall, ensuring G-Drive secured the championship by 103 points to Thiriet’s 94.
SMP Racing also arrived in Portugal with an outside chance of securing the crown, but a third place finish for Andreas Wirth, Stefano Coletti and guest Vitaly Petrov meant the Russian team ended up third in the standings on 83.
Thiriet needed fourth place or better to seal its first European title since 2012, but was denied at the final round for the second year in a row.
Tincknell took the chequered flag a comfortable 51.157 seconds ahead of the DragonSpeed ORECA 05 of Nicolas Lapierre, Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley, which started from pole.
Lapierre led the opening stint after reclaiming the lead from Van der Garde, who overtook the Frenchman at turn one.
DragonSpeed tried to gain an advantage in track position by sending Hedman out on Lapierre’s tyres during the first round of pit stops.
However, the sivler-rated Swede struggled for grip and was quickly passed by Dolan, who was sporting fresh rubber.
Dolan proceeded to hammer out a big lead at the head of the field, with Nic Jonsson trying to close the gap in the Krohn Racing Ligier JSP2.
Contact between Jonsson and Hedman during the second hour allowed Thiriet to move his team’s car into third before the problems set in.
A safety car period in the third hour for contact between an LMP3 Ligier and a GTE Ferrari reduced Dolan’s advantage, but the Briton was able to keep ahead of Jonsson before handing over to Tincknell for the homeward stint.
Krohn Racing lost time with a slow final pit stop, which elevated Coletti in the SMP Racing BR01-Nissan up to second.
That order was later reversed on track when Olivier Pla – having taken over from Jonsson – pressed and overtook Coletti despite a stubborn defence from the SMP driver.
In the final 30 minutes Lapierre caught both Pla and Coletti, dispatching each in quick succession to ensure a podium finish for DragonSpeed.
By that stage, however, Tincknell was long gone at the head of the field, and with the Thiriet car circulating down in ninth the G-Drive squad could celebrate a comfortable race win and its first ever European title.
Fifth place went to the Eurasia Motorsport ORECA 05 driven by Michael Lyons, Frederic Vervisch and Tristan Gommendy, which profited when mechanical problems befell the Greaves Motorsport Ligier JSP2 in front.
The battle for the LMGTE championship was equally dramatic.
Beechdean Aston Martin Racing arrived in Portugal with ‘long shot’ status following a string of three victories for JMW Motorsport.
However, myriad problems and a hefty incident for the JMW Ferrari 458, plus a race victory for the Aston, meant the Beechdean crew overturned a 20 point shortfall to claim the title by 98 points to 95.
Darren Turner, Alex MacDowall and Andrew Howard had to come through from the back of the grid to take their second win of the season.
Their first victory came at the 4 Hours of Silverstone in April, where JMW Motorsport was stripped of its initial win following a post-race scrutineering decision.
During the race the JMW Ferrari spent around 40 minutes in its pit garage with a gearbox problem, although Rob Smith, Rory Butcher and Andrea Bertolini only needed to finish to claim the title.
Those hopes were dashed when a United Autosports LMP3 car spun into Smith on the Ferrari’s out-lap, which ended the team’s day.
Only a victory would suffice for Aston Martin, but a strong middle stint by Howard, complemented by a blistering start from MacDowall and a solid anchor run by Turner ensured the final result.
Both teams will now receive automatic entries to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2017.
Second position in class went to the #56 AT Racing Ferrari 458 which recovered from a puncture and a pit fire, while the two AF Corse 458s finished third and fourth.
Completing the top five was the pole-sitting Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR.
In LMP3, M. Racing YMR took the spoils in an eventful race for the 18-strong field of Ligier JSP3s.
Yann Ehrlacher, Alexandre Cougnaud and Thomas Laurent stayed relatively out of trouble on their way to a first win of the season for Yvan Muller’s team.
The route to victory wasn’t entirely plain sailing, however, as Laurent spun during the final hour but recovered to take the chequered flag.
The Frenchman crossed the line two laps ahead of the #3 United Autosports car driven by Wayne Boyd, Matt Bell and Mark Patterson.
United’s sister car of Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch and Christian England finished a lowly 11th in class after Guasch made contact with the JMW Motorsport Ferrari.
Brundle had been as high as fourth overall during the opening stint, but lost ground when the other teams elected to run their shorter pit stops first.
Completing the podium in LMP3 was the Eurointernational car co-driven by Andrea Dromedari, Rik Breukers and Miguel Faisca.