The final of the Asian Le Mans Series 2017/18 was run at the Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Eurasia Motorsport #33 started the race from Pole Position in LMP2, KCMG #18 had Pole in LMP3 while FIST Team AAI BMW #91 started from Pole Position in the GT category.
The race was started under clear blue skies, with a light breeze and 32 degrees, so it would be a warm day for all the drivers in the 15 entered cars.
It was a very messy start to the race. Marko Asmer in the leading #33 was completely taken by surprise and dropped back at the start, being overtaken by the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 and #7 – and the leading LMP3 car in the shape of Viper Niza Racing #65 on an overall third position after the first lap!
The pole men in both LMP3 and GT, KCMG #18 and FIST Team AAI BMW #91 respectively, had dropped all the way to the back of their classes.
Massimilano Wiser in the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 had taken the lead in the GT category.
ARC Bratislava #4 had an issue with the engine during the Qualifying yesterday, so they had to change the engine overnight. That gave them a 2 minutes Stop & Go penalty, since the rules state that you have to run the same engine throughout the full season. On top of that, they received a Drive-Through penalty for making a jump start, not that it really mattered anyway, since they were already more than a lap down.
Jazeman Jaafar in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 didn’t want to continue in second position only and started attacking Thomas Laurent in the sister car #8. After trying for two laps, he finally managed it down one of the straights. #8 was driving with the Championship in mind, since they only would have to finish the race to win the Championship, and thus receiving an entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Half an hour into the race, we got a Safety Car period when Dean Koutsoumidis in the Algarve Pro Racing #25 stopped out on the circuit. He managed to get going for a bit again, but the SC was already on the track, and he eventually had to be towed to a place of safety. All teams used that SC period for their first pitstop.
Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 was a bit too eager in the pitlane and had to take a Drive-Through penalty due to speeding.
One hour into the race we had the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 leading LMP2, WIN Motorsport #1 in LMP3, and Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 in the GT category.
FIST Team AAI BMW #91 got ABS problems with the car. The team decided to take Junsan Chen out of the car and put in BMW works driver Markus Palttala, since he was more experienced in driving without that system, and avoiding flatspotting the tires.
Thomas Laurent in the #8 came under intense pressure from Nabil Jeffri in the #33. It all became a bit unclear if there was an issue with #8 or if Laurent was only nursing the car, to be sure to make it to the chequered flag and hence securing the Championship.
After 80 minutes of racing, both Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA cars changed their drivers, so Harrison Newey went on the drive the #8, while Afiq Ikhwan Yazid jumped into #7. Nabil Jeffri in the Eurasia Motorsport #33 became the new leader of the race, until he went in for a fresh tank of fuel, but stayed on the same tires.
Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 received a 10 seconds pitstop penalty for making wheel spin when leaving their pitstop. The Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 received a penalty for the same occurrence.
Halfway into the race saw the Viper Niza Racing #65 getting into troubles. The team had to push the car into the garage for repairs. That was their last hope of winning the Championship that went away there. After 10 minutes in the pits, the car returned to the track.
With one hour and 45 minutes left of the race, Afiq Ikhwan Yazid in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 was able to go into the lead of the race, on the circuit. The Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 took the lead of the LMP3 category on the very same lap too. Both cars however still had the previous penalties attached to the cars, for their upcoming pitstops.
With a bit more than 90 minutes left of the race, we saw a flurry of all the LMP2 cars entering the pits. That moved the standings around a bit again, with the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 now leading the #7 and Eurasia Motorsport #33 in third, ahead of the BBT #37 in fourth.
Bhurit Bhirombhakdi in the FIST Team AAI Ferrari #90 had a trip through the gravel, when he missed the braking point and nearly rammed into the rear of the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7. Only at the very final moment, did the Thai driver manage to steer his car into the gravel and could go on from that – but he lost about 30 seconds to the sister car in the fight for second. The Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 had such a big lead, that only major issues would prevent them of taking the victory. But with 85 minutes left of the race at that point, plenty of things could still happen.
WIN Motorsport #1 received a Drive-Through penalty due to track limits, after receiving several warnings for that. They were out of the fight for the podium positions anyway at that point, but it was still annoying penalty for the team.
There was a huge shake-up in the race with 75 minutes left of the race. The FIST Team AAI Ferrari #90 ended up in the gravel in turn 13, and had to be pulled out. By that happening, the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 suddenly was in contention of a Le Mans ticket, in case they saw the chequered flag.
