Asian Le Mans Series 2018/19 got the season started in China at Shanghai International Circuit with the Agile 4 Hours of Shanghai.
The race was started 9.30 local time, and even though the sun was on its way, there was heavy fog until shortly before the start of the race. That meant the asphalt was slightly damp, but all teams still opted for dry weather slicks, since it wasn’t really wet. Luckily the fog was diminishing, so the drivers and not at least the spectators and TV viewers would have it easier to follow the action through the 4 hours.
Spirit of Race #8 started from Pole Position in LMP2, but had opted to put Bronze rated driver Alexander West in the car, instead of Pipo Derani, who had secured the first position yesterday.
Inter Europol Competition #13 kept Jakub Smiechowski in the car, after the Polish driver took Pole in LMP3 yesterday.
Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88 had swapped Dries Vanthoor with Chen Weian in the GT category, while Benny Simonsen had taken Modena Motorsports #16 to Pole Position in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup category, and took the start of the race too.
There was drama in Turn 1, where it went wrong for Alexander West in the Pole winning Spirit of Race #8, who spun in Turn 1, also bringing Phil Hanson in United Autosports #22 off the circuit. Luckily both were able to continue, without making a contact with each other – but it’s never nice when one of the leading cars spins in front of 25 other cars.
That meant that Algarve Pro Racing #24 with Andrea Pizzitola took the lead ahead of Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #1 with Weiron Tan and Panis Barthez Competition #35 with Jean-Baptiste Lahaye.
United Autosports #3 with Matt Bell had taken the lead in LMP3 ahead of Viper Niza Racing #65 with Nigel Moore and United Autosports #2 with Garret Grist.
Car Guy Ferrari #11 with Takeshi Kimura grabbed the GT category lead from Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88 with Chen Wei An and TF Sport Aston Martin #5 with Bonamy Grimes.
Benny Simonsen in Modena Motorsports #16 kept the lead in the Cup category in front of EKS Motorsports #59 with Lu Wen Long and OpenRoad Racing #21 with Francis Tjia.
Car Guy Ferrari #11 had a solo spin, but quickly got going again – but did drop to dead last in the GT category. Patrick Byrne in United Autosports #23 had his own spin, but was soon back on the road.
We had the first drama after just 19 minutes of racing, when Andrea Pizzitola in the Algarve Pro Racing #24 stopped on the circuit, with smoke coming out of the back of the car. That gave a Full Course Yellow, that turned into a Safety Car period. Crushingly disappointing for the team, who were amongst the favourites, proving it by leading the race from the go.
Modena Motorsports #16 was extremely lucky, since they were running right in front of the leading Jackie Chan DC Racing #1, when the Safety Car came out. When they were waived by, they effectively gained a lap on the rest of the category – something that really could annoy the EKS Motorsports #59, who was right behind #1, and could watch Benny Simonsen i #16 take off. But that is how Safety Car periods are – sometimes you win and other times you lose.
It took around 15 minutes until the cars were released again, and some of the teams took advantage to that, by doing the first pitstop of the day.
Ling Kang in the ARC Bratislava #4 missed his braking going into Turn 1, and hit the rear of the Tianshi Racing Team Mercedes #66.
Algarve Pro Racing #25 with Mark Patterson hit Colin Noble in Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79, which also became costly for Panis Barthez Competition #35 with Jean-Baptiste Lahaye, who had to avoid the spinning cars, and ended up damaging its own nose by hitting the armco.
The field had been so mixed up during the first 40 minutes of racing, that we actually had the Viper Niza Racing #65 LMP3 car on an overall second place in the race. That was a combination of them doing a faultless race, mixed up with some of the LMP2 teams messing up, and other taking their first pitstop.
Earl Bamber Motorsport #12 with Jeffrey Chiang got stuck on a curb in Turn 8 after 50 minutes of racing, and couldn’t get going himself again. He needed some help from the marshals, which was dealt with under a local yellow, so we avoided further breakup of the race.
There was drama for the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88, during its first pitstop. While the mechanics were refuelling, the were some flames licking the rear of the car, which needed a few splashes of extinguishment to put it out. Then they had problems getting the air jacks working, so a simple refuelling and tire changed took 2 minutes and 42 seconds – something that should had been done at least a minute faster than that. Luckily they had such a big lead in the race, that they returned to the track just 30 seconds from the lead.
After one hour and 20 minutes, the race took another dramatic turn, when leader Weiron Tan in the Jackie Chan DC Racing X JOTA #1 lost the rear wheel, and spun into the gravel. Fortunately no other car or marshals were hit by the tire, which bounced halfway down the start-finish straight, before it came to a rest.
That gave the second Safety Car period of the day, to get the car pulled out of the gravel – but the team had already lost two laps, before the race was neutralized.
Many teams opted to pit, to change their drivers, or to fill up the tank and get fresh tires.
Algarve Pro Racing #25 were amongst the teams pitting, and the team installed Anders Fjordbach in the car, with the plan to make him do the rest of the race. Benny Simonsen jumped out of the leading GT Cup Modena Motorsports #16, handing over to Philippe Descombes.
There were more troubles for the Jackie Chan DC Racing team, when #38 with Wei Chaoyin had to pit with mechanical issues, making it necessary to push the car into the garage.
