10 things we learnt from our weekend with ELMS

10 things we learnt from our weekend with ELMS

To be completely honest, we didn't know a huge amount about the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) before we headed out to cover the final race of the season in Portimão. We knew the basics: ELMS is an endurance racing series that travels around Europe with a calendar that, in 2022, consisted of six, four-hour races. We also knew a few familiar faces in the paddock and, with their help and that of many others, (special thanks to fountain of knowledge and series commentator, Graham) we started putting the pieces together and came away having learnt a lot. They say that sharing is caring, so here's us sharing with you 10 things we took away from our weekend with ELMS.


1. It’s not THAT complicated. 

Okay so hear us out… from the outset 40-something cars competing on track at the same time in three different categories, driven by multiple drivers with different rankings, is a lot to get your head around. Add to that different racing rules and the various championships taking place within those three categories and you have enough to keep you busy til next season. Safe to say it was a little murky at first but over the weekend things got clearer. 


2. There are three categories.

LMP2 or the Le Mans Prototype 2 is the top class, reserved for privateer teams. All cars run using the same 4-litre V8 Gibson Technology engine. 

LMP3 is the entry-level prototype class, designed to help young drivers and teams enter the world of endurance racing. The cars are competitive, but with slightly more affordable budgets, and a more straightforward mechanical set-up than those in LMP2.

LMGTE or the Le Mans Grand Tour Endurance class is part of endurance racing tradition and derived from street car models. In LMGTE you see some of the world’s greatest supercars such as Ferrari, Porsche, and Aston Martin go head to head out on track. 

So how do you tell the cars apart? Of course the GTE cars are easy to spot but in the eyes of rookies like us, LMP2 and LMP3 cars are pretty similar. While there are some visual and performance differences between them, a quick and easy way to tell them apart is by the colour of the car numbers: in LMP2 they have a blue background, for LMP3 its purple, and LMGTE the numbers are orange. 


3. There's a driver ranking system.

In sports car racing drivers are ranked by the FiA based on various factors like their racing achievements, recent performance and age. The highest rank is platinum, followed by gold, silver, and bronze. Within ELMS there are rules on which category of drivers can make up a team. For example, in LMP2 each team must have at least one Silver or Bronze-rated driver. It’s an interesting sport that attracts a mixed field, from ex-Formula 1 drivers to Hollywood actors, and gentlemen drivers who are typically silver or bronze rated but often bring with them financial backing for the team.


4. The racing is exciting.

A lot can happen in four hours and with three categories of cars running at different speeds with varying advantages in the straights and corners, there is a LOT of overtaking and opportunities for error. With so many cars on track at once, yellow flags aren’t uncommon and strategic calls to pit can change things dramatically! Even right down to the very last lap the racing can be close and exciting. In LMP2 and LMP3 the championship was decided in the last race of the season, in LMP3 it was down to the last 15 minutes when championship leaders Inter Europol suffered a mechanical failure and their title was lost. 


5. The pitlane is BUSY and HOT.

Car’s return to the pit lane multiple times throughout a race and it's here where quite often a race can be won or lost. Whether it’s for driver changes, pitting for fresh tyres, or refuelling, which all happen multiple times throughout a race, there wasn’t a dull moment down in the garages. 

Unlike Formula 1, ELMS cars refuel when the race is underway, meaning for safety reasons everyone on the pit lane is required to wear a fire suit and helmet, even photographers. As our own Lids Harper found out, 26 degree heat under the Portuguese sun isn’t prime weather to be styling such a bold fit haha…


6. Not a boy’s club.

We’ve been in a few paddocks over the years and the percentage of women here felt notably high, mechanics, tyre changers, data analysts, team managers, photographers and drivers, there were women everywhere! In LMGTE the all-female Iron Dames team are making a name for themselves and inspiring young girls to follow in their footsteps. In the words of ELMS commentator Graham Goodwin, "They are out there kicking ass and taking names.” The team is funded and founded by the current head of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, Deborah Mayer, and racing for the dames are Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin, and Michelle Gatting. In Portimão, they made history by becoming the first all-female team to win a race in ELMS. What makes it even cooler is that these three women are out on track going head to head in a male-dominated field, and with absolutely no advantages given to them, they’re killing it.


7. Renewable fuel. 🍇

In 2022 the series switched to using renewable fuel. Designed and manufactured by TotalEnergies, Excellium Racing 100 fuel is made using waste from French vineyards, which is pretty cool. Due to it being 100% natural it also means the fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions from cars on the track by at least 65% compared to traditional fossil fuels used in other motorsport series.


8. A balancing act.

Balance of Performance or BoP in the simplest of terms is where series organisers monitor and alter the performance levels of cars to ensure fairness, resulting in cars that are very different from each other being able to race together extremely closely. This is done by controlling areas such as weight, aero, and ride height, all changing on a race-by-race basis.


9. Fan experience.

With high calibre drivers and big personalities the ticket price vs fan experience is pretty unmatched. To us it had a similar vibe to the Indy Car / IMSA paddocks in the States, where fans are able to access the paddock. They can also meet the drivers for autograph in the pit lane and get on the pre-race grid. Once the race is underway fans don’t have to stay put, but can watch from multiple grandstands around the circuit. Unlike F1, this access is often very affordable (we’re talking £15 or so) and sometimes even free.


10. ELMS 🤝 24 Hours of Le Mans.

At the end of the season the winning teams in the ELMS championship gain automatic invitations / entry into the following year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two teams from LMP2, one from LMP3, and three from LMGTE get to experience the race of the century, the ultimate test for man and machine.


So, to sum it all up…

When we got to Portimão, Graham described the ELMS paddock to us as “a 200 mph pub chat”, and with the weekend behind us, that description has never felt more perfect. In ELMS, there is no shortage of stories to share–and it serves as a great reminder that motorsport is about the people and that paddocks are families. During our one weekend with ELMS we witnessed history being made multiple times. The Iron Dames became the first all-female team in ELMS history to stand on the top step of the podium and Malthe Jakobsen, the 18-year-old Danish driver from Cool Racing, set a new record of the series by qualifying on pole in all six races of the season. Our first taste of endurance racing didn't disappoint and we’re grateful to everyone we had the pleasure of meeting. Thank you for answering our MANY questions and sharing your passion for the sport with us. We knew nothing about endurance when we landed in Portugal. Now, we can’t wait until we get to race with them again.

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