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Garry Findlay helped the all-new Graff Racing Ligier LMP3 sports prototype to a podium finish on their mutual debut in the final round of the European Le Mans Series but, typically, it was not an easy weekend for the Briton.

Having been confirmed as part of a three-driver line-up in the Graff-run entry following his VdeV Series performances for the French team, Findlay’s first full weekend with the Ligier JS P3 got off to a tricky start as heavy rain and high winds blighted Saturday’s first practice session at Estoril, making meaningful running impossible and hampering the team’s ability to work on set-up for what was likely to be a mixed conditions race on Sunday. Although the afternoon session was drier, the team still headed for Sunday’s qualifying session less prepared than it wanted.

“Practice was a nightmare, if I’m honest,” the 26-year old admitted, “The rain was torrential at times and, with the wind as well, we were restricted to crawling around and probably only completed a handful of laps. It was pointless being out there as we couldn’t learn anything. With rivers running across the track, the car was aquaplaning on the straights so I wasn’t surprised when the session was red-flagged.

“The afternoon session was better, but we really only learned that there was a lot of work to do changing the car from wet to dry set-up and, with a mixed forecast for race day, the team needed to find a compromise that would work whatever weather we got.”

The rain continued into Sunday’s qualifying session, but Findlay, despite his lack of meaningful preparation, still managed to put the #9 Graff machine second fastest in LMP3, behind only the recently-crowned class champions. The weather remained inclement through to the race, with a wet track greeting the starters, with Findlay’s team-mate Eric Trouillet amongst those caught out by the slippery conditions as he spun on the formation lap.

The error dropped the Graff Ligier to the very back of the field, but Trouillet used his 75-minute stint to good effect, picking off the entire GT field and making inroads into the slower LMP3 runners before handing over to Findlay just over a quarter of the way into the four-hour distance. The Briton managed just six laps in the dry, however, before the rain returned with a vengeance, forcing him to cruise back to the pits and take on more suitable tyres for the remainder of his stint.

“My laps were competitive in the dry, and I was the quickest driver on track at times, but the car was tricky in the wet as we were running a largely dry set-up,” Findlay revealed, “The rain was intermittent throughout my stint, and was often localised, meaning that different parts of the track had very different conditions. Throw in the fact that my wiper wasn’t working for part of the stint and it wasn’t the easiest introduction to LMP3 racing!”

Despite the tribulations, Findlay’s pace was good enough to keep the #9 climbing through the field and, having led briefly while the frontrunners made their final stops, was sufficient to allow team-mate Thomas Accary to bring it home in second position at the chequered flag.

“In hindsight, perhaps we were one lap too late making our final pit-stop, but my times in the intermediate conditions were good so perhaps the team decided to leave me out a little longer,” Findlay mused, “Thomas did what he needed to do to bring the car home and it’s a great feeling to be back on the podium, especially in the car’s first race.

“We didn’t come into the weekend expecting to be race winners straight away – the decision to enter was more to gain experience for next season – so the result was a nice surprise, despite it being something of a baptism of fire for everyone! I was beginning to think I was jinxed this season, but the car ran faultlessly throughout the race, so it was a good weekend.”

The Estoril race went a long way to making up for a difficult VdeV campaign for Findlay who, the previous weekend, had seen another strong qualifying performance undone at Magny-Cours as the Graff entry was hit by another car at the first corner of the race. Having fallen nearly two laps behind while repairs were made, Findlay and his two team-mates recovered to seventh overall, with the Briton exchanging fastest laps with Graff stable-mate Yann Clairay throughout his mid-race stint.

Findlay will return to Estoril for the final round of the 2015 VdeV Series over the weekend of 6-8 November.

Back to front as Garry grabs podium on LMP3 debut