The 4 Hours of Portimão, the last round of the European Le Mans Series, ended with a second-place and a bitter aftertaste for Kessel Racing and its crew who just missed out on the two titles up for grabs.
Despite an excellent season, David Perel, Niki Cadei and Michael Broniszewski fell tantalisingly short. They finished level on points with the Porsche of Proton Competition and its crew but lost out because their rivals had won the first race in the series.
Good start. Rino Mastronardi got off to an excellent start followed by François Perrodo and Manuela Gostner, while behind them Michael Broniszewski, who was also fast out of the traps, led Christian Ried, a direct rival for the Drivers’ title. The compactness of the group led to lots of duels and in one of these Rodrigo Sales left it too late to throttle-down at the hairpin, ending up in the gravel twenty-three minutes after the start, while Broniszewski lost two positions to Ried and Cameron. A Full Course Yellow was called, which requires the drivers to keep to a constant 80 km/h, for the recovery of JMW Motorsport’s Ferrari.
When hostilities resumed, Mastronardi began to pull away a little from Perrodo, while Ried lost ground and was also caught by Cameron. Broniszewski’s race was more difficult as he slipped to over forty seconds behind the leader, also due to a pit stop, while Görig climbed to sixth position. Five minutes from the end of the first hour, Cadei took over from Broniszewski in the 488 GTE of Kessel Racing and was the first of the GTE class cars to stop.
In the gravel. After one hour and thirty-five minutes, a prototype bumped Perrodo, then firmly in second position, sending him off track at the last turn. This opened the way for Beretta to move into second, followed by Scott and then Cadei in fourth. AF Corse’s Ferrari was stuck in the gravel and a Full Course Yellow was called to recover it. When the race resumed, a contact between the Ferraris of Iron Lynx, with Sergio Pianezzola at the wheel, and JMW Racing, ended with a spin for the British team’s 488 GTE and a stop&go for the Italian driver.
At mid-race Aaron Scott completed his comeback on Beretta, moving past him into second place behind Pianezzola, who enjoyed a five-second lead. The leaders of the championship standings, with David Perel now at the wheel, were one minute behind the race leader, in fifth, although with an extra stop.
Thirteen minutes after the two-hour mark, Ulrich passed Wainwright but lost control of the car as he accelerated, colliding with the Porsche. The damage was too bad for the 488 GTE of AF Corsa to continue. Ferrari remained dogged by bad luck, as Pianezzola suffered a puncture that also damaged the bodywork, with just over an hour and a half to go. The Safety Car came on to allow the removal of the pieces of carbon scattered along the track. Scott led ahead of Perel and Picariello, with the two battling for second place and the championship.
Tenacity. Perel’s final stop was just over an hour from the end. The South African returned to the track ahead of Griffin, while Picariello pulled in with fifty-four minutes left. With this operation, the Porsche driver kept a four-second lead over Kessel’s driver. However, the gap was destined to increase. In an attempt to contain the delay and bat off Griffin’s attacks, Perel turned at the hairpin leaving the way free for the Spirit of Race driver who, anyway, had to stop at the pits for a puncture. The Kessel driver returned to second position but with Picariello’s Porsche extending its lead. Despite an unscheduled stop to replace the leader’s tyre, Perel was unable to claim first, crossing the line as runner-up behind Picariello, but ahead of the 488 GTE of Spirit of Race, author of the fastest lap of the race in 1:39.850. Fourth place went to the Ferrari no. 60 of Iron Lynx and sixth for its twin car no. 83. The JMW Motorsport and AF Corse cars took seventh and eighth place.
Outcome. With this result Perel, Cadei and Broniszewski finished level on points in the standings with Picariello, Ried and Beretta. Despite equal placings and pole positions, the title went to the Porsche crew thanks to their win in the opening race at Le Castellet. The same was also the case for Kessel Racing which, however, can take some solace in having qualified for the next 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Post-race. At the end of the race, Spirit of Race no. 55 suffered a thirty-second penalty for not keeping to the driving time granted to the Gold licensed driver, promoting the 488 GTE of Iron Lynx crewed by Mastronardi, Piccini and Pianezzola to third place.