The final round of the 2016 ELMS season is upon us, with 37 cars entered for the four-hour contest at Estoril in Portugal. This weekend will be key for many of the runners, with two of the three titles still to be settled.
The LMP2 category will feature ten cars, with Thiriet by TDS Racing leading the standings by 14 points over G-Drive’s Gibson, the big story of the weekend will therefore be the final outcome in the top class, and whether the Jota squad can challenge for the title. Theoretically the #32 SMP Racing BR01 is also in the hunt, 24 points off the TDS Oreca in the points tally, but the Russian squad would need a win and a disastrous outing from both TDS and G-Drive to have any chance.
Three cars that were present in Spa Francorchamps will miss the ELMS season finale, including Algarve Pro’s JSP2 Nissan which has shipped off its car for the Asian Le Mans Series opener in Zuhai, Team WRT’s JSP2 Judd, the Belgian team having indicated that its participation in the 4 Hours of Spa was a one-off and Murphy Prototypes’s Oreca 03R Nissan which hasn’t been repaired following the shunt at Spa.
For all the other cars, driver lineups remain identical, with the exception of Pegasus Racing, for which team manager Julien Schell will be replacing Remi Striebig.
In LMP3, fans were hoping to see a new car participate in the final race of the season. Unfortunately, neither the Ave Riley nor Norma will race this weekend; the grid will yet again be filled exclusively with JSP3 Nissans. The title is settled, with the #2 United Autosports Ligier sealing the deal last time out. There’s plenty of teams hoping to score good results though, to cap off what has been an incredibly competitive season in the two-year-old class.
There will however be one additional LMP3 car at Estoril. Fans will be happy to see the return of both Eurointernational cars after a no-show at Spa Francorchamps. With two drivers not yet designated, the American team will rely on Georgio Mondini and Jay Palmer in car #11 and Rik Breukers and Andrea Dromedari in car #12.
Tockwith Motorsport meanwhile will not be participating, despite two very promising races at the Paul Ricard and in the Belgian Ardennes, like Algarve Pro, the Asian Le Mans Series opener has to take priority. The team should be back in the ELMS next season, but in the LMP2 category.
As for the other LMP3 cars, a few driver line-ups are subject to change. By Speed Factory completely changed its driver line-up, having Alain Costa and Jesus Fuster replace Terrence Woodward, Ross Kaiser and James Swift in the Ligier JSP3 #6.
Finally, Swiss driver Nicolas Leutwiller will stand in for Marcello Marateotto behind the wheel of Race Performance’s Ligier JSP3 #8, and Jean-Marc Merlin will again drive Oak Racing’s #4.
In LM GTE, the same eight cars seen at Spa will be at Estoril, with all eyes firmly set on JMW Motorsport, which has a 20-point lead over the Beechdean squad. A solid run to the finish will all but secure the British team its first ELMS title since the 2012 season.
There’s only one driver change in the class, with Gulf Racing’s Ben Barker replacing Matteo Cairoli in Proton Competition’s #88 Porsche, the Brit’s talents now sought after by many teams after a string of solid performances in the WEC this year.
Sunday’s four-hour race is set to begin at 13:30 local time in Portugal.