The second round of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship was a thriller of many action-packed moments throughout the eight hours.
Season 9 moved onto the Autodromo do Algarve in Portimão, a new venue for the FIA WEC since the 6 Hours of Mexico in 2016.
The iconic track were no strangers to the ACO ladder after the European Le Mans Series made four annual trips to the circuit for their four-hour race.
After the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps opener in May delivered on the action, Portimao followed suit with a plethora of great moments to choose from; here are five of our’s in no particular order.
1) Tomonobu Fujii charging to the front of GTE-Am
The D’station Racing team are one of the key debuting outfits in the WEC’s fourth category, but their director was certainly on a charge during the opening hour of the race.
The TF Sport-backed #777 AMR GTE struggled in qualifying alongside the other #33 and #98 cars because of the 10-minute session; it posed little margin for drivers to set a fast lap time when they were being deleted due to exceeding track limits.
The #777 was qualified by Satoshi Hoshino and started the race by the team’s director Tomonobu Fujii and the D’station Racing started ninth in the category which appeared an age away from Egidio Perfetti.
The start bunched up the GTE-Am field which gave the Japanese driver a chance to pounce on his fellow competitors from P9.
Egidio Perfetti in the pole-sitting #56 Porsche found himself jostling with the #77 who started in P2, meanwhile Fujii was making moves.
In just over three laps, the #777 found itself on the tail of a four-way duel for the class-lead, already an impressive showing by the FIA WEC rookie driver.
The 22 degrees Celsius ambient temperatures allowed the Aston Martin to compete with the Porsches, and low and behold, Fujii fought his way to the lead just eight minutes into the race. The #77 of Christian Ried fell from P2 to P5.
Admittingly, the car did not finish but this was due to a clash with the Glickenhaus Racing Hypercar into Turn 5 – it caused radiator damage and forced them to retire after two hours and 25 minutes.
Back to the start, Fujii was delightfully battling at the front but kept locking up.
This was a major killer to their efforts having to pit just 25 minutes into the race with ruined tyres and compromised their pit cycle strategy, but a remarkable starting spirit nevertheless.
2) Fighting efforts from Charles Milesi
One of the race’s greatest moments was seeing the young guy fend off the experienced in the LMP2 class after five hours of racing.
Team WRT’s #31 had 19-year-old Charles Milesi at the wheel and asserted his material by defending 2014 LMP1 champion Anthony Davidson, with great respect to battle for so long it must be mentioned.
Minor contact proceeded, but minor contact it was that showed the immense pressure he could withstand.
An hour earlier, he was fending off their sister JOTA, the #28 with Stoffel Vandoorne who succumbed to an overtake around the outside, albeit on the kerb at Turn 1.
In fact, the team were not at their best after five hours after serving two drive-through penalties for not respecting blue flag rules – and they still finished fourth.
Nevertheless, this race showed what Milesi could do and teased how determined he is during a battle to make Vandoorne and Davidson work hard to put their experience to practice. Expect more of his fighting form at Monza.
3) Nico Lapierre’s impressive fight against the Toyota
The #36 Alpine Elf Matmut crew were unmistakably performing a masterclass towards their Toyota GAZOO Racing rivals.
Whilst the pole-sitter Matthieu Vaxiviere set the pole position time, it was Nico Lapierre who was the outstanding driver of the day for me.
His best moments were during a charge from the Alpine to catch and overtake both Toyotas. Yes, he did make it there, but not without a fight, and not without reason.
To set the scene, Lapierre was on a mission to make as much ground as possible after a pit stop was targeted in 10 minutes time (this was at the 5hr and 45m mark).
A smaller fuel tank onboard (75L compared to 110L of TGR); an estimated seven laps maximum was the threshold until both Toyotas would pit one after another.
As a result, the Frenchman needed to not only catch up to the Toyotas, overtake them for the lead, and then extend that lead with the faster Alpine on a light fuel tank.
1st try ❌
2nd try ✅
— WEC (@FIAWEC) June 13, 2021
Lapierre delivered on his task after battling hard with the #8 Kazuki Nakajima and pulled off a move on the inside at Turn 1.
His race pace was absolutely up there as it was not only chase Lopez, but his lap times were consistently strong in the 1m31s, and even in the 1m30s range to be setting the fastest times of the race.
It was classic Lapierre pushing the car to take the lead of the race from Jose Maria Lopez and was clearly motivated by the mission in-hand.
Teammates Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao performed well during the race and it was quite a disappointment that a late Full-Course-Yellow diminished their winning chances at such a late stage. But their efforts leave Portimao with unfinished business left for Monza.
4)That JOTA battle to the end and Da Costa’s overtake
The team claimed 1-2 in qualifying, and 1-2 by the end, but this hardly tells the real picture of eight hours.
After a racing incident at the start where the #38 Antonio Felix Da Costa tapped Tom Blomqvist in the sister #28, who spun around at Turn 2.
Naturally to Da Costa’s character, he admitted later how sorry he felt for inflicting contact, but both drivers would redeem it during the final five minutes of the eight-hour race.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) June 13, 2021
A 1-2 running did not stop JOTA imposing team orders and allowed the cars to race to the finish, and the two drivers were Blomqvist ahead of Da Costa.
Both Formula E stars fought with respect, and gave each other room – which may sound ironic but the pressure of not throwing it all away after eight hours were on their minds.
The duel put fans on the edge of their seats as Da Costa showed why he was the only Formula E champion to take the title early with a brave and calculated move at Turn 3.
Blomqvist had little chance to return the favour during the two remaining laps thus posed a truly hard-fought maiden Portimao victory for home-hero Da Costa.
5) Glickenhaus Racing makes it to the finish
More about Glickenhaus will feature during our post-race piece, but a great deal of respect should be reserved for Glickenhaus making it to the end.
Compared to the previous four picks, this has more of a sentimental reason to claim it as one of the top five moments.
Almost 10 years ago, Toyota Racing made their comeback to sportscars with the new LMP1-Hybrid regulations at Le Mans, but DNF’d despite the charge. Even Nissan broke away after their underwhelming 2015 Le Mans debut.
For Glickenhaus Racing, this was the beginning of a major step in their timeline to become one of the leading Le Mans Hypercar protagonists for the next five years.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) June 13, 2021
They encountered many struggles, including an incident, but used the race to learn further about the car’s management of the tyres as blistering appeared to make double-stinting an impossibility.
To have a bespoke OEM as Glickenhaus in the FIA WEC is frankly an honour after hearing Jim’s determination to get his Le Mans Hypercar to the end and what he sees in Hypercars.
It may have been P30 at the end, but it was an eight-hour race debut of admirable perseverance.
Do you agree with our choices? What were your top moments of the 8 Hours of Portimao?