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European Le Mans Series 2014 - 4 Ore di Imola

17th May 2014

Saturday report

Imola track hosts the second round of the European Le Mans Series this weekend and we are back here for the first time since 2011, when Imola was part of the ILMC series, to bring you a report, photos and of course provide a complete set of chassis numbers. Back then Imola organisers had an ambition to continue with the top level sports car racing, however when ILMC converted to WEC and there were very little races planned in Europe, Imola became a regular event in the reborn ELMS championship since 2013.

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Entry and Free Practice Session 1

The first ELMS race was held in Silverstone last month, as a part of joint ELMS and WEC weekend, and the race was dominated by Morgans. This year Morgans are as common cars as Orecas, unlike in 2013 and they are also quick. At least in Silverstone and probably also Le Mans. Imola is high downforce track so it likely that Orecas (plus rebadged Alpine) take and advantage of that. Already the first practice was won by Murphy Prototypes Oreca no.48 ahead of Signatech Alpine (same Oreca chassis as the last year), and a Zytek of team Jota, which raced successfully two weeks ago in the WEC race in Spa. Three Morgans followed in the order of Thiriet by TDS, Newblood by Morand Racing and Pegasus Racing. Unfortunately, we do not have here another Morgan that raced in Silverstone. It was the car entered by Larbre. Another missing LMP2 from Silverstone is the second Greaves Zytek entry (no.28), so we are down to just nine prototypes here, since the class LMPC (LMP Challenge) is no more after a very little interest in Europe (unlike in US-based series, ALMS and now USCC) and the new planned LMP3 should appear only next year.

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There were also two DNA prototypes in Silverstone (Caterham Racing Zytek and Boutsen Thirion Racing Oreca), which are obviously out of the championship, at least for now. The same applies for the second Alpine entry, which completed the initial strong full season entry of 14 LMP2 cars, which is now shrunk into a single digit number. GTE and GTC entries are rather strong, forming together a huge field of 37 cars, including those nine prototypes. Original entry list had one more car, the team from Ukraine with a GT3 Ferrari, which was a last minute withdrawal. We are not sure about the reason, hopefully not related to current situation in the country. We appreciate all those Ukraine and Russian drivers and team currently involved in sports car racing and we hope the situation will soon solved, and leaves no damages to the current efforts from both countries. SMP team from Russia is strong here with a 4-car entry - all Ferraris, three in GTC and one full ACO/GTE spec.

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Ferrari, in general, is by far most common manufacturer in this race. As already the media delegate Jeff Carter said during the morning talk to photographers, Imola is a nice track full with 18 Ferraris present, it is even nicer. It almost means that every second car in the ELMS is a Ferrari, and it would be quite true had not the Ukraine car stayed away off the race. Half of the Ferraris run in GTE ACO specification. The rest are basically GT3 cars entered in the GTC class. In GTE they will be challenged by four Porsches (all of them older 997) and a lone Gulf UK Aston Martin. However the first practice confirmed the challengers would not have an easy task since the best non-Ferrari GTE entry was only 8th!!, and it was Aston Martin. The Porsches, except the fasted one (relatively unknown Crubile Sport team), were even beaten by some the GTC entrants. All cars took part in the practice, which was interrupted by a red flag twice, but Kessel Racing Ferrari GTE no.81 did only 4 laps, none of which was competitive, i.e. without in/out pit lane and thus measured.

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In GTC class the situation looks better from the point of inter-manufacturer battle, because of the two entered Porsches manage to break into Ferraris and captured second fasted time of the morning session. The class adds diversity with two McLarens and a single BMW Z4. On the other side, Lamborghini that was a slow regular last year is not present in the ELMS series anymore. Of the Silverstone interesting GTC entries, which are missing, the one is particularly notable - an Audi R8 LMS of Sebastien Loeb Racing, which disappeared from the series, for Imola at least. Unfortunately, neither BMW nor McLaren looked really competitive but it may improve as the weekend progresses, since in Silverstone at least the BMW was almost touching a podium.

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Free Practice Session 2

The second practice also confirmed a slight dominance of Oreca-built chassis along with the Jota Zytek, which took the first three positions in the following order: Signatech Alpine, Zytek Jota and Murphy Prototypes Oreca. Morand and TDS Morgans followed. Altogether top six cars finished in a less than a second (the sixth being Race Performance Oreca).

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Nothing changed in the GTE class. Ferraris even improved to take first 8 positions and while the positions were slightly changed, the fasted was again a car from SMP Racing, no.72, ahead of Kessel's no.80, just like in practice 1. Two of the GTE Porsches now beat the Aston Martin, while the other two Porsches were still behind some of the better GTC cars (note the Crubile Sport Porsche was now lowest in the class).

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GTC class was now Ferrari, Ferrari, Porsche, Ferrari, Ferrari, Ferrari, Porsche, Ferrari, Ferrari, ... simply our feeling that both BMW and McLaren are not that quick, especially many of their drivers in the turns was confirmed. Hopefully tomorrow will change it a little. Ferrari dominance in the GT classes in the European Le Mans Series is quite apparent, not only the total numbers, but also the performance, which may be a little strange as it is not the case in some other strong series around the world. Perhaps it is the most suitable car for the Amateur version of the GTE, which is the only allowed in the ELMS, while for some reason, rarely any competitive team posts a non-Ferrari entry in the ELMS, while there is no Ferrari dominance in the number of GT3 championships anywhere.

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The qualifying is on the programme tomorrow morning, so we are done with reporting for today. Well, and the race starts also tomorrow on Sunday at 2 PM.

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