Thirteen Ligier JS2 Rs and JS P4s were able to make it to the season-finale of the Ligier European Series at the Algarve International Circuit. M Racing’s young guns, Mathieu Martins and Natan Bihel, in the #86 and #66 Ligier JS2 Rs share the pole positions in the GT category of the two races. Mathieu Martins takes his fourth pole position of 2020 and Natan Bihel claims his first of the season! Kévin Balthazar in the #81 Milo Racing Ligier JS P4 wins his second pole position.
The new 4.684km version of the Portimão circuit hosts the fifth and final round of the Ligier European Series, for the 13 Ligiers that were able to attend despite the sanitary conditions.
The season-finale promises to be decisive, especially in the JS2 R category where Sébastien Baud in the #74 Cool Racing and Natan Bihel in the #66 M Racing car both have a chance of winning the title, even though Sébastien Baud has a 34-point lead.
The duel between the two drivers began Friday morning in free practice. Natan Bihel fired the first salvo with a category-best time of 1:51.947s.
In JS P4, only the two leaders in the championship could make the trip. Once again, the challenger, Kévin Balthazar with a lap of 1:47.568s in the #81 Milo Racing entry led Andrea Dromedari, who has a commanding lead in the championship, in the #50 HP Racing Team Ligier JS P4.
Unfortunately, during the qualifying session for race 1 just after the lunch break, the confrontation between the two Ligier JS P4 drivers was short lived. In the opening minutes Andrea Dromedari suffered a mechanical problem and went off track, which deprived him from setting a proper lap time. Without resistance, Kévin Balthazar went on to take the pole position with a time of 1:48.250s.
In JS2 R, back in action after a six-minute red flag, this first qualifying session saw M Racing’s two young drivers, Natan Bihel behind the wheel of the #66 car and Mathieu Martins at the controls of the #86 Ligier battle. In the end it was the latter setting the best time of 1:51.065s versus 1:51.417s for Natan Bihel. Would Mathieu Martins renew his performance at Monza and take the pole position for both races? Nerses Isaakyan in the #17 Arctic Energy JS2 R completed the top 3. As for Sébastien Baud, he had to settle for the fourth fastest time in the category.
At 4 pm local time, the Ligiers were back on track for the second qualifying session under the hot Algarve sun.
With the absence of the #50 Ligier JS P4 of Andrea Dromedari and the HP Racing Team, which was still stuck in the garage, Kévin Balthazar had a clear path in the #81 Milo Racing Ligier JS P4 to take the pole, and that he did as he improved upon his morning time with a lap of 1:47.711s.
In the JS2 R category, several times were thrown out for not respecting track limits. Natan Bihel got his revenge from Mathieu Martins to take his first pole position of the season. He very quickly set the time to beat at 1:50.747s in the #66 M Racing Ligier. For Mathieu Martins in the #86 M Racing JS2 R, it was his time of 1:51.308s that was eventually validated, which put him second in the category.
Sébastien Baud in the #74 Cool Racing JS2 R was right behind with a lap of 1:51.492 and Nerses Isaakyan behind the wheel of the #17 Arctic Energy entry was next at 1:51.754s.
Races 1 and 2 will be chalk-full of action and will take place starting tomorrow morning from 9:40 am to 10:45 am and then from 1:15 pm to 2:20 pm.
Mathieu Martins, #86 M Racing, Ligier JS2 R, Pole position JS2 R Qualifying 1:
“I am really happy! This is a track that I didn’t know, like Monza. I knew it was a difficult circuit with big climbs and descents. That is why I did a lot of training on the simulator. It really helped me to be fast right from the start. And I am not disappointed with the circuit. It’s a real roller coaster! I hope that tomorrow will be like today. I would love to finish the season with at least one more victory!”
Natan Bihel, #66 M Racing, Ligier JS2 R, Pole position JS2 R Qualifying 2:
“I had the chance to run more than in the previous heats where I shared the driving with my father. I was very comfortable in the car. It’s a great circuit. I had already raced on this circuit in the Michelin Le Mans Cup and in ELMS with an LMP3 car, a Ligier as well.
“The new track is even better. With the Ligier JS2 R, I was a bit sceptical, but I had a great time on this hilly circuit with a large variety of corners. For tomorrow I am of course aiming for victory in both races. We will see how it goes with my rival Sébastien Baud! Everything is still possible.”
Kévin Balthazar, #81 Milo Racing, Ligier JS P4, Pole position Qualifying 1 and 2:
“The first qualifying session went very well until the red flag after the problem for the Ligier JS P4 of Andrea Dromedari. As we didn’t have anything left to go for and we set the pole and the fastest time of the session, we stayed in the garage to save our tyres as much as possible for the race tomorrow. It was the very first time I drove the Portimão circuit. From the very first laps in free practice, I found the track very interesting in terms of driving, with a lot of blind corners. I had a lot of fun. For the second session, I did five laps to set a new lap time and then we decided to stop again to save the tyres.”