Panis-Barthez grabs first 2017 pole at Portimão

by Jake Boxall-Legge

Nathanael Berthon was fastest in qualifying for the 4 Hours of Portimão, claiming a first European Le Mans Series pole position in 2017 for the Panis-Barthez Competition team.

The Frenchman set a best time of 1:33.575s on his fourth lap of the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, putting the #23 Ligier over half a second ahead of the #21 DragonSpeed Oreca, in which compatriot Nicolas Lapierre grabbed the second fastest time.

Ryo Hirakawa put DragonSpeed’s sister G-Drive Racing team in third – albeit 0.15s slower in the #22 car – ahead of fellow Oreca runner Enzo Guibbert, piloting the #39 Graff.

The #32 United Autosports – an outsider for the LMP2 title –  faces a difficult task in overturning its 18-point deficit to G-Drive, and will start fifth ahead of Idec Sport Racing‘s #28 Ligier.

The winner of the previous race, the #40 Graff, could only manage the ninth best time in the hands of Richard Bradley, qualifying between two Dallaras: the #27 SMP Racing of Matevos Isaakyan and the #49 High Class Racing of Anders Fjordbach.

The LMP2 qualifying session was briefly red-flagged to recover the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier of Andrea Pizzitola, which had found the gravel at the final corner of the team’s home circuit.

LMP3: AT Racing takes third pole of 2017

Mikkel Jensen secured his third pole of the year, and the #9 AT Racing team’s second pole in a row in the LMP3 class.

On the back of winning the LMP3 class at the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, Jensen stormed to another pole and beat fellow Ligier runner United Autosports’ #3 team by just under two tenths.

The Anglo-American team suffered a setback with its #2 car, in which Sean Rayhall was only able to set one fast lap thanks to a raft of stoppages, which was deleted for a track limits violation.

As a result, the #2 Ligier will start tomorrow’s race behind the six LMGTE cars, providing the #18 M.Racing-YMR team – which starts from fourth behind Panis-Barthez’s #16 Ligier – with a lifeline in the championship battle.

The LMP3 session was red-flagged twice, firstly after Dario Capitanio threw his #10 Oregon Team Norma off the road at turn 5 – Capitanio was later referred to the stewards for ignoring the race director’s instructions.

Antonin Borga brought out the second, spinning the #7 Duqueine Engineering Norma on the exit of turn 10 and becoming entrenched in the gravel.

LMGTE: #55 Spirit of Race takes commanding class pole

Matt Griffin swept to a convincing LMGTE pole in Spirit of Race‘s #55 Ferrari 488 GTE, landing a time over six tenths quicker than the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Will Stevens.

Although Stevens set his best time of the session in his final lap, Griffin’s benchmark was insurmountable, and thanks to the difference in times the two cars will be separated tomorrow by three LMP3 cars.

The #66 pipped the #77 Proton Competition Porsche 997 to third, as Matteo Cairoli‘s best lap was narrowly beaten at the end of the session.

Spirit of Race’s #51 car starts from fourth in class, ahead of the Aston Martin Vantages of the GTE-leading #90 TF Sport team and the #99 Beechdeen AMR squad.

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