Asian Le Mans Series (Asian LMS) will start this weekend, and there will be some quite big names on the entry list.
The first Round of the 2017/18 Championship will be run at the Zhuhai track in China. Zhuhai was used for the Opening Round of the 2016/17 and back in 2010 and 2011 we had the International Le Mans Cup running at the track – the predecessor of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The track isn’t well known in international motorsport, but it has hosted an A1 Grand Prix race and several FIA GT Championship races between 1997 and 2007.
Asian LMS will have 16 cars for the opening round, which is a slightly disappointing number. There has been a big local contingent normally competing as one-off entrants at the Chinese round in previous seasons, but this year there will only be five Chinese teams, whereas three of the entries are from Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA.
On a positive note, the LMP2 category has grown by 50%. ARC Bratislava #4 has moved up from the LMP3 category to LMP2, after competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier this year in LMP2. Miro Konopka, Konstantins Calko and Rik Breukers are behind the wheel, and is the exact same line-up as in France.
Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA will enter two cars in LMP2 – #7 and #8. Especially #7 has a star studded line-up, which might well be the car to beat. Defending FIA WEC LMP2 Champion Stephane Richelmi will share the car with the two young talents, Thomas Laurent and Harrison Newey. Laurent is racing for the Jackie Chan DC Racing outfit in the FIA WEC, where he currently leads the Championship with two rounds to go. Newey has run FIA Formula 3 European Championship this year, finishing 11th in the standings. If the Newey name sounds familiar, it’s because he is son of Adrian Newey – the well known Formula 1 and former sportscar designer.
#8 has team owner David Cheng in the car alongside his FIA WEC teammate Ho-Pin Tung, while James Winslow is the third driver in the car.
Algarve Pro Racing #25 and Eurasia Motorsport #33 are both well known names from the European Le Mans Series amongst other things, but only the driver named Keiki Ihara in #33 will ring a bell at most European fans. She participated in the FIA WEC through three seasons, including three starts at Le Mans.
BBT #37 is one of the success stories from the Asian LMS. The team has been competing in the GT category for many years, but has chosen to leap up to LMP2, where they will run in a Ligier JS P2. Anthony Xu Liu and Davide Rizzo will be joined by ultra fast Pipo Derani. Derani knows the car very well, since he was one of the drivers developing it at Ligier, and most lately has run with Ford GT in the FIA WEC and the Nissan DPI prototype, which is based on a Ligier LMP2, in the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship. The BBT team will be run by AF Corse, just like they ran their previous programmes.
All cars in the LMP2 category, except the two ORECA 05 cars at Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA is Ligier JS P2 models, i.e. the cars that left the FIA WEC and ELMS following the 2016 season – but still all closed cars.
The LMP3 category is solely Ligier JS P3 models, even though four other constructors also produce LMP3 cars.
There are five participants in the LMP3 category. Other than Win Motorsport #1, Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 and Viper Niza Racing #65, the two well known teams, Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 and KCMG #18 also enters.
Win Motorsport #1 has Richard Bradley onboard, alongside William Lok and Philippe Descombes, in their aim to win the Championship.
But they will most likely get under a lot of pressure from Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6. The other LMP3 drivers are not names known in international motorsport.
In the GT category, which is for GT3 cars, four teams have entered. FIST-Team AAI will enter two cars – a Mercedes-AMG GT3 #90 with Lam Yu, Rafaelle Marciello and Ollie Millroy behind the wheel. Marciello is a former test driver for Sauber and was Ferrari Junior driver, but his 2017 focus has been on the GT cars in the Blancpain series.
The FIST-Team AAI BMW M6 GT3 #91 will be driven by Chaz Mostert, Junsan Chen alongside BMW works driver Jesse Krohn. Mostert is big name in Australian motorsport, where he won the Australian Formula Ford Championship in 2010, and since then has raced in V8 Supercars, with a third position in the Championship as his best result in 2012. Furthermore he is the 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner.
Tianshi Racing Team #66 will enter a Audi R8 LMS with the two Chinese drivers Peng Liu and Weian Chen plus Italian Massimiliano (Max) Wiser. Wiser won the Asian Le Mans Series in GT-Am in 2014, driving a Lamborghini Gallardo.
Spirit of Race #38 has entered a Ferrari 488 GT3, but currently with no driver names on the entry list.
There is a sole entry in the GT Cup, in the shame of Team NZ #77 with a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, driven by Graeme Dowsett and John Curran.
The Asian LMS weekend will be run with the same format as ELMS, with two practice sessions with 90 minutes duration each, and then separate qualifying sessions for the LMP2/LMP3 cars and the GT/GT Cup cars, with a 4-hours race being run Sunday afternoon, local time.
The race can be followed via Live Streaming at the series website www.asianlemansseries.com on Sunday morning from 06.00 CET and for the next 4 hours. FIA WEC commentator Graham Goodwill will commentate the race alongside Jeevan Selvanathan, with Nadia Nash being the pit reporter.