Round 2 of this year’s Asian Le Mans Series was run at the Fuji track in Japan.
It was a perfect sunny day at the iconic track, and for the first time in this year’s ACO racing at the track (FIA WEC and Asian Le Mans Series), no low hanging clouds or fog were visible, and it was actually possible to see Mount Fuji, which is only a few kilometres away from the track. The air temperature was still only 8 degrees, so the exception for tire warmers was still in place for this round only.
BBT #37 with Anthony Xu Liu started the race from Pole Position in the LMP2 category, but he was instantly put under pressure from the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 with Stephane Richelmi. #8 took the lead going out of the very first corner, and David Cheng in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 tried to follow through. He put a lot of pressure on Liu, resulting in the #37 driver spinning off the circuit. There wasn’t any contact between the two cars, but only a bit too cold tires or a too heavy right foot from Liu.
KCMG #18 with Louis Prette started from Pole Position in the LMP3 category, but he had to give way to Philippe Descombes in the WIN Motorsport #1, while James Winslow in the Viper Niza Racing #65 was in third.
Junsan Chen in the FIST-Team AAI BMW #91 started from Pole Position in the GT category, but he lost the lead to the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 driven by Massimilano Wiser. FIST-Team AAI Ferrari #90 went into third, before the two team cars switched positions shortly into the race.
Richelmi in the #8 quickly build up a big lead of the race, and after only 10 minutes of the race, he was almost leading by the entire start/finish straight.
Rik Breukers in the ARC Bratislava #4 put David Cheng in the #7 under a lot of pressure, but he didn’t make it past the Chinese drivers at the first go.
Just 15 minutes into the race, the TKS #99 LMP3 car had to enter the pitlane with technical issues. The team had been battling electronic gremlins all weekend long, and it was something similar that was the issue this time. After 10 minutes of work in the garage, the car returned to the track. The team explained that the fault had been a connector on the steering wheel, and after replacing the whole steering wheel, everything was perfect again.
Rik Breukers in #4 overtook David Cheng in the #7, 25 minutes into the race, with Anthony Xu Liu in the #37 closing up too. After his early spin, Liu had found the pace in the car. While all that happened, Stephane Richelmi in the #8 had more than 30 seconds lead of the race.
About 5 minutes later, the #37 had made up to to #7, and the two Chinese drivers instantly started to battle – a battle that Liu in the #37 won with an outbraking manoeuvre.
KCMG #18 was back in the lead of the LMP3 category, while WIN Motorsport #1 was still able to Viper Niza Racing #65 back in third place. There was only 10 seconds between the three cars, so it was very close racing.
BBT #37 made it into P2 after 50 minutes of racing, when Liu outbraked ARC Bratislava #4 going into Turn One.
After the first hour of racing, Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 already had a one-minute lead over the BBT #37, but the latter had put Pipo Derani in the car, and with new tires, the Brazilian was at least two seconds per lap faster than anybody else on the track.
Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 with Shaun Thong onboard had a quick solo spin, but he was soon heading in the right direction again.
WIN Motorsport #1 got an issue with their engine and had to retire from the race less than one hour in to the race. A huge pity for the team that was in 4th position of the LMP3 standings prior to this race.
TKS #99 had to make another trip into the garage after 90 minutes of racing. That cost them 10 minutes of repair time, but returned to the track once again.
Shortly thereafter, Ollie Millroy in the FIST-Team AAI Ferrari #90 took the lead of the GT category, after Peng Liu had taken over the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66, and was more than 6 seconds slower per lap than the competitors. Only one lap later, the other FIST-Team AAI BMW #91 with Chaz Mostert was able to pass the Audi too. But that is how endurance racing is – it’s the average of all three drivers, so one fast driver can’t always save the day for the two others.
KCMG #18 driven by Neric Wei had quick spin when he touched a curb. But with an almost one minute lead, he was still able to stay in front of the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 with Patrick Byrne onboard.
After 90 minutes of driving, Stephane Richelmi was replaced by Harrison Newey in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8.
Pipo Derani in the #37 had been driving so fast, that he had made a gap of more than one minute, prior to his second pitstop. So that meant that #37 and #8 were almost level once again, and all had to be decided in the second half of the race.
Patrick Byrne in the #6 had a spin in Turn One and lost half a minute by doing so.
There was big drama in LMP3 after 1 hour and 50 minutes of racing, when the leading KCMG #18 stopped out on the track. Neric Wei tried to restart the car, but it wasn’t possible, and it had to be towed a place of safety by the marshals. Since it was on the exit of one of the slowest corners on the track, it was possible to do under a local yellow flag zone. That made the Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 take the lead of the LMP3 category.
Marco Asmer in the Eurasia Motorsport #33 caught Miro Konopka in the ARC Bratislava #4 by several seconds per lap, in the fight for fourth in LMP2. Asmer made short process and passed him, and then started to chase down Jazeman Jaafar in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7, even though he was close to one minute ahead.
Jesse Krohn had taken over the FIST-Team AAI BMW #91 and at the same time taken the lead of the GT category, because of a faster pitstop, when the #90 put Marco Cioci onboard. They had build a 2-laps lead over the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66, which was now driven by Weian Chen.
BBT #37 pitted with a 22-seconds lead over the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8. The two teams switched drivers to Davide Rizzo and Thomas Laurent respectively, and both drivers got new tires too. So with one and a half hours left of the race, it was a straight fight between those two drivers.
With 80 minutes left of the race, Guy Cosmo in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 started attacking the Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 driven by Hanss Lin. After one and a half laps of close racing, Cosmo made it past.
Thomas Laurent in the #8 had caught up with Davide Rizzo in the #37 in just 20 minutes, and he instantly went for the lead of the race. The two cars made a sandwich with the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 in the middle, with all three cars going side by side into a corner. Fortunately all three made it out without any contact – and with Laurent in the lead.
With 40 minutes left on the clock, there was a message from the stewards popping up on the screen. The Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 with Ye Hong Li had received a drive-through penalty for an infringement during a pitstop. The already had a large gap up to the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 ahead of them, and a big gap to the Viper Niza Racing #65 behind them, so they stayed in second position.
Excitement reappeared in the GT category with just 20 minutes left on the clock. FIST-Team AAI BMW #91 received a 2-seconds Stop & Go due to a too short mandatory pitstop. The GT category have minimum pitstop times, and the team had gone under that time. Jesse Krohn had to work really had to try and regain the lead, that he had lost because of that penalty.
15 minutes before the chequered flag, the Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 stopped on the track and couldn’t go any further. At the same time, the Eurasia Motorsport #33 went into the pits from P4 in LMP2, with them retiring. So there were some big changes shortly before the flag.
But nobody could touch Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8, who won the race with Thomas Laurent, Stephane Richelmi, and Harrison Newey. BBT #37 finished second, with Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 in third.
In the LMP3 category we saw Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 driven by Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne ahead of Viper Niza Racing #65 and TKS #99.
FIST-Team AAI took a 1-2 victory in the GT category, with Lam Yu, Ollie Millroy, and Marco Cioci in the Ferrari 488 GT3 #90, ahead of the BMW M6 GT3 #91, and the Tianshi Racing Team Audi R8 LMS #66.
That result meant that Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 extended their lead in the LMP2 Championship, ahead of the BBT #37, and the ARC Bratislava #4.
Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 took the lead of the LMP3 Championship, in front of of Viper Niza Racing #65, and KCMG #18.
Both FIST-Team AAI cars are totally equal on points in the GT Championship, with Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 in second.
The next round of the Asian Le Mans Series will be run on 13 January at the Buriram track in Thailand.