It was 4 steaming hot Asian Le Mans Series hours at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, with an air temperature fluctuating between 30 and 35 degrees throughout the race.
The Thai circuit had 19 cars split on 3 different classes at the start, with the fight for every single point going on, so the Le Mans dream could live on. Every single class winner, and the best LMP2 Am Trophy team will receive a ticket for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 2019.
Algarve Pro Racing #24 had taken Pole Position in the LMP2 category, while ARC Bratislava #4 was the best LMP2 Am Trophy team. United Autosports #2 had grabbed Pole in LMP3, while Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 had been the fastest GT team in the yesterday’s qualifying.
After some major repairs following yesterday’s free practice shunt, we had Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 starting from the back of the field.
The race was started at 11.45 local time.
It was an amazing start by Chris McMurry in the Algarve Pro Racing #25, where he jumped all the way up to second position, before the cars dived into Turn 1.
Car Guy Ferrari #11 had grabbed the GT lead ahead of Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 and Spirit of Race Ferrari #51.
Phil Hanson in the United Autosports #22 was getting more and more frustrated behind McMurry, and tried to overtake him on both the inside and outside. He finally managed to do so on the third lap of the race – and half a lap later, he took the lead of the race, when he passed Pole man Ate Dirk De Jong, who had started in the #24.
Viper Niza Racing #65 were unlucky to get a puncture just 5 minutes into the race, after running in an overall 4th position – in a LMP3 car with Nigel Moore behind the wheel.
Hanson in #22 was really fast out front, and outpaced the others by over three seconds – per lap! To be fair, they were all Am drivers in the other LMP2 cars, while Hanson despite his Silver ranked status, often is just as fast as the professional drivers in the category.
Following the puncture for #65, we had a United Autosports 1-2 in the LMP3 category with #3 leading #2, while Inter Europol Competition #13 were third.
Max Wiser in the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 took the lead of the GT category, while Takeshi Kimura in Car Guy #11 grabbed onto second.
Francesco Piovanetti in the Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 had a spin in Turn 3 after contact with Algarve Pro Racing #25, falling even further back in the GT category, but kept ahead of Ivor Dunbar in the TF Sport Aston Martin #5.
Algarve Pro Racing #25 lost two positions in just a few metres, when Chris McMurry outbraked himself in Turn 3, to Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in the Panis Barthez Competition #35 plus United Autosports #23 with Patrick Byrne.
Just a few laps later it was Byrne’s time to make a small mistake, and McMurry passed him again. Other than the overall LMP2 race, the two cars were also battling for the LMP2 Am Trophy Championship, where #25 absolutely had to outscore the competition, to keep a realistic chance of being able to win the Championship.
Panis Barthez Competition #35 got a drive-through penalty for overtaking outside the circuit on the first lap. That made their second position in the race go away.
Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 was also handed a drive-through, since they had been speeding in the pitlane – on their way out of the garage to the starting grid. That was a very clumsy mistake by Francesco Piovanetti, since there was absolutely nothing to be gained by doing so. You only drive the car nice and easy to the grid.
That wasn’t the end of all the penalties, in the first half hour of the 4 hours. Algarve Pro Racing #25 got a drive-through due to the contact with the Spirit of Race Ferrari #51.
The stewards were not done handing out penalties for #25, who got a Stop & Go for overtaking outside the track.
Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 had a spin, after a close call with the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79.
Algarve Pro Racing #25 repeated the doubtful success from Fuji, and got 3 penalties within the first hour of the race. That’s absolutely not how you win races – and the remaining three hours of the race would be a tough battle for the team with Le Mans dreams.
Inter Europol Competition #13 had a spin at the end of the first hour, but was heading back on track, after losing about half a minute.
United Autosports #23 got a drive-through penalty due to a mistake during their pitstop.
#23 rejoined into a battle with ARC Bratislava #4 for the LMP2 Am Trophy lead, where both were really pushing on. Salih Yoluc and Ling Kang were at times driving more off the circuit than on the circuit itself, and it didn’t get any better, when they were about to overtake Johnny Mowlem in the TF Sport #5. The two LMP2 drivers outbraked themselves, and had to take a big detour. #4 eventually made it past and quickly opened up a large gap.
One and a half hours into the race we suddenly had Johnny Mowlem in the TF Sport Aston Martin #5 stuck in the gravel in Turn 3. The resulted in the first Full Course Yellow of the day, so the car could be recovered. He later explained that the brake pedal had just gone to the floor, and he did everything to not take out an Audi on his high speed departure. Luckily there wasn’t any physical damage to the car, but the mechanics all had to try solve the braking system.
The stewards gave #23 a drive-through penalty for contact with #4 earlier in the race, and thereby put the LMP2 Am Trophy lead battle on standby.
United Autosports #2 and Inter Europol Competition #13 had a close fight for the lead of the LMP3 category. That fight got disrupted by #2 getting a drive-through for gaining an advantage off the circuit.
Halfway through the race we had United Autosports #22 leading LMP2, ARC Bratislava #4 leading LMP2 Am Trophy, Inter Europol Competition #13 in LMP3 and Car Guy Ferrari #11 leading in GT.
There was a bit of a panic at Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 during their third pitstop. It looked like Zhang Ya Qi had forgotten that he should get out of the car. The chief mechanic with the lollipop was shouting very loudly, and banging the lollipop on the engine cover several times, before the driver got his backside out of the car.
Christian Stubbe Olsen had managed to get the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 up into fourth position in LMP3, before once again handing it back to Nick Adcock.
R24 #50 had a solo spin in Turn 12, and lost about 25 seconds on that.
