|Winning in Portugal Ryo Hirakawa, Memo Rojas and Leo Roussel|
DragonSpeed won its first international championship last weekend in Portugal with a calculated, conservative run to fourth place in the final round of the 2017 European Le Mans Series season at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve. The finish secured both the ELMS LMP2 Teams and Drivers titles for the number 22 G-Drive Racing by DragonSpeed ORECA-07 Gibson entry.
Along with DragonSpeed’s first international title it was the team's second championship in three years, on two continents and in two different categories, having previously won the Pirelli World Challenge GTA class over in North America in 2015.
The result also saw Leo Roussel and Memo Rojas claim their debut ELMS laurels, the pair amassing 110 points over the season to give them a 12-point margin in the final standings. The number 22 squad claimed a win at Monza in round two and finished second in the other four races leading up to Portimao.
The 4 Hours of Portimao saw Roussel, Rojas and Ryo Hirakawa start third on the grid. Roussel took the opening stint and climbed to second, the Frenchman fighting for the lead with title rivals United Autosports. Leo then handed the car over to Rojas, who rejoined the race in fifth.
The Mexican ran steadily to keep the team in the hunt for the top five finish needed to guarantee the title before Roussel climbed back in for another impressive stint. Hirakawa – who missed two ELMS rounds while building his lead in the Japanese Super GT series with Toyota – was then charged with bringing the car home in the final hour.
|#22 DragonSpeed LMP2 car|
The number 21 10Star-entered ORECA 07-Gibson had a much tougher time of it at Portimao. Starting second on the grid after a stunning lap by Nicolas Lapierre in qualifying, the stars-and-stripes machine suffered an early setback when Henrik Hedman was nudged off track by another LMP2 car in the opening lap scramble. The 21 car had to fight its way back from last place and three laps down. Hedman led the recovery charge, with Ben Hanley setting the race's fastest lap in his middle stint and Lapierre clawing his way up to eighth before a late pit stop dropped him back to ninth at the flag.
DragonSpeed Team Principal Elton Julian said after the race: “I’m so proud of the team, every individual in the team, this was a team effort. Everyone gets along so well, and we always pushed really hard. To Henrik, I've got to say what a privilege it's been to work with him again this season, and for him allow us to race these fantastic cars in this great series. Thanks to the drivers and our team partners including Toyota, they’ve done so much to help us prove what we can do this year. It’s our day today, we're champions!"
“I have no words, winning this title is the best achievement of my life," exclaimed Roussel. “I can’t thank the whole team enough, and especially Elton and my teammates for the job they’ve done. We played it safe today, as we knew that the pressure was on our rivals. In the end, we did it, I can’t explain the emotions in the garage afterwards."
Rojas added: “I need to thank everyone who supported me all the way. It’s amazing to add another title to my career. I always had the dream to come to Europe, that’s why I changed after my years in America. The culture and atmosphere of the racing is so different here, but with my amazing teammates, and the amazing DragonSpeed team, I achieved my dream!"