It was a very special four hours race at Sepang circuit in Malaysia when the third round of Asian Le Mans Series 2019/20 was run.
Not only because the race was planned to start two hours before sunset and thus would finish in the dark, but the weather would also play a big role.
The qualifying for the race was held earlier in the day, so the teams were very busy preparing the cars between the qualifying and race.
Eurasia Motorsport #1 with Nick Cassidy, Masataka Yanagida and Daniel Gaunt had taken Pole Position, ahead of K2 Uchino Racing #96 with Shaun Thong and Haruki Kurosawa, while the championship leader G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 with Roman Rusinov, Leonard Hoogenboom and James French would start from P3.
In LMP2 Am there were unfortunately only the two Rick Ware Racing cars, where #25 with Anthony Lazzaro, Guy Cosmo and Phillippe Mulacek was marginally faster than #52 with Cody Ware and Gustas Grinbergas. RLR MSport #59 couldn’t participate after the car being on fire in Australia last time, neither could ARC Bratislava #4 due to a personal reason for Miro Konopka.
Inter Europol Competition #13 with Nigel Moore and Martin Hippe had Pole Position in LMP3, in front of Nielsen Racing #3 with Garett Grist, Rob Hodes and Charles Crews, followed by Graff #9 with David Droux, Eric Troulliet and Sebastian Page. There was a drama for both Nielsen Racing #2 and ACE1 Villorba Corsa #12, where the mechanics were busy after engine problems in the qualifying. They tried until the very last second, to get the cars on the track.
In the GT category, Car Guy #7 with Come Ledogar, Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino was on Pole, ahead of Spirit of Race #51 with Alessandro Pier Guidi, Ozz Negri Jr and Francesco Piovanetti, with HubAuto Corsa #27 drivers Davide Rigon, Marcos Gomes and Liam Talbot in P3. Unfortunately, there was no BMW in the GT category this time, since the two Chinese teams weren’t allowed to leave China due to the Coronavirus in the area.
While the qualifying was run on a bone-dry track, it began to rain straight afterwards. The track dried up – and twenty minutes before the start of the race, the sky opened up dramatically as we often see at this particular circuit.
With a torrential rain over the track, the start was delayed for almost two hours since it was simply too dangerous to send the cars out there in these conditions. Moreover, there was a power outage due to a lightning strike, and it caused problems for the teams with their computers, as well as the race director with the cameras all around the track and the TV broadcast.
The delayed start made that ACE1 Villorba Corsa #12 and Nielsen Racing #2 both ready for the new start time, although with one lap penalty since they couldn’t make it for the original starting time.
The race got started with the cars behind the Safety Car, so the teams had a chance to evaluate the track conditions.
But there was a drama when Inter Europol Competition #13 couldn’t keep up with the other cars. It was huge since they were one of the championship contenders in LMP3. They managed, however, to catch the field again before the cars were released after three slow laps behind the Safety Car. The asphalt was however so dry that the teams had to consider when to put slicks back on the cars.
T2 Motorsports Ferrari #75 had a bad start when they spun already on the first lap after the cars were released. Rick Ware Racing #25 fell back through the field.
The drama continued for Inter Europol Competition #13 as they already pitted after the first flying lap, as did T2 Motorsports Ferrari #75. While #75 quickly got back to the track, #13 stayed in the garage for many laps. It appeared that there was moisture in the electronic after the heavy rain.
Rick Ware Racing #25 was under the stewards’ observation, who would have liked an explanation for why their lap times were half a minute slower than all the other LMP2 cars; a gamble of being on slicks despite the wet tires requirement for a Safety Car start?
G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 had a calm start and was back in P6 amongst the LMP2 cars. The championship leader only needed to take it easy and keep themselves out of trouble, as they had a chance to win the championship already today if everything went their way.
Rick Ware Racing #52 got a Drive-through penalty for overtaking their teammates before they crossed the finish line for the first time.
Graff #8 was leading the LMP3 class as Finnish driver Rory Penttinen really liked the damp conditions, while Viper Niza Racing #65 was second, and Nielsen Racing #3 was third.
HubAuto Corse Ferrari #27 had taken the lead in the GT category, ahead of D’Station Racing Aston Martin #77 and JLOC Lambo #88.
Forty minutes in, there was a change of race leader when K2 Uchino Racing #96 took the lead from Eurasia Motorsport #1 and Eurasia Motorsport #36.
