The final race of the 2019 saw action and drama galore as DKR Engineering, with Francois Kirmann and Laurents Horr, finish on the podium to claim the LMP3 titles.
The LMP3 victory went to Alex Kapadia and Rob Wheldon for RLR M Sport, with Kapadia taking the chequered flag 19 seconds ahead of Tony Wells and Colin Noble in the Nielsen Racing Norma, with the no3 DKR Engineering Norma in third. Championship leaders before the race Lanan Racing were penalised for a collision with the no3 DKR Norma while defending his second place in the second hour of the race, with Dunacn Tappy having to pit for a three minute Stop and Go penalty.
Sergio Pianezzola and Giacomo Piccini added the 2019 GT3 title to the one they took in 2018 for Kessel Racing by winning the GT3 class in Portugal just ahead of the no99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin driven by Ross Gunn and Andrew Howard. Team champions Kessel Racing claim the coveted invitation to the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second year in a row.
The race started under cloudy skies on a dry track. Francois Kirmann led the field from pole position into the first corner in the no3 DKR Engineering Norma with Michael Benham in the no25 Lanan Racing Norma being challenged for second place by the no14 RLR M Sport Ligier driven by Rob Wheldon. Wheldon got a better run into the first corner and took the place from Benham.
The no71 Luzich Racing Ferrari of Fabien Lavergne led the GT3 field, well ahead of his championship rival Sergio Pianezzola in the no8 Kessel Racing Ferrari. However, at T6 the French driver’s luck ran out as he was hit from behind as he avoided a spinning LMP3 car. The Ferrari suffered a blown tyre and rear left damage and Lavergne limped back to the pits for repairs but a lap down when he rejoined dead last.
By contrast the no8 Ferrari, which had started at the back of the grid following an issue in post qualifying scrutineering, made good progress up the field and was leading the GT3 class by the end of the opening lap.
On lap 18 the no9 Graff Norma went off into the gravel at T7, bringing out the first of the Full Course Yellow periods to recover the car. It was quickly followed by a second FCT when the no51 Ferrari went off at T16. At the second restart the no14 RLR M Sport Ligier had closed the gap to the leading DKR Norma. The pressure was on Kirmann, who lost control at T14, running wide and allowing the no14 Ligier into the lead, with the no25 Lanan Racing Norma also moving ahead of Kirmann.
At the mid point of the race the cars dived into the pits to hand over the cars to the second driver and Alex Kapadia emerged from the pitlane with a 20 second advantage in the no14 Ligier over Duncan Tappy in the no25 Lanan Racing Norma, with Laurents Hörr right behind Tappy in third.
The no8 Kessel Racing Ferrari, now with Giacomo Piccini at the wheel, had a 6 second advantage over the no54 SPS AutomotivePerformance Mercedes of Yannick Mettler, who was being chased down by Ross Gunn in the no99 Beechean AMR Aston Martin.
On Lap 43 Duncan Tappy was having to defend his second place from Laurents Horr, the German getting alongside the British driver at T6. The cars collided, with the no25 Norma being pushed wide, allowing the no3 DKR Norma into second place. The two cars were nose-to-tail up the hill and at T8 there was another collision as the no25 Lanan Racing Norma hit the back of Hörr’s car. Both cars were damaged and limped back to the pits for repairs.
The no3 Norma rear tyre was replaced and rear bodywork repaired quickly, with Horr rejoining in third, while the damage was more extensive on the no25 Norma, with Tappy rejoining a lap down. But there was a further delay when the no25 car was given a three-minute stop and go penalty for causing the collisions.
1 RLR M Sport 14 Ligier JS P3 - Nissan LMP3
2 Nielsen Racing 2 Norma M 30 - Nissan LMP3
3 DKR Engineering 3 Norma M30 - Nissan LMP3
25 Lanan Racing 25 Norma M30 - Nissan LMP3
Photo credit: Daily Sportscar