With some of the championship titles decided at the previous race at Silverstone and with the cars participating in the ILMC season already on their way to the USA, people could be forgiven for thinking that the final race of the Le Mans Series Season, at Estoril in Portugal, would be of little interest. However those people would have been wrong, as the 6 hours of Estoril provided some of the closest and most exciting racing of the 2011 Le Mans Series.
Start of the 6 Hours of Estoril, Le Mans Series
Blazing sunshine greeted the start of the race and the No. 12 Rebellion Racing Lola Toyota was quickly in to its stride and out in front, closely followed by its sister car the No.13 who managed to stay ahead of the Pescarolo Team. However, gearbox problems for the No. 12 car meant a return to the pit for extensive work. Although the No.12 did return to the race an hour later, and proved its pace by setting lap records, it was never going to return to the front.
The battle at the front was difficult to call as the No. 13 Rebellion Racing was passed and then re-passed the No. 16 Pescarolo-Judd on numerous occasions. Sometimes on the track, sometimes in the pits, and often with different drivers behind the wheel, the 2 cars passed each other but could never extend the gap between them. Ultimately with just 30 minute of the six hour race remaining there was only 2 seconds between the leader and the closest challenger in the LMP1 category. In the end it came down to tyres. Rebellion Racing were forced to change their pit stop strategy when Belcchi was taken ill behind the wheel. This left them with a long final stint on wearing rubber. This enabled the Pescarolo to keep the lead for the final few minutes and take the chequered flag and win the 6 hours of Estoril. This was the team’s second victory of the season following their success in the opening round at Le Castellet. Rebellion Racing had to settle for collecting the team title.
Pescarolo Team in the Le Mans Series
The LMP2 class had equal drama. Having started as a British duel between the Strakka Racing and Greaves Motorsport teams, the race appeared to be all about the Oreca Nissans as technical issues with the other cars allowed them to the front. Greaves Motorsport required repair to bodywork damage, while the Strakka car had issues with their oil pump. Even the challenge from the Pecom Racing Lola ended with the car overheating, leaving Boutsen Energy Racing to lead the TDS Racing team in to the final lap of the race. A final twist then occurred as the Boutsen Energy car lost control and crashed handing the class victory to TDS Racing! Greaves Motorsport were able to recover to take second place in the class and had the bonus of already having secured the LMP2 team and driver’s championship this year.
The excitement wasn’t restricted to the prototypes, as the GTE Pro battle went right down to the final corner and a sprint to the line. The story here was the battle between the Ferrari F458 Italia of JMW Motorsport up against the Porsche 997 of Felbermayr-proton. Initially the British team built a small lead for their Ferrari with Rob Bell and James Walker behind the wheel. However, around half way the pace of the Porsche increased and managed to secure the lead. After 4 hours the gap between the two cars was less than 3 seconds and this is how it stayed until the 4th pit stop. Rob Bell then managed to secure the lead for JMW Motorsport with an hour to go, but Marc Lieb did not give up and was soon large in the Ferrari’s mirrors. As the minutes passed and the end was in sight the 2 cars could not be separated. Rob Bell put in a superb performance to edge the Ferrari home first at the chequered flag, with the Felbermayr-Proton team second by just 2 tenths of a second. An amazing end to a truly exciting race that left John Hindhaugh, commentating for Radio Le Mans exhausted!
JMW Motorsport in the Le Mans Series
It was the Porsche of the French team, IMSA Performance Matmut, that not only won the GTE Am class at Estoril but also took the Le Mans Series teams and drivers championships in the GTE Am class. They were rarely challenged throughout the race and showed the pace and reliability to bring home another win. There was a similarly dominant performance by Pegasus Racing in the Formula Le Mans Class. The French team not only won this race but collected the driver’s and team titles for the season.
Lots of changes are planned for the 2012 Le Mans Series following the announcement of the World Endurance Championship to start next year. Details of the new-look Le Mans Series championship are expected in November.
Podium at Estoril, Le Mans Series
Don’t miss the big one! Tickets and travel to the Le Mans 24 Hours 2012 are now available. Call 0844 873 0203 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see it live!
Photos courtesy of DPPI.