With the Safety Car on the track, the whole field was bunched up again, giving the chance of plenty of action at the restart. Top 4 in the LMP2 were all within a few seconds, Top 3 in the LMP3 also within a few seconds, and the FIST Team AAI BMW #91 on the same lap as the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66. But that was all turned around during the SC period, when #66 suddenly stopped on track – and then #91 was leading the class! #66 managed to get going again, only to go straight to the pitlane, and being pushed into the garage. With #90 out of the race, #66 only had to do a lap on the circuit and take the chequered flag – but that could be a tough task with a sick car. Mitchell Gilbert reported a broken gearbox for the team, with only one gear left.
Eurasia Motorsport #33 and Jake Parsons started the final hour of the season, leading the race,while the two Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA cars and BBT #37 was chasing him.
KCMG #18 had taken the lead of the LMP3 category, but with Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 and Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 right on its neck.
Viper Niza Racing #65 had a really rotten day, having also speeded in the pitlane. That gave them a Drive-Through penalty – and when they served that penalty, they got pinged again for the same offence, giving them another Drive Through for that…
With three quarters left of the race, the drama was back in the LMP2 category. Jake Parsons in the Eurasia Motorsport #33 spun on his own hand and lost the lead. He fell back into third position, before he was able to get the car going again.
Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 lost the chance of taking a victory with the three local drivers, when they were handed a Stop & Go penalty due to a mistake during their pitstop.
The FIST Team AAI Ferrari #90 suddenly reappeared on the track with 40 minutes to go, and that shut down any hope for the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 of grabbing a Le Mans ticket. There was no longer a reason for them to go on the track, with their already broken gearbox, since they wouldn’t be able to achieve anything but another third place in the GT category.
The action heated up in the LMP3 category with less than half an hour to to. There are mandatory pitstop times at two of the pitstops in the LMP3 category – and the leading KCMG #18 hadn’t done that minimum time! They received a one second Stop & Go penalty for that. That was enough for them to lose the lead by 10 seconds to the now leading Jackie Chan DC Racing #6. If #6 was to win the category, they would get the Le Mans ticket – so a very important position.
Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11 managed to collect another penalty, because they had served one of their previous penalties during the Safety Car period – so they were anded a Drive-Through penalty.
Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #7 entered the pits for their final fuel stop, but wasn’t able to start the car again. Thereby they lost a podium position at their home track. The sister car #8 fortunately made it in and out of the pits without any problems, so they “only” had to do the final 12 minutes of the race, to secure the title.
The distance between #6 and #8 in LMP3 was a constant around 10 seconds, with 10 minutes left of the race.
After 4 hours of highly dramatic racing, the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #8 with Stephane Richelmi, Thomas Laurent, and Harrison Newey crossed the finishing line first, with BBT #37 in second and Eurasia Motorsport #33 on the final podium spot.
The LMP3 category was won by Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #6 with Guy Cosmo, Patrick Byrne, and Gabriel Aubry ahead of Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport #11, and WIN Motorsport #1. KCMG #18 entered the pit at the start of their very final lap of the race and never reappeared – and since they didn’t cross the finishing line, the car wasn’t classified, even though they were on their way to finishing second.
FIST Team AAI BMW #91 with Junsan Chen, Markus Palttala and Jesse Krohn won the GT category ahead of their teammates in the Ferrari #90, while Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 never saw the chequered flag.
So the three winners today were also the three Champions this season – and with drama all the way through.
Jackie Chan DC Racing #8 wins one Le Mans entry in the LMP2 category, Jackie Chan DC Racing #6 wins in the LMP3 and FIST Team AAI wins two tickets in the GT category, since they finished 1-2.
So now the teams can start searching for some cars for the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2018, since all the cars in the French classic needs to be of the new LMP2 specification and GTE, opposite to the older LMP2 spec and GT3 models that are run in the Asian LMS.
That was the amazing finish to the Asian Le Mans Series 2017/18, where absolutely nothing was decided until the cars crossed the finishing line at the end. Even though the series only had 14-15 cars running throughout the season, they delivered some fantastic racing – all the way to the chequered flag.
As it was announced yesterday, the Asian Le Mans Series 2018/19 will start on the 25 November in Shanghai.