There was excitement until the very final lap of the Asian Le Mans Series 2019/20 season finale, which was run at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand.
Three out of the four titles were still open at the start of the race, with several contenders in these categories. The qualifying yesterday made it even more exciting, with none of the championship leaders taking Pole Position in their respective categories.
Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 with Ben Barnicoat, Harry Tincknell and Jack Manchester had Pole Position in LMP2, ahead of Eurasia Motorsport #1 with Nick Cassidy, Nobuya Yamanaka and Daniel Gaunt, and their Eurasia teammates in #36 with Nick Foster, Aidan Read and Roberto Merhi. Championship leaders G-Drive Racing #26 with Roman Rusinov, James French and Leonard Hoogenboom were starting fourth.
LMP2 Am unfortunately only had the two Rick Ware Racing cars entered, with #25 driven by Guy Cosmo, Anthony Lazzaro and Phillippe Mulacek grabbing Pole Position, ahead of #52 with Cody Ware and Gustas Grinbergas, who already won the title in Malaysia last weekend. ARC Bratislava #4 and RLR MSport #59 were unfortunately not entered for this race, due to personal reasons, and fire damage from Australia respectively.
The LMP3 category had Nielsen Racing #2 with Colin Noble and Tony Wells on Pole Position, ahead of their teammates in #3 with Garett Grist, Rob Hodes and Charles Crews. Graff #9 with David Droux, Sebastian Page and Eric Troulliet were starting third, ahead of their teammates in #8, driven by Matthias Kaiser and Neale Muston. Championship leading Inter Europol Competition #13 with Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore only managed fifth fastest lap, but it’s not often that they are on Pole, but somehow end up towards the top in both the Asian Le Mans Series and the European Le Mans Series anyway.
T2 Motorsports Ferrari #75 with Rio Haryanto, David Tjiptobiantoro and Christian Colombo had a surprise GT Pole Position, with their first in the Asian LMS. HubAuto Corsa Ferrari #27 with Tim Slade, Marcos Gomes and Liam Talbot had qualified second, ahead of Spirit Of Race Ferrari #51 with Daniel Serra, Ozz Negri Jr and Francesco Piovanetti. Championship leaders Car