G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 with James French behind the wheel had a spin in Turn 8 and lost about half a minute before he was back in full speed.
The problems for Inter Europol Competition continued, but this time for #18, who stood still on the track. It led to the first Full Course Yellow of the day so that the car could be removed. After a bit of help, they could drive again and leave the spot.
Some of the cars chose to pit as they had almost used up their first full tank of fuel.
The first stop, however, didn’t go as planned for K2 Uchino Racing #96, who lost over a minute in the pits compared to their competitors.
When the race got restarted, it wasn’t long before Rick Ware Racing #52 stopped on the wet grass in Turn 8. Cody Ware did everything he could to come back to the asphalt, but it was hard and slippery with slicks on wet grass. He had to get a bit of help from the marshals to get back to the track, but they could solve it with a local yellow. But they lost the lead in LMP2 Am category to their teammates in #25.
Eurasia Motorsport #1 pitted again, shortly after their first stop, and this time it was a very long one. The front left suspension was damaged, and after a long attempt to repair the car, they had to give up the project and not return to the track. What a shame for the team, who was also unlucky with a gearbox problem last time in Australia.
There were also some dramas in front of the field. Eurasia Motorsport #36 lost the lead of the race to Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45, but Shaun Thong in K2 Uchino Racing #96 was catching Jack Manchester with about five seconds per lap.
G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 was in trouble when Leonard Hoogenboom pitted a few laps after his last stop. Furthermore, the team also got investigated for a potential mistake in their first pitstop.
K2 Uchino Racing #96 was back in the lead, after a bit over an hour.
Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 pitted shortly afterwards, where Jack Manchester handed over the car to Ben Barnicoat, and a set of fresh wet tires.
Graff #8 had a spin in Turn 8, but they were quickly back in the right direction, losing only about seven seconds.
Several teams were spotted by the race director for not having lights on the car’s start number, which they had to according to the rules. They all had to fix it in their next pitstop.
Graff #8 had yet again some problems in Turn 8, losing about fifteen seconds on this lap.
G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 got a ten-second pitstop penalty for a mistake they made in their first pitstop.
There was a three-way drama in Turn 9, when Graff #8 and G-Drive Racing #26 collided with each other, with T2 Motorsports Ferrari #75 also being involved and stopping completely on the track.
Local team Viper Niza Racing #65 got pushed back into the garage after leading the LMP3 class, earlier in the race. But they weren’t the only team in trouble. Car Guy Ferrari #7 also had to get to the garage for a long repair. It took almost fourteen minutes for #7, while #65 held still for nearly ten minutes before going back to the track.
Graff #8 did a hattrick with a spin today – although not in the favourite Turn 9 but Turn 11 instead.
Turn 9 was once again being the problematic corner, and this time it was Viper Niza Racing #65 that stood still on the grass. It caused the second FCY period of the day so that the marshals could help Douglas Khoo roll the car back to the asphalt.
At the same time, Rick Ware Racing #25 had some problems in Turn 14, where Phillippe Mulacek also needed help to continue.
Halfway into the race, Eurasia Motorsport #36 was leading LMP2, Rick Ware Racing #52 in LMP2 Am, Nielsen Racing #3 in LMP3 and HubAuto Corsa Ferrari #27 in the GT.
The leader in the LMP3 class, Nielsen Racing #3 got reported to the stewards for speeding in the pitlane, as did Viper Niza Racing #65. Both got a Drive-through penalty for the offence.
Graff #8 got a Drive-through penalty for the contact with G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 earlier in the race. Not that it meant anything since they were already out of the podium in LMP3 after the many spins.
Two hours and seventeen minutes into the race, Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 took the lead when Ben Barnicoat drove past Roberto Merhi in Eurasia Motorsport #36 from the outside in Turn 1, before switching to the inside in Turn 2.
Rick Ware Racing #25 was in trouble in Turn 14 for the second time. Phillippe Mulacek was stuck in the gravel, and the race director decided that a Full Course Yellow was necessary to pull him free.
It got the majority of the field to pit. For the LMP2 cars it fitted with that they could have a full tank and then would only need to pit one more time.
However, there were so many different fuel strategies due to the Full Course Yellow periods, that you could only see later in the race who had the best strategy.
