Like last year, the finale of the European Le Mans Series season will be held at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (4.692 km) in Portimão in southern Portugal. Thirty-nine competitors are expected to take the start, with four out of six championship titles still up for grabs (LMP3 and LMGTE).
The 4 Hours of Portimão, sixth and final round of the 2018 European Le Mans Series, will take place Sunday 28 October with the start scheduled at 12:30 local time.
Fifteen LMP2s will be competing since SMP Racing's #35 Dallara P217-Gibson and IDEC Sport Racing's #27 Ligier JS P217-Gibson will not be taking the start. Though the 2018 title has already been secured by G-Drive Racing, the runner-up spot is still in play. It will all come down to the three ORECA 07-Gibsons fielded by Racing Engineering (the #24 of Norman Nato, Paul Petit and Olivier Pla), IDEC Sport (the #28 of Memo Rojas, Paul-Loup Chatin and Gabriel Aubry who has replaced Paul Lafargue since Spa-Francorchamps) and DragonSpeed (the #21 of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre). The first two of these teams has earned 56 points in the championship so far, and the American outfit has 50. Duqueine Engineering is still technically in the running, but trails significantly with just 34 points.
The favorite to win is the undisputed 2018 ELMS champion #26 ORECA 07-Gibson entered by G-Drive Racing (Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne and Andrea Pizzitola) with three victories already, followed by the aforementioned cars fighting for runner-up. But let's not overlook United Autosports' #22 Ligier JS P217-Gibson shared by Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson who won the most recent round of the season in a downpour at Spa-Francorchamps. The win actually allowed Phil Hanson (19 years old) to become the youngest overall winner of an ELMS race to date. Filipe Albuquerque: "I believe we have closed the gap, I think the car makes more sense with these Michelin tyres. We had a third-place finish at the Red Bull Ring and now we have a win in Belgium. So the goal is a podium and to be close to the leaders. We have nothing to lose, nobody has anything to lose this weekend, so we just want to produce another great result which will set us up for next year."
As far as driver switches are concerned, other than the confirmation of Gabriel Aubry's participation, Matthew McMurry is set to replace Ate De Jong at the wheel of Algarve Pro Racing's #25 Ligier JS P217-Gibson as the team competes at home with two cars, the #25, and the #31 run by APR-Rebellion Racing.
The LMP3 grid will remain the same as at Spa-Francorchamps with 18 cars. Five outfits fielding Ligier JS P3s are in the running for the Teams title: RLR Msport (John Farano, Rob Garofall, Job van Uitert), 360 Racing (Terrence Woodward, Ross Kaiser), United Autosports (the #3 of Anthony Wells, Garett Grist, Matthew Bell), Eurointernational (the #11 of Giorgio Mondini, Van Berlo) and Inter Europol Competition (the #13 of Jakub Smiechowski, Martin Hippe). So nothing is set in stone, especially since four different driver line-ups have won the five previous rounds of the season.
There will be no change in LMGTE either. Five teams are still in the running for the title: Proton Competition (the #88 Porsche 911 RSR of Gianluca Road, Giorgio Roda), JMW Motorsport (the #66 Ferrari 488 GTE of Liam Griffin, Alex MacDowall, Miguel Molina) at 11.5 points and Spirit of Race (the #55 Ferrari 488 GTE of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin, Aaron Scott) at 13.5 points. Trailing by 22 points is Ebimotors (the #80 Porsche 911 RSR of Fabio Babini, Riccardo Pera) and Proton Competition (the team's second car, the #77 Porsche 911 RSR of Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst) by 22.5 points.
The European Le Mans Series first came to Portimão in 2008. That year, JMW Motorsport won the race in the LMGT2 class (now LMGTE) thanks to Rob Bell and Gianmaria Bruni sharing the Ferrari F430.
Remember, four invitations will be awarded to the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans (15-16 June) after this finale, the first of which has already been claimed by G-Drive Racing.
Quotation from the ELMS official website.
VIDEO: Youtube - ELMS official
PHOTOS (Copyright - Jakob Ebrey Photography): The #24 ORECA 07 (photo 1), RLR Msport's #15 Ligier JS P3 (photo 2) and the #88 Porsche 911 RSR (photo 3) are the top contenders for the titles in LMP3 and LMGTE.