Following on from the third position secured last time out at Spa Francorchamps, the team arrived in Portugal determined to finish the season on a high note. Fielding the #7 Norma M30 once again for Colin Noble and Tony Wells, as well as the #8 Ligier JS P3 for James Littlejohn and Nick Adcock, the team took part in Wednesday testing and then worked through practice ahead of Saturday qualifying.
Colin was right on it from the start of the ten-minute session, jumping to the top of the timesheets on his very first lap. Unfortunately, the time was disallowed due to track limits and so he re-grouped and his fourth lap was rewarded with fifth position on the grid for Sunday’s finale.
Very aware that his best sector times combined would have seen him qualify on the second row of the grid, Nielsen Racing opted to switch from its normal race strategy but circumstances beyond their control ultimately determined the fate for the #7 pairing.
The start of the four-hour race saw Colin get the pass complete on the #17 Ultimate of Jean-Baptiste Lahaye, while Nick was also to gain two positions in his Ligier to run tenth. Combined with James, this pairing were the ones to watch as the race progressed.
A multi-car accident on the opening lap however brought out the red flags and the race was brought to a standstill. The running resumed, initially behind the safety car after 55 minutes and the racing began with Colin now third on lap five and chasing down the #6 360 Racing of Ross Kaiser. A drive through penalty would soon hit the #6 team for a jump start, but there was little time to react before the next safety car was deployed.
Colin took the option to pit, as did teammate Nick from third and ninth positions respectively. Running sixth, Colin was just 14s behind those yet to stop and at this point, the strategy looked to be falling Nielsen Racing’s way.
Lap 46, with 100 minutes of the race proved pivotal as both Colin and Nick pitted under a safety car. As ever, timing is everything and where the safety car caught the field had considerable impact. At that time Colin led the field courtesy of the great strategy call, but in being bottled up behind the safety car, that advantage and more was eliminated.
Tony and James had taken over the #7 and #8 respectively, running third and eighth as they headed to the final stop with 65 minutes remaining. Having lost the advantage due to poor luck, Tony found himself under threat and with the Norma not handling to his liking, stating that the ‘car just went away,’ and he was forced to concede positions.
James, on a tear, quickly passed Tony for an inter-team position and so it remained before both took the chequered flag in fifth and sixth positions. The team remaind at the circuit Monday to test in preparation for the forthcoming Asian Le Mans Series which gets underway on 22-24 November in Shanghai, China.
Roger Bennett, ELMS Team Manager
“It was another good finish for the Nielsen Racing pairings across both garages. Tony and Colin drove well as usual and Colin led part of the race, but the last safety car just caught us at the wrong time. From leading we lost a lap, but on the positive, we’re really pleased for Nick and James to get such a good result, their best of the season, as they’ve driven so hard in the last three rounds. So, we’re really pleased for then=m and the #8 crew.
“Regarding the safety car and the #7, it’s all about where you are on track. It was between us and the first two LMP3s and they were allowed to pass the safety car until the LMP2 leader caught up. You need luck sometimes and that is just pure bad luck on our side.”
“It was a good strategy from the team and we got the good result - the best of the season with P5 - so I’m happy with that. This is a very tough circuit physically, there is just no time to relax and recover as it’s corner after corner, the car is always moving around, but overall it’s a good result and I enjoyed my first taste of Portimão!”