HubAuto Corse Ferrari #27 got investigated for a potential offence. At least, their team boss was called to the stewards, which normally wasn’t a good sign.
Even though Inter Europol Endurance #34 had got warnings about the lack of their start number lights, they still continued to drive with it. So the race director had no choice but give them the black and orange flag for technical defect, which was an absolute order that must be followed within three laps.
The last hour of the race started with Eurasia Motorsport #36 in front of LMP2, Rick Ware Racing #52 in LMP2 Am, Graff #9 in LMP3 and JLOC Lamborghini #88 in the GT category.
Inter Europol Endurance #34 got a Drive-through penalty for speeding under one of the FCY periods.
D’Station Racing Aston Martin #77 was also investigated for something, as well as the second Inter Europol Endurance #33, so their team bosses had to see the stewards.
Graff #8 continued to have a spin, but this time in Turn 11.
Inter Europol Endurance #33 got a Drive-through penalty for the collision with ACE1 Villorba Corse #12 earlier in the race.
D’Station Racing Aston Martin #77 stopped on the track, with twenty-two minutes left on the clock. The car, however, wasn’t in the way, so it wasn’t necessary for yet another FCY.
Nielsen Racing #2 got a one-second Stop & Go penalty for being too fast in one of their obligatory pitstops, where there were minimum times in the LMP3 category. There also went their chance for a podium spot in today’s race.
HubAuto Corse Ferrari #27 pitted for the last time with fifteen minutes left. They had, however, such a huge lead that they still came out of the pits with about a minute lead to JLOC Lamborghini #88 in the second place.
The race went upside down, with five minutes to go. The leading Eurasia Motorsport #36 got called into the pits as the taillights had to be repaired. The rules say that there always has to be functioning taillights on the car, and it wasn’t the case anymore with #36. The team chose NOT to do that before they passed the finish line.
HubAuto Corse Ferrari #27 got a sixty-second Stop and Go for speeding in one of the Full Course Yellow periods. They managed to take the penalty before the chequered flag.
Eurasia Motorsport #36 with Aidan Read, Nick Foster and Roberto Merhi crossed the finish line first, ahead of Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 with Jack Manchester, Ben Barnicoat and Harry Tincknell, while G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 with Roman Rusinov, Leonard Hoogenboom and James French finished third. However, the stewards gave #36 a Stop & Go penalty, which was converted to a thirty-six-second time penalty, sending them back to second place.
Rick Ware Racing #52 with Cody Ware and Gustas Grinbergas was the only team that completed the race in the LMP2 Am category, and now they have clinched the championship. They were already in the lead before the weekend, so today’s result changed nothing, other than that now they’ve totally secured their Le Mans tickets.
Graff #9 with Eric Troulliet, Sebastian Page and David Droux won the LMP3 category, followed by Nielsen Racing #3 with Garett Grist, Rob Hodes and Charles Crews, and Inter Europol Competition #13 with Nigel Moore and Martin Hippe.
JLOC Lamborghini #88 with Takashi Kogure, Yuya Motojima and Yusaku Shibata took the victory on the very last lap, after HubAuto Corse Ferrari #27 with Davide Rigon, Marcos Gomes and Liam Talbot finishing fourteen seconds behind after their penalty, while Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 with Ozz Negri Jr, Francesco Piovanetti and Alessandro Pier Guidi finished in P3.
G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 keeps the lead in the LMP2 championship, ahead of Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 and Eurasia Motorsport #36. The three teams are only separated by ten points, so anything can happen in the last round.
Rick Ware Racing #52 has secured the LMP2 Am title, regardless of what happens in the season finale. RLR MSport #59 remains second, in front of Rick Ware Racing #25, but since only the winner gets a Le Mans ticket, it doesn’t really matter.
Inter Europol Competition #13 has extended their lead in the LMP3 championship, but only with three points, ahead of Nielsen Racing #2, while Graff #9 is in the third place, eighteen points behind the leader.
There are changes in the GT category, where JLOC Lamborghini #88 is now leading the championship, three points ahead of HubAuto Corse Ferrari #27, who is one point ahead of Car Guy #7, who is three points away from Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 in fourth. Even D’Station Racing Aston Martin #77 and T2 Motorsports Ferrari #75 still have a theoretical chance to win the title, since they are within nineteen points from the leader.
It guarantees an exciting season finale when Asian Le Mans Series 2019/20 is back on 23 February at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand.