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First 2017 Pole For Panis-Barthez At Portimão

Trouble for United's #2 Ligier, Griffin takes crucial GTE Pole

The #23 Panis-Barthez Competition Ligier JSP217 will start tomorrow’s Four Hours of Portimão from pole position after French driver Nathanaël Berthon lapped the 4.684km Autodromo do Algarve in 1:33.575. It was team’s first pole position of the season, its previous best qualifying position being fourth on the grid at the Red Bull Ring in July.

Lining up alongside the #23 entry will be the #21 DragonSpeed ORECA 07 in which Nicolas Lapierre set a 1:34.090.

Third on the grid for tomorrow’s race will be the championship-leading #22 G-Drive Racing by DragonSpeed ORECA 07 after Ryo Hirakawa set a 1:34.235.

The session was interrupted by a red flag after Andrea Pizzitola, at the wheel of the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier, spun in to the gravel at Turn 16 with just over three minutes run of the ten-minute session.

Berthon was delighted to have taken Panis-Barthez Compétition’s first pole position of 2017.

“It’s just mega,” said Berthon. “(It was an) awesome drive. It was awesome work from all the team. The engineers gave me a really good car, the mechanics as well, and I think it is just (the result of) a lot of work at many races and we have learned a lot.”

“We have tested here before and I think it’s just mega for everybody for the last race of the season. Obviously I’m happy and it’s a good pole, a really nice one so I’m very happy.”

Qualifying for the LMP3 category was interrupted by two red flags that set up a frantic final three minutes.

The session had barely begun before Dario Capitano, at the wheel of the #10 Oregon Team Norma M 30 spun in, to the gravel at Turn 5. In his haste to return to the track, Capitano rejoined the circuit after recovery to the annoyance of the Race Director who reported Capitano to the race stewards for “failure to obey his instructions”.

The re-started session was further complicated when the #7 Duqueine Engineering Norma M 30, with Antonin Borga driving, spun off the circuit at Turn 5 shortly after the session was green-flagged. The red flag was brought out again to recover the stricken Norma which left just over three and a half minutes remaining in the session.

Pole position was taken by Mikkel Jensen, driving the #9 AT Racing Ligier, with a 1:40.660 set in the dying seconds of the session. Lining up alongside Jensen will be the #3 United Autosports Ligier, Wayne Boyd lapping in 1:40.824.

Starting third on the grid will be #16 Panis-Barthéz Competition Ligier after Simon Gachet set a 1:41.148.

For Mikkel Jensen it was his third pole position of the season, adding to front-of-the-grid starts at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps.

“Things were against us,” Jensen said. “I was second before going out on the last run. I managed to overtake the other car to have a completely clean run. So actually my qualy lap was not the most difficult. We had a bit of a fight but I made it and I’m really happy. The team did a really great job after we struggled in the last practice.”

The LMP3 Teams Championship-leading #2 United Autosports Ligier will be starting from the rear of the LMP3 grid due to Sean Rayhall’s lap-time was disallowed due to infringement of track-limits.

In GTE, Matt Griffin stormed to Pole in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE, earning the team its third Pole of the year and scoring a crucial extra point heading into tomorrow’s race. With his 1:42.657 tour, he has put them on 77 points and now just 10 points off the lead in the GTE points standings.

The Irishman’s time was six tenths faster than the rest of the GTE field, and crucially, quicker than Will Stevens in the championship-challenging JMW Ferrari which would have gone level with TF Sport on points had the ex-F1 driver taken pole. His time in the Ferrari was a 1:43.297 to go second, in the dying moments of the session.

“This was the best lap of my career, and so crucial too,” Griffin exclaimed. “Scoring that extra point means we have a realistic shot at the title now if we take the win. It was a perfect lap, and if you told me to do it again, I’m not sure I could. I didn’t expect to be six tenths clear.”

Third was the Proton Competition Porsche, with Matteo Cairoli setting a 1:43.297. Behind, the championship leaders in the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin will start fifth, Nicki Thiim only able to manage a 1:44.157 to slot in behind the second Spirit of Race Ferrari which ended up fourth.

Tomorrow’s 4 Hours of Portimão, the final round of the 2017 ELMS season, is set to begin at 13:00 local time.