Co-authored by Thibault Brun and Luciano Calamante
Toyota Gazoo Racing made it a 1-2 at the 8 hours of Portugal and so did Jota in the LMP2 class.
The race could not have started in a better way for Nicolas Lapierre that took a superb impulsion from pole position and could directly widen the gap to his two Japanese pursuers.
The middle of the pack, composed of the LMP2 cars and Glickenhaus’ hypercar encountered a more difficult race beginning as drivers seemed to struggle with their tires, some of them being forced to run off at high-speed corners probably due to excessively cold rubbers.
While Racing team Nederlands and Team WRT took advantage of the situation, putting their names on top of the LMP2 rankings after one lap, pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist was not as fortunate, spinning his JOTA prototype right after the start and losing all the advantage he built himself during yesterday’s quali session.
The GTE Pro category was still dominated by Kevin Estre that asserted his leading position in the class, leading AF Corse’s number 51 car by 2 and a half seconds after 10 laps of racing.
In GTE Am, the AF Corse number 54 had an outstanding race start, gaining as much as three positions in the opening laps and moving up to the first position, while Team Project One and Dempsey Proton Racing both had a difficult time, each of them losing 4 positions.
After just 30 minutes of racing, Lapierre was still reciting his score, building a gap of more than 7 seconds ahead of the GR010 number 8, and 12 seconds ahead of the number 7. Nonetheless, a technical issue made its appearance, and an even tougher race started taking shape for Alpine, as the radio communications between the car and the garage were not working and the driver found himself forced to watch out for info on the pit boards when he was crossing the start-finish line.
In the meantime, the third position was strongly disputed in GTE Pro, with AF Corse’s Daniel Serra fighting for the last podium spot against his Porsche counterpart Gianmaria Bruni. On his side, Estre was still leading the category behind the wheel of his Porsche number 92, now more than 8 seconds ahead of the Ferrari #51.
The first 45 minutes of racing were already extremely promising, as the battle was also roaring for the lead in LMP2. Team Nederland’s Giedo Van Der Garde engaged himself in a long and grandiose battle against Team WRT’s Robin Frinjs for the lead of the category as both men were still driving within the same second after 45 minutes of racing.
The leading A480 was the first Hypercar to enter the pitlane, as the team was forced to stay extremely careful in terms of fuel consumption, considering that their radio was still unplugged.
After all the prototype cars had pitted once, the rankings remained unchanged in Hypercar and LMP2. However, the defending GTE Am champion encountered a major technical issue as the front right of the AF Corse number 83 was totally wrecked probably due to a suspension failure. Francois Perrodo had to pit early and his Ferrari 488 was brought inside the garage for further inspections and repairs.
The first pitstop also saw the GTE Pro race leader Estre hand his driving position to teammate Neel Jani. Nonetheless, the Swiss struggled a lot behind the wheel of his Porsche 911 RSR and unfortunately turned an advance of 8 seconds into a 10 seconds delay behind AF Corse’s Ferrari number 51 that overtook the lead of the category.
In LMP2, Team WRT could take advantage of their second pitstop, beating their Dutch rivals from Racing Team Netherlands as United Autosports also managed to overtake the LMP2 number 29, taking over the second position of the class.
Right before the two hours mark, Glickenhaus’ Ryan Briscoe did a big mistake while he was trying to overtake slower GTE Am competitors. The Australian pulled in front of the D’Station Racing Aston Martin way too early after overtaking the car on a straight line, causing both of them to crash, as Dempsey Proton Racing’s Porsche was also caught in the accident. Damages were noted on the Hypercar that had to pit for repairs. Things went from bad to worse in an already difficult weekend for the American team.
After both Toyotas finally pitted for the second time, Andre Negrao found himself 11 seconds ahead of his Japanese competitors, having also pitted twice. Nonetheless, things started to spice up for the French team as they will probably need to pit once more than Toyota over the course of the race due to excessive fuel consumption like it was already mentioned multiple times by different team members. A gap of approximately 1 minute and 10 seconds was therefore needed if Alpine wanted to ensure coming out on top at the end of the race.
