4 Hours Of Portimao 2020
Ahead of their mid-November season finale and following on from a blistering week at Le Mans, Gulf Racing got an irresistible invitation to go racing again as they joined the European Le Mans Series(ELMS) for their championship decider in Portimao. The 34 car field was joined by two guest entries, Gulf’s 86 car and AF Corse’s 88. Both were keen to put racing miles on team and machine before the season closer just two weeks later.
While neither of the guest entries were competing for points contention, it was a chance for teams to stretch their legs and hone their craft at a track favoured by both drivers and fans. Give racers a chance to race and they’ll invariably grab it with both hands.
Grandstands packed with racing fans was, perhaps, one of the few ingredients missing from an event which promised everything else and delivered. Newly resurfaced to accommodate Formula 1 racing just one week earlier, drivers were keen to report that a spectacular track had gotten even better.
Qualifying 6th in class, Gulf Racing started Sunday in the mid-pack in the thick of the action for a dramatic first lap which would set the tone to come.
Race day was a hot and dry November weekend in Portugal. You could scarcely ask for better conditions to settle the ELMS championship, or to join it.
For championship contenders, all but the LMP2 title were still up for grabs. The United Autosports 22 clinched a handy points victory in their last outing at Monza. Their sister car, United’s 32, set to take 2nd place by scoring a handful of points relative to their closest rivals in the 26 G-Drive.
It was G-Drive’s Roman Rusinov who looked to be chasing down the championship in the first lap of racing. The Russian driver managed to successfully emulate the first-lap performance of F1 veteran Kimi Räikkönen, just one week earlier. The 26 car launched from 6th to 1st through the opening corners of the contest. Elsewhere on the grid, United’s 22 collided with Cool Racing’s number 37 entry, falling to the rear of the grid with significant damage.
Among the first lap carnage, Gulf lost two places to run 8th through the opening minutes. Despite an early setback, the car’s pace was strong and more than of a well-placed result. Steady running, clinical stints, and a cool head were to keep the team in strong contention as the race progressed.
Next up ahead, Michael Fassbender in the 93 Proton Competition. Gulf, applying lap time pressure in search of an overtaking opportunity. Eventually, opportunity came. Collision with LMP3 runners left the 93 car stricken while mechanical issues stopped the 83 Iron Lynx out on track.
For Gulf, consistency and pace were paying dividends as the car made its way up the field in early stints. It wasn’t long before the team were battling on-track with the 51 AF Corse Ferrari and looking to gain more places on the back of a strong performance.
Elsewhere, United’s 22 car had fought back into podium contention against its sister team after repairing damage inflicted early on.
By the time we crossed the mid-way mark, Gulf were running in 4th. With two hours down and two still to go, the team were in strong contention—a position which was to sour regrettably fast.
Barely minutes later, Gulf’s battle with AF Corse turned to disaster. The 51, running wide onto the outside kerb, spun up its wheels off-track and slewed across the surface until its nose made contact with the passing 86 Porsche. The impact on the cars and the race was severe, both teams ultimately withdrawing from the day’s running.
The Ferrari retired trackside, limping safely to the marshal’s post. Gulf’s Porsche continued, putting in a few more laps before damage to the car finally took its toll. On three good tyres, the car made it back to the garage and into the pit box. With 75 laps completed the garage door was pulled closed.
Throughout the rest of the field there were championship positions still to be won and entry into next year’s 24 Hours Of Le Mans still at stake. In LMP2, with the G-Drive 26 leading, it was up to United’s 32 car to finish within the top eight to decide which team would secure second in the championship.
A similar story was taking place in LMP3. Number 8 Realteam racing led with the number 2 United Autosports car close behind. Finishing as they were would be enough for United to secure the LMP3 championship too. Evidently, it wasn’t enough. For the team, it was an irresistible invitation to race. The two battled hard into the final 30 minutes of running.
Consistent pressure and hard racing saw the United car benefit from a rare mistake by Realteam. A straightforward pass was to see the number 2 car lead the race and the championship by a comfortable margin.
Comfort, however, was not the word on many minds on Sunday. The closing minutes of the ELMS championship were about as tense as any the series has seen.
Tyres and parts were retiring from the race half an hour too early. Proton’s 77 and Iron Lynx’s 83 car wee both forced into the pits with rear-left tyre failures.
A Race of Attrition
United’s number 2 car was having tyre blistering issues of its own, threatening their 7 second lead over Realteam. In another mirror image fight, the United 32 car struggling for pace and falling behind in the LMP2 battle. Valuable points and championship places were hanging on the line.
G-Drive ultimately secured a dominant race victory for LMP2, but couldn’t overcome the 32 car and deny United a championship 1-2 in addition to the LMP3 win.
Ultimately, despite Portimao’s luck and fortune being more than a little unkind to its visiting teams, both will appreciate an armful of lessons and valuable experience gleaned from running in-anger ahead of the season finale in Bahrain.
Beyond the 75th lap, Gulf ran on track again at Portimao in the week which followed. The closing of the race saw the opening of testing for the newest edition of the team’s Porsche 911 RSR. The car, an incredible looking machine with the audio-track and running pace to match. Perhaps a preview of things to come as Gulf Racing looks ahead to future races and increasingly ambitious target results.