The opening in the Asian Le Mans Series was run in brilliant sunshine at the Zhuhai track in China.
Local heroes Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA had qualified 1-2 on the LMP2 starting grid with #8 ahead of #7, while KCMG #18 from Hong Kong started in Pole in the LMP3 category. Another local team, in the shape of FIST-Team AAI had a 1-2 with their Mercedes-AMG GT3 #90 on Pole ahead of their BMW M6 GT# #91.
The start ran pretty smoothly, with on a few locked wheel here and there throughout the field, but nobody got into troubles.
At the start of the second lap, we saw Rik Breukers in ARC Bratislava #4 run off the track in Turn 1, but he could race on through the gravel and rejoin far down the field.
Rafelle Marciello in FIST-Team AAI #90 had an amazing start in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 car, and he was running in the middle of the field overall, with a few LMP2 cars and a LMP3 car behind him.
Davide Rizzo in BBT #37 put David Cheng in Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 under hard pressure and forced the Chinese team owner to a make a small mistake and was able to pass him.
The Race Stewards decided that the #90 had made a jump start, so they received a Drive-Through penalty, resulting at Marciello having work hard to regain the lost time.
15 minutes into the race saw a short Full Course Yellow, to remove a few pieces of debries from the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8. The Marshalls made a swift cleaning of the track. The BBT #37 used the opportunity to enter the pitlane and fill up the tank, putting themselves on a different strategy compared to the other teams.
The Stewards started an investigation of contact between the leading #8 and the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66. #66 was judged to be responsible for the contact, giving them a 10 seconds Stop & Go penalty. The contact had happened on the Legality Panel of the #8, that meant it had to be changed at the first coming pitstop.
Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 had taken the lead of the LMP3, but with KCMG #18 right behind them, and Viper Niza Racing #65 only one and a half seconds behind.
Thomas Laurent in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 had all the field under control, driving more than 2 seconds faster than all other LMP2 cars in the field. Their teammates in the #7 had an early problem and fell back to last position, but they were trying to get back up the field again.
After 45 minutes of running, Viper Niza Racing #65 made it past the KCMG #18, in their battle for second in the LMP3 category.
After 49 minutes of the race, the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 changed over to Harrison Newey. The team changed the rear part of the car too. The mechanics had a few troubles getting it off, and they lost a few extra seconds because of that.
The Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 was pushed into the garage for repairs. The laptimes of David Cheng had been going up and down through his stint, so there appeared to be a problem with their car.
After the first hour of the race, with the first round of pitstops all done, the BBT #37 was leading LMP2, Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 lead LMP3 and FIST-Team AAI #90 was in front of the GT category.
BBT #37 would soon go to the pit for their second fuel stop, leaving Davide Rizzo in the car. They exited the pits with a 12 seconds lead over the #8, but with the #8 having made a driver- and tire change, it all made the real picture a bit muddy.
Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 made it back to the track after 11 laps worth of repairs, but it only did one lap before returning to the garage. David Cheng revealed that it started out as a problem with the power steering, and shortly after, electrical and gearbox issues making them suddenly stop on the track or slow down.
After 75 minutes of running, the #8 made it into the lead again, sometimes lapping more than 4 seconds per lap faster than the #37. That made the difference between new and old tires very clear.
ARC Bratislava #4 with Rik Breukers had made it back up to P3, after overtaking Keiko Ihara in the Eurasia Motorsport #33 and Ate Dirk de Jong in the Algarve Pro Racing #25.
Shortly before the halfway point of the race, #25 took the third place in the race. They still had their first drive change to do, so that would take them a bit more time than their competitors, at the upcoming pitstop.
There were bad news for the leading LMP3 car, Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11. They sped up during the early FCY period, handing them a Drive-Through penalty, resulting in them losing the lead to the KCMG #18, who was running right behind them on the road anyway.
