Atrocious weather at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on Sunday, 23rd September, resulted in an early conclusion to the penultimate round of the European Le Mans Series with JMW Motorsport driver Alex MacDowall taking away a top four finish in the LMGTE class.
In actuality, the 27-year-old from Carlisle didn’t get to turn a wheel in the four-hour race as his stint was scheduled for the latter stages of the encounter. When ELMS officials opted to red flag the contest at the halfway point, with the rain and track conditions only worsening, it wasn’t long before the decision was taken to abandon any thoughts of re-starting the action.
At the time of the stoppage, Spanish driver Miguel Molina was fourth in LMGTE for JMW and with half points awarded he, MacDowall and team-mate Liam Griffin will go into the final race of the season in Portugal next month third in the standings, 11.5 points shy of the championship lead.
“It got too bad in the end with the weather, which is why they moved the start of the race forward as it was predicted to get like that”, said MacDowall, “It’s worked out quite well for us though as, with half points, we haven’t lost much ground in the championship and I think the No.88 Porsche has only gained two points on us.
“The Porsches are far too quick at the moment, we would have struggled to win or even get on the podium to be honest. Hopefully something will be done before the last round in Portugal to even things up a bit more. The main objective is to try and finish as the best of the Ferraris, it’ll be a challenge to try and win the championship but we’ll give it everything.”
As a result of very justifiable weather concerns ahead of Sunday, officials opted to move the start of round five forward to 09.45 (local time) and it certainly proved to be the correct decision with very murky, wet conditions awaiting the competitors.
Unsurprisingly, the encounter started behind the Safety Car and the JMW entry was piloted by ‘Bronze’ graded driver Griffin for the opening stint. Beginning the race fourth in LMGTE, when the action proper got underway after 15 minutes under caution the spray and grip certainly proved to be a major challenge.
Slipping to sixth in LMGTE, Griffin ran a lengthy first stint and with 90 minutes of the race completed he was still on track albeit in an elevated fifth position. Soon after, the British driver pitted for the first of JMW’s mandatory driver change pit-stops and Molina climbed aboard the No.66 car.
With a lot of work to do, the Spaniard set about the task but he was elevated into fourth position after the No.77 Proton Competition Porsche was wiped-out by an errant LMP2 car at the Bus Stop Chicane. As the race reached mid-distance Molina was still fourth but, with the weather worsening and several incidents occurring, officials red flagged the race shortly after.
With all cars held on the grid as the clock ticked down, the decision was then taken for the race not to be re-started on the grounds of safety – MacDowall not having the opportunity to get behind the wheel for his scheduled stint.
MacDowall’s hopes of claiming a second LMGTE championship crown will now all come down to a final round battle at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao, Portugal, with round six taking place on Sunday, 28th October.
2018 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Driver Standings (after Rd5)
3rd Alex MacDowall/Liam Griffin/Miguel Molina, 69pts