After a number of teams made cameo appearances last month – with varying degrees of success – in the 2017 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the European Le Mans Series resumes normal service this weekend at the Red Bull Ring. Thirty-six cars will take to the grid in the scenic Styrian mountains, all seeking to reach the half-way point of the season with a strong result in Austria.
There are a few changes up and down the ELMS grid, with new faces joining the series and a returning team looking to shake up the order. Regardless, the 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring promises to provide plenty of excitement.
Fresh from taking victory in the previous round at Monza, the DragonSpeed-run G-Drive Racing team will take part in Austria without Ryo Hirakawa, who has duties in Japanese Super GT. Taking his place will be the highly-experienced Nicolas Minassian, who will assume his usual role of DragonSpeed’s sporting director from the cockpit rather than the pitwall.
Minassian will partner regular drivers Léo Roussel and Memo Rojas in the Oreca 07, and the #22 G-Drive squad will be hoping to retain its 10-point championship advantage over the #32 United Autosports team. The #32 won the season opener at Silverstone, and the line-up of Hugo de Sadeleer, William Owen and Filipe Albuquerque will attempt to haul their Ligier JS P217 back onto the top step of the podium.
SMP Racing also rejoins ELMS, becoming the fourth team in the category to run a Dallara P217. World Series Formula V8 3.5 duo Matevos Isaakyan and Egor Orudzhev will perform driving duties in the #27, despite minimal previous endurance racing experience.
Further changes include Nathanael Berthon’s return to the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier, as former Indy Lights front-runner Gustavo Yacamán takes Franck Matelli’s place in the #40 Graff Oreca.
Leading the LMP3 standings into the Red Bull Ring, the #17 Ultimate team will be looking to secure its first class victory of the season after finishing second and third in the opening rounds.
Five points behind them is the #18 M.Racing-YMR Ligier squad; its French trio of drivers in Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci will also be hoping to secure a breakthrough victory after their stablemates in the #19 Norma won last time out at Monza. Yann Ehrlacher returns to the #19, fresh from winning in Argentina in the WTCC last weekend.
Ricky Capo jumps from the #19 M.Racing to join the #12 Eurointernational squad, which also welcomes Canadian James Dayson into the lineup alongside regular driver Andrea Dromedari.
Mikkel Jensen – who secured the LMP3 pole position at Silverstone for AT Racing – returns to the #9 car in place of Maurizio Mediani.
After a disappointing start to the year, Duquiene Engineering makes a number of changes for Austria, as the #7 team switches from a Ligier JS P3 to Norma M30. Furthermore, Henry Hassid makes way in the #8 for Douglas Lundberg.
Returning from Le Mans with an overall class victory, JMW Motorsport debuts its new #66 Ferrari 488 GTE in the ELMS. Robert Smith – part of the GTE-Am class-winning team last month – is rejoined by ELMS regulars Jody Fannin and Jonny Cocker.
JMW has a nine-point disadvantage to current leaders TF Sport, which spent time last week testing its #90 Aston Martin Vantage at Spa-Francorchamps, giving Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc some extra seat time in preparation to defend their lead.
After taking 3rd place in both races so far this year, the #99 Beechdean AMR team needs a victory to keep pace with the leading pair in the championship. Andrew Howard and Ross Gunn competed at Le Mans with Oliver Bryant, but Bryant will make way for regular ELMS driver Darren Turner in the lineup.
Larbre Compétition – which competed in Monza with its #50 Corvette C7.R – does not return at Spielberg, returning the GTE category to a six-car field.