Viper Naza Racing #65 brought out a FCY period midway through the race, by being stuck in the gravel. The marshals did a fast job pulling him out again, so it didn’t last long, before everybody was back up to racing speed.
The Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 had slowly extended their lead to a 97 seconds over the #37. #8 was about 2 seconds faster per lap, leaving no doubts about which one was the faster of those two cars.
FIST-Team AAI Mercedes #90 led the GT category ahead of their teammates in the BMW M6 GT3 #91, while Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 kept P3 among the GT cars.
Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 made it back on track after an hour of repairs in the pit. David Cheng was the first guy to get in the car, so he could get his minimum driving time done, before Ho-Pin Tung hopefully would take the car to the flag.
Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 had got itself back to within only 4 seconds of the leading LMP3 car, the KCMG #18.
WIN Motorsport #1 with Richard Bradley behind the wheel got a puncture, making him drive very slowly back to the pits on only 3 tires. The team dropped to last in the LMP3 category, following some 11 minutes repairs that had to be made. Shortly afterwards, Bradley returned to the pits, but that was for a normal fuel stop.
KCMG #18 had a quick spin at Turn 11, when he tried to overtake the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66. The door was well and truly shot on Neric Wei, so he had to stand on the brakes, not to hit Weian Chen.
With a bit more than 90 minutes to go, Stephane Richelmi got into the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 with one lap and 20 seconds lead!
The sister car #7 was back in the pits, where the team decided to park it up, since they couldn’t do enough laps to be classified anyway. So just as well as the #8 was running, just as badly the race had gone for the #7.
Pipo Derani in the BBT #37 made a small error in Turn 1, running wide and losing 10 seconds. That wasn’t enough to lose P2 in LMP2, since they had a two-laps lead over Alex Au in Eurasia Motorsport #33 in P3, and with Konstantin Calko in the ARC Brastislava #4 on a few seconds behind.
With 83 minutes left of the race, Calko in #4 dived pasted Au in the #33 with a fantastic outbraking manoeuvre and quickly bridged a large gap to his Taiwanese competitor.
Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 driven by Guy Cosmo had a small off track moment, but was swiftly back on the asphalt, able to keep his P3 in LMP3.
The GT category suddenly came alive with 50 minutes left of he race. The FIST-Team AAI #91 had taken the lead of the class from their teammates in #90 with only 1,5 seconds between them. With the two pro drivers in the shape of Jesse Krohn and Rafaelle Marciello behind the wheel, they really went flat out in both cars.
With about 40 minutes left of the race, we had Richelmi in #8 doing his final fuel stop. They had almost one and a half laps lead over Pipo Derani in the BBT #37, who had a good gap to Konstantin Calko in the ARC Bratislava #4 and Keiko Ihara in the Eurasia Motorsport #33.
Eurasia Motorsport #33 and Algarve Pro Racing #25 were starting to get closer to each other, with just 20 minutes left of the race, in the battle for P4 in LMP2. Dean Koutsoumidis in #25 was matching the times of Keiko Ihara in #33 and was looking for any opportunity to pass the Japanese driver.
Stephane Richelmi in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 got a bit of an awakening with 10 minutes to go, when he had a small trip through the gravel.
After that incident, he drove a safe victory home in the LMP2 category ahead of the BBT #37 and the ARC Bratislava #4.
Josh Burdon in KCMG #18 was the first to take the flag in LMP3, with just over one minute lead over the Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11, and Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 a few laps further behind.
FIST-Team AAI BMW #91 won the GT category ahead of their teammates in the Mercedes #90, with Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 in P3.
13 of the 14 entered cars completed the race. Only the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 had to retire, as previously described.
So after Round 1, we have Stephane Richelmi, Thomas Laurent and Harrison Newey leading the LMP2 Championship, with Josh Burdon, Louis Prette and Neric Wei leading in LMP3 and Junsan Chen, Jesse Krohn and Chaz Mostert first in the GT category.
The next round of the Asian Le Mans Series will be run on 3 December at the Fuji track in Japan.