[F]errari F488 GTE racer Alex MacDowall unexpectedly departed Monza in Italy with an increased LMGTE points lead following round two of the 2018 European Le Mans Series on Sunday, 13th May, after battling to a hard-earned top four finish with team-mates Liam Griffin and Miguel Molina.
Heading to the legendary Italian track holding the lead of the LMGTE championship after a superb victory during round one at Paul Ricard in France last month, the JMW Motorsport trio entered the four-hour Monza race on the back foot after an unfortunate excursion for Griffin in practice.
Resulting in heavy damage for the No.66 Ferrari, and meaning the squad had to miss qualifying, the JMW mechanics worked wonders to repair the car in time for Sunday’s race – with assistance from key personnel from the nearby Ferrari factory – and the efforts were rewarded with fourth position in a race featuring numerous Safety Car periods which turned race strategies on their head.
“To have extended our lead in the championship was really unexpected after everything”, said Carlisle racer MacDowall, “After Liam had his crash in practice, we were lucky being in Italy and so close to the Ferrari factory – anywhere else, the car couldn’t have been repaired for the race.
“They sent a welder from Ferrari to put a new chassis leg on the car, the guys in the team did a great job through the night on Saturday and only got back to the hotel at 4am before coming back to the track for 7am! Starting the race where we did, it was all about damage limitation.”
He added: “We lost out with some of the Safety Cars and pit-stops, other teams gained being in the pits at the right time and got the jump while we did lose out a bit. Getting the jump from fifth to fourth place at the end was unexpected, everyone did a good job.”
The team’s ‘Pro’ driver Molina took the opening stint of the race and made swift progress early on, climbing into fourth by the end of lap two and swarming all over the similar Spirit of Race Ferrari of Duncan Cameron. Taking third on lap three, Molina instantly zeroed in on the pair of Porsche 911 RSR cars ahead and applied maximum pressure.
With nothing between the lead LMGTE trio, on lap five the Spaniard took second out of the Rettifilo Chicane when the leading Porsche went too deep on the exit and Molina then grabbed the lead on lap six into the Ascari Chicane. Instantly pulling away, the JMW racer was three seconds to the good by the start of lap eight before the Safety Car was deployed due to an LMP2 car hitting the barriers.
Taking the chance under Safety Car conditions to make their first driver-change stop early, Molina pitted to hand over to Griffin with 20 minutes elapsed and the British driver held third when the action got back underway around a quarter of an hour later.
Edged back to fifth over the course of the next few laps, the action then fell under caution for a second time at the 45-minute mark. Pitting the No.66 Ferrari under Safety Car conditions again, changing tyres due to debris concerns on track, Griffin remained behind the wheel and rejoined in sixth place with racing then getting back underway just past the completion of the first hour.
Moving through into fifth and then back into the podium placings during the second hour as more stops began, during another Safety Car period Griffin headed for the pits just before the halfway point of the race from second position.
MacDowall took over driving duties at this point and threaded back into the race in fifth position in LMGTE. The action got back underway at almost exactly the two-hour mark and the Cumbrian set about closing the eight second gap to the No.80 Porsche 911 ahead.
Inside 10 minutes, though, the Safety Car was required once more with MacDowall still fifth but he did move into fourth following a pit-stop for the aforementioned Porsche. With just under one hour and 40 minutes to run, racing resumed once more with MacDowall four seconds shy of the podium.
Then, dramatically, a big incident involving two LMP2 cars just ahead required incredible reactions from MacDowall to avoid being caught-up in the ensuing chaos. Taking to the Lesmo gravel trap in avoidance, he somehow emerged back onto the track unscathed and able to continue.
After all of the drama the 2016 LMGTE Champion did slip to fifth with around 90 minutes to go, as strategies continued to be affected by Safety Car periods, but this became fourth roughly 10 minutes later when one of the Porsches pitted. Running around six seconds shy of the podium, MacDowall continued to push.
Taking the squad’s fourth pit-stop late in the third hour, MacDowall stayed behind the wheel and continued in fourth place until pitting again with around 50 minutes left on the clock. Handing the Ferrari back to Molina for the final stint, the Spaniard held fifth into the last 45 minutes and had a huge task to try and make inroads.
With fifth place looking set to be the final result for JMW, a very late pit-stop for the No.88 Porsche piloted by Gianmaria Bruni enabled Molina to move into fourth position which he held to the flag at the end of four challenging hours.
Following a summer break of around two months, round three of the European Le Mans Series will take place at Austria’s Red Bull Ring over the weekend 21st/22nd July.
2018 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Driver Standings (after Rd2)
1st Alex MacDowall/Liam Griffin/Miguel Molina, 37pts
2018 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Team Standings (after Rd2)
1st JMW Motorsport, 37pts