The field was released again after 20 minutes of cleaning up.
United Autosports could be happy about an overall 1-2 in the race, with Phil Hanson in #22 leading his teammate Salih Yoluc in #23. With Wayne Boyd sitting second in the LMP3 category, it looked really good for the American/British team. Boyd went for the lead just a few laps later, passing Colin Noble in the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79, making United Autosports lead both LMP2 and LMP3. Noble managed to fight back and retake the lead just a few turns later.
Douglas Khoo in the Viper Niza Racing #65 had a spin in Turn 9, which cost him a lot of time, before rejoining the track. The team had already fallen a long way back in LMP3, since their first pitstop and driver changed had taken way too long. So from leading the race overall, to dropping to one of the last positions in the race.
Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 swapped Nick Adcock with Christian Stubbe Olsen at almost the halfway point of the race, with the hope of the young Dane perhaps being able to climb up to the podium positions in LMP3.
Halfway through the race we had United Autosports #22 leading teammates #23 and Spirit of Race #8. United Autosports #2 lead LMP3 ahead of Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79 and R24 #50. Car Guy Ferrari #11 had grabbed the GT category lead ahead of TF Sport Aston Martin #5 and Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88. Modena Motorsports #16 was still leading the Cup category, ahead of OpenRoad Racing #21 and EKS Motorsports #59.
The stewards had spotted an error by Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7, so they were handed an extra 20 seconds penalty for their upcoming pitstop.
Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88 got a massive 145 seconds Stop & Go penalty for speeding in the pitlane. So it wasn’t just for driving 2 kph above with limit with such a penalty, which was equivalent to just over one lap in the GT category.
Fjordbach did a good job in the Algarve Pro #25, getting it into 4th in the LMP2 class. The team did however had some transponder issues, making it hard for the time keepers to keep track of it, and having to do so manually.
Earl Bamber Motorsport #12 were in troubles again, when Will Bamber stopped on the track. The car didn’t move at all, so they had to be pulled to a place of safety, ending their race.
ARC Bratislava #4 driver Darren Burke managed to overtake Anders Fjordbach in Algarve Pro Racing #25, in the fight for not only 4th in LMP2, but also a battle in the LMP2 Am Trophy, which also is a battle of an auto entry to the Le Mans 2019. There was still 75 minutes of racing to do, so a lot could still happen.
Eurasia Motorsport #36 got a 10 seconds Stop & Go Penalty because they had been too fast during an earlier Full Course Yellow in the race.
A really exciting final hour of the race was lining up, when Phil Hanson finally jumped out of the United Autosports #22, making room for Paul Di Resta. He was going to try and beat Pipo Derani in the Spirit of Race #8, who was running a different fuel strategy, making the two cars effectively run really close to each other, when they both would have done their final stops. The #8 was leading, but they needed a full tank of fuel, and a potential splash too, while Di Resta definitely needed a few extra litres.
United Autosports #2 was leading the LMP3 category, while Car Guy Ferrari #11 still had the GT category lead. Benny Simonsen was back in the Modena Motorsports #16, continuing to lead by almost a lap to the second placed car in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup category
Spirit of Race #8 pitted with 43 minutes to go, making that it’s final stop. So did ARC Bratislava #4 and Algarve Pro Racing #25 too.
The drama in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup category popped up with just a few minutes to go, since OpenRoad Racing #21 got a 5 minutes Stop & Go penalty for too short pitstops. Modena Motorsports #16 got a 37 seconds Stop & Go for the same mistake – but not as grave as the #21.
Paul Di Resta pitted the United Autosports #22 with 10 minutes to go, and thereby lost the lead of the race, but still had plenty of time to P3.
Spirit of Race #8 with Pipo Derani, Alexander West and Come Ledogar won the race, ahead of United Autosports #22 with Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson, from United Autosports #23 with Patrick Byrne, Guy Cosmo and Salih Yoluc in P3.
#23 grabbed the win in the LMP2 Am Trophy too, ahead of ARC Bratislava #4 with Miro Konopka, Darren Burke and Kang Ling, plus Algarve Pro Racing #25 with Anders Fjordbach, Mark Patterson and Chris McMurry.
Inter Europol Competition #13 with Martin Hippe and Jakub Smiechowski won the LMP3 category, from United Autosports #2 with Chris Buncombe, Garret Grist and Wayne Boyd, while Eurasia Motorsport #36 with Nobuya Yamanaka and Aidan Read finished third.
Car Guy Ferrari #11 with James Calado, Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino won the GT category, ahead of Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 with Alessandro Pier Guidi, Ozz Negri Jr. and Francesco Piovanetti and TF Sport Aston Martin #5 with Johnny Mowlem and Bonamy Grimes.
Benny Simonsen and Philippe Descombes in the Modena Motorsports #16 won the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup category, ahead of Lu Wen Long and Bao Jinlong in the EKS Motorsports #59, plus OpenRoad Racing #21 with Francis Tjia and Michael S., who lost second place with their costly 5 minutes penalty.
That was the end of some very exciting 4 hours at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The next round of the Asian Le Mans Series will be run at the Fuji International Speedway in Japan in just 14 days time.