In LMP2, team WRT was handed a first drive-through penalty for speeding in the pits as they seemed in control of the category, before seeing themselves forced to serve the same penalty a second consecutive time, this time for ignoring blue flags. This allowed United Autosports to take command of the category, in front of Inter Europol Competition’s prototype.
Alessandro Pier Guidi was conserving AF Corse’s lead in the GTE Pro class, as Jani was now more than 30 seconds behind the Ferrari 488. In the meantime, the battle was roaring for the lead in GTE Am as Aston Martin Racing and Cetilar Racing were closer than ever. The British team took the lead of the amateur class and started building up an impressive gap as soon as they seized the first position.
The LMP2 competition was once again full of twists and turns as WRT started making up for its double drive-through being back in the second position, while United Autosports was still comfortably leading the category by 13 seconds. Nonetheless, as Inter Europol Competition was just too slow to follow the infernal rhythm of the front runners, both JOTA prototypes were back in the battle for the win, now standing in P3 for car number 28 and P4 for the #38 after having encountered a difficult race start. The dices were rolled again at mid-race.
The race continued without major struggles halfway through after the pit stops. The number 29 LMP2 of Racing Team Nederland had to pit at the 3 hours and 40 minutes mark as the rear left wheel suspension broke after contact with an AF Corse car. “I went for a gap in the penultimate corner and it wasn’t there, and I can only say massive sorry to everyone from the team, I’m the one who made the mistake here,” Van Uitert said about the incident.
A new cycle of pit stops started as we approached the 3-hour mark. The number 28 Jota was the new car in the lead as the 22 United Autosport and other teams pitted. The Toyota number 7 failed to sufficiently slow down entering the pit lane.
At the 3 hour mark, the number 7 Toyota leading the LMP1 field with the Alpine running last in class. United Autosports number 22 led LMP2, AF Corse 52 led GTE Pro, and the 18 Aston Martin led GTE Am.
The Safety Car was out at the 2 hours 45 minutes mark as the number 44 ARC Bratislava car went off-track and got stuck in the gravel, with the race later being restarted at the 2 and a half hours mark.
With 2 hours left on the clock, the number 8 Toyota pitted for a change of driver and tires and was passed by the number 36 Alpine, taking the lead of the race. The number 7 was running third overall and in class.
Multiple contacts between classes happened throughout the following hours but there were no major incidents. The number 47 GTE Am car made contact with the 56 while battling for the lead, causing minor damage. Later on, with an hour to go, the LMP2 of Juan Pablo Montoya spun as he tried to overtake a GTE Am car, stopping sideways in the middle of the track. The lead LMP1 Toyota had to go off-track into the gravel to avoid him but managed to continue without major issues.
The final pit stop cycle began with the number 7 LMP1, who was leading the race and pitted at the 1-hour mark, with their sister car, the number 8, taking the first spot of the race. However, this did not last long as they pitted laps after and the number 7 re-took the lead.
With half an hour to go, the number 20 of High Class Racing stopped at the side of the track due to a problem, retiring from the race. A sector yellow flag was deployed for several minutes until a Full Course Yellow was out 4 minutes later. The number 7 Toyota pitted under the FCY conditions and the 8 passed him.
The Full Course Yellow was lifted with 25 minutes to go. Toyota had switched the order of the cars with 15 minutes to go, allowing the number 7 to recover the lead. However this was later reverted and the number 8 re-took the top position.
In the end, it was the Toyota number 8 winning the 8 hours of Portimao, with its sister car, the number 7, finishing second. Alpine crossed the line third. In the LMP2, the number 38 of Jota topped the class, and so did the number 51 AF Corse for the LMGTE Pro class. In the Am class, the number 47 Cetilar won.