The final round of the inaugural Speed EuroSeries enjoyed the sun-kissed setting of Portugal’s Estoril Circuit just outside the Cascais resort as the regular support event to the prestigious Le Mans Series finale. Whilst journey expenses and end of season budget woes depleted the normal grid, all seven potential winners were of course entered. With three drivers all sitting on equal points at the top of the table there was everything to play for. Dean Stirling, Jody Firth and Warren Hughes headed the league followed by Matt Draper, who was not entered this weekend, Darren Burke and Sarah Reader and multiple winner, Ivan Bellarosa. This meant that the manufacturers’ title was also a fight between Ligier, Wolf and WFR.
Teams arrived early for Thursday testing with official practice and qualifying on Friday. Bellarosa was supremely confident after a quick practice and sat out the first 30 minutes of qualifying. The Italian then ran off a short series of 8 laps setting fastest time four times to put the marker down at 1.38.041 for pole. Dean Stirling was also benefiting from the Avelon teams ambitions in the Speed Euroseries to take first and second to drive their chassis sales for 2012. Dean ended up second fastest even though he had his fastest time removed by the Stewards for being too quick in the pit lane, his second quickest time still held his place on the grid. The ever improving TFL Juno of Sarah Reader and Darren Burke was next up with the Lanan Ligier of Mohsin Rashid and Charlie Hollings fourth fastest after a very useful test on Thursday which proved that the Cranfield-based team had sorted the problems that had upset their expected Silverstone results.
The Xero Competition run WFR team managed to take fifth place after a fraught qualifying. On the very first lap on track the throttle cable of the Hughes/Firth car snapped before they had even set a time. The organisers managed to get the car back to the paddock in time for the team to renew the cable and get some laps on the timesheet. Their second car of Ben Clucas and Tom Bradshaw was going well until a water pipe cracked and the temperature gauge went towards the red zone. The grid was completed by the Jamie Constable/Michael Cantillon TFL Juno and the Pegasus Ligier driven by Pedro and Manuel Breyner, Portuguese brothers who run the PreBuild construction company.
The Estoril weekend featured two 90 minute races to conclude the season. Race 1 on Saturday saw Dean Stirling take the lead from the rolling start followed by Bellarosa, Darren Burke, Warren Hughes, Charlie Hollings and Tom Bradshaw. By lap 4 Bellarosa was in front and Burke had also slipped by Stirling. On lap 15 Hughes and Stirling tangled, the former colliding with the rear of the Wolf, with the 15 car spinning off into the gravel. Once restarted Hughes took the WFR into the pits for front bodywork repairs, altogether losing 6 laps. At the hour mark Bellarosa had a 16 second advantage over the Juno with Hollings still very much in touch but Stirling seemed to be losing track time but still heading Bradshaw, Jamie Constable in the second TFL car, Bellotti’s well driven Wolf, the Breyner Ligier and Hughes.
Stirling’s problem was finally diagnosed as a broken exhaust manifold and the competitive Avelon team immediately changed it on pit road but lost 7 laps in the process. This shuffled the pack as the pitstops took place with Sarah Reader taking over the second place Juno, Hollings handing over to car owner Mohsin Rashid and Ben Clucas stepping into the WFR. As the 90 minutes ran down the 14 car had an electrical failure which forced the WFR into retirement and a couple of spins dropped places for the number 20 Ligier. At the flag Bellarosa was firmly in the lead with the brilliantly run Burke/Reader Juno as richly deserved second, the calm, well paced Belotti Stilo Wolf third and Rashid/Hollings fourth. Eighth for Stirling upset the points tally and he was not happy to have been bumped from behind by Hughes who only added 6 points to his own championship tab. So going into the Sunday finale of the season, it would be all to play for with 102 points playing 117 with 16 up for grabs on the morning.
Everyone was up early and eager for the 9.45am race that would determine the name of the first ever FIA Speed EuroSeries champion. Bellarosa lead from the start with Stirling commencing an hour long dice with Darren Burke and Warren Hughes. This scrap was the most entertaining dice of the weekend with but a hundredth of a second between them for many, many laps. If the championship result had been declared at the 60 minute mark Dean would have taken the Speed title from Hughes/Firth and Bellarosa. The 45 minute pit lane open sign started a shuffle of the runners and also signalled Stirling’s problem moment when a cracked exhaust started to sap the power of the Honda engine. Burke got past him and so did Hughes just before they finished their stint and handed over to Sarah Reader and Jody Firth. With the stops completed and 30 minutes to run Bellarosa headed Firth, Reader, Stirling, Tom Bradshaw now in the WFR, Bellotti, Hollings in the Lanan Ligier but under a lap penalty for changing drivers outside the pit window, Cantillon and Breyner.
That’s how the race finished making Hughes/Firth champions with 114 points, just 3 points ahead of Dean Stirling with Ivan Bellarosa third and the hard working Daren Burke and Sarah Reader fourth.
The Speed EuroSeries has proved the revelation of the 2011 European racing scene. There has been 12 races at six events in five countries, an average grid of 16 cars and more than 60 drivers have scored points during the season. Going into the final event four chassis marques vied for the title, three teams could take their specific trophy and seven drivers were in with a mathematical chance of taking the first ever FIA Speed EuroSeries champion’s title.
Plans for 2012 expansion are well established already with an agreement to become even closer to the Patrick Peter run LMS series but also taking in the new World Endurance Championship support races expected to be at Spa and Silverstone next year. The final LMS calendar is yet to be ratified but races at Paul Ricard, RedBull Ring, Imola and Donington are being considered. Speed is campaigning to have two 90-minute races as a minimum each weekend, extended practice time and testing available on Thursday before the meeting. Honda Europe will develop their partnership with the Speed programme, TV coverage will continue to reach the farthest corners of the globe and additional sponsorships and benefits are in negotiations presently.