All was wide open at the Portimão circuit. Following the cancellation of the Imola event back in May, the last two races of the season, held on the same weekend, were a title decider. Fourth on the grid of the 4 Hours of Algarve, the French team with their drivers Van Uitert/Van Der Helm/Maldonado finally finished P3 on both races and in the 2023 ELMS championship, the best French team in the LMP2 standings.
From fourth on the grid, a cautious start in Race 1 was made by Manuel Maldonado, P7 at the end of the first corner. Ten laps later, our Silver driver had made up two places, before the rain started to drop, forcing him to change the tires. The Venezuelan rejoined the track under safety car conditions in P4. Tijmen Van Der Helm then started his stint on a very wet track. But thanks to a great strategy around very changing weather conditions, the Dutchman moved up to P3 at mid-race. With 1 hour 20 minutes remaining in the race, he handed the car over to Job Van Uitert, ready once again to be in full attack mode. But a safety car was soon out, forcing Job to go back to the pit to refuel, a difficult task as some lapped cars didn't let him pass within the usual time limits. Unfortunately, a Full Course Yellow was presented with 6 minutes to go, preventing him to secure an even better result, as the two competitors in front should have returned to the pits for a final splash as they didn't even make it to the Parc Fermé on their own. After a race perfectly managed by the technical staff, mechanics, and drivers, Panis Racing climbed back onto the podium by finishing P3.
On Sunday, the start of the final 4 Hours of Portimão race of the weekend was delayed by an hour and a half due to torrential rain, before finally being launched under safety car conditions. But the red flag was presented after only one lap, for more than 45 minutes, before restarting the race under safety car for 5 laps. At the end of the first lap, the Panis car was just behind the leading United Autosports #22 car but lost a place two laps later to Duqueine. On the following laps, Manuel Maldonado managed to hold off the pressure behind him from Kiffin Simpson (#25 Algrave Pro Racing) until the end of his stint. Back in the pits, he handed the car over to Tijmen Van Der Helm. Thanks to a quick pitstop, he rejoined the track in P2. Few laps later, he was passed by the Duqueine car (on new tyres) and found himself under pressure from James Allen (Algarve Pro Racing). An unfortunate spin dropped him back to 6th place. With 80 minutes of the race remaining, the #65 Oreca was finally able to put on slick tires and restarted in 5th place with Job Van Uitert at the wheel, but under the safety car conditions. After the restart, Job regularly set the fastest laps and managed to pass the Algarve Pro Racing car in a brilliant way. After a final restart, while trying to pass the Duqueine car, he was pushed off the track, from which he fortunately emerged back to in P4. The Race Control logically decided to give Neel Jani a drive-through penalty. Under a new Full Course Yellow period, the car suffered from an alternator issue following the previous incident. But at the restart, Job fought back to regain the second position from Algarve Pro Racing. A new FCY was presented with less than 4 minutes to go, and he ran out of time to make the final move and crossed the chequered flag with another podium finish in the bag.
Olivier Panis - Team Principal: "I'd like to take a positive note out of this season with this great team made up of our two young drivers, Tijmen and Manuel, who have improved race after race, and our experienced driver Job, who has regularly proved to be one of the best in the field. Finishing 3rd in the Championship is very gratifying given the particularly high level of competition this year against some of the teams competing with professional drivers. Our mechanics made no mistake. I want to mention the performance of our engineers as well and our excellent technical director Florent Gouin. Runner-up last season, third this year, all we need now is victory! I'm proud of this team and of being so well supported by Sarah and Simon Abadie and our partner Stephane Dilouya. I'd also like to thank the communication team, so involved with us. We are more than just a team. We are a family, driven by friendship and the fierce determination to fight with our small
budget. See you next year for a new chapter!"
Manuel Maldonado, Olivier Panis, Job Van Uitert at the ELMS Awards Ceremony.