There was drama for United Autosports #23, when the car was pushed back into the garage during their third planned pitstop. The mechanics went right into the engine bay, losing them a few extra minutes, before they rejoined.
There was a melee between Algarve Pro Racing #24 and Car Guy Ferrari #11, where Andrea Pizzitola and James Calado got together in Turn 5. Pizzitola came spearing into the corner too fast, and pushed off poor Calado. Luckily there wasn’t any damage to the cars, but the stewards had a bit to look at.
Car Guy Ferrari #11 got into more troubles, since they had made a mistake during a pitstop, handing them a drive-through penalty. They did however have such a big lead in the GT category, that they kept the lead, despite the penalty.
Well, on top of the pitstop error, another penalty was handed out to James Calado, after rejoining the track in a dangerous manner surrounding the collision with #24. This wasn’t just a drive-through but a 10-second Stop & G0! That costed them the lead in the GT category, with just under an hour to go.
Panis Barthez Competition #35 had a spin in Turn 1, and lost about half a minute before Matthieu Lahaye was back on track.
The race changed once again, when the ARC Bratislava #4 suddenly went slower with 40 minutes left of the race, losing third place overall to Panis Barthez Competition #35.
Anders Fjordbach in Algarve Pro Racing #25 had a spin in Turn 10, but only lost about 10 seconds.
United Autosports #3 with Kay van Berlo was in trouble with 30 minutes to go, and lost several seconds per lap. Colin Noble in the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79 used that opportunity to grab third place. Teammate Christian Stubbe Olsen i #7 was also trying to close down a 42 second deficit, but by gaining 6 to 8 seconds per lap, it probably only would be a matter of time, before he had done so.
James Calado in the Car Guy Ferrari #11 had managed to get the car back into the GT category lead once again.
ARC Bratislava #4 pitted with 17 minutes to go, for a final splash of fuel, to be able to make it to the end. That resulted in Fjordbach in the Algarve Pro Racing #25 only being 6 seconds behind. Fjordbach however had to refuel too, and left the pits about 40 seconds down. With just 10 minutes left, the #4 had to lose somewhere around 8 seconds per lap to be caught.
Car Guy Ferrari #11 got into trouble once again, when they go a drive-through penalty for making an error in the pit exit. Calado did have such a lead, that he was able to pit and rejoin in the lead, with 13 seconds in spare to the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88.
Christian Stubbe Olsen in the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 grabbed 4th place in the LMP3 category with 8 minutes to go.
Algarve Pro Racing #24 pitted with just a few minutes left, for its final fuel. That made Pizzitola rejoin right ahead of Matthieu Lahaye in the Panis Barthez Competition #35.
United Autosports #22 pitted with two minutes to go, for a very small splash of fuel. They had such a big lead in today’s race, that they would have been able to make those two minutes of fuel, if they had been on an economy run since the start of the race – but that’s always easy to say after the race.
Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta in the United Autosports #22 won the race ahead of Algarve Pro Racing #24 with Harrison Newey, Ate Dirk De Jong and Andrea Pizzitola. Panis Barthez Competition #35 with Jean-Baptiste Lahaye, Matthieu Lahaye and Francois Heriau finishing P3.
ARC Bratislava #4 with Miro Konopka, Darren Burke and Ling Kang just about managed to get the victory in LMP2 Am Trophy, with just 9 seconds to Algarve Pro Racing #25 with Mark Patterson, Chris McMurry and Anders Fjordbach at the line. If that team had not got three penalties – or just one fewer penalty, the picture could have been very different. United Autosports #23 with Salih Yoluc, Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne made it home in third in the LMP2 Am Trophy.
United Autosports #2 with Chris Buncombe, Garett Grist and Wayne Boyd won the LMP3 category ahead of Inter Europol Competition #13 with Martin Hippe and Jakub Smiechowski plus Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79 with Colin Noble and Tony Wells. Christian Stubbe Olsen and Nick Adcock finished P4, just two seconds behind the teammates, who were struggling with the car during the final piece of the race.
Car Guy Ferrari #11 with James Calado, Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino surpassed all the problems in GT and took the third win out of three this season. Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88 finished P2 with Jean-Karl Vernay, Alex Au and Chen Wei An, while Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 with Alessandro Pier Guidi, Ozz Negri Jr and Francesco Piovanetti finished P3.
The only car that didn’t see the chequered flag today was the TF Sport Aston Martin #5, due to the braking issues, plus a faulty power steering pump wasn’t anything that could be solved in a safe manner.
United Autosports #22 extended their LMP2 Championship lead, so they are 18 points ahead of Algarve Pro Racing #24 and 23 points head of ARC Bratislava #4. Only the top 3 in the LMP2 Championship still has a chance to win the title.
ARC Bratislava #4 also extended the lead in the LMP2 Am Trophy, so they are leading United Autosports #23 by 10 points, while Algarve Pro Racing #25 are 22 points behind. All three still have a chance of the title.
The LMP3 Championship is led by Inter Europol Competition #13, who is 10 points ahead of United Autosports #2, and 14 points down to Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79. Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 are 22 points behind, being the final team with a shot at the title. But to be fair, they need all three cars ahead of them to get into trouble one way or another, to be able to grab that title, since they haven’t been fastest in LMP3 at any point during the first three weekends.
But a lot can happen in endurance racing, and there are still 4 hours + 1 lap to do at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia on 24th February, when the season finale in the 2018/19 Asian Le Mans Series will be run. We will only know the winners of the 4 Le Mans tickets after the race, since there is no mathematical way with the current standings, that it can be decided before the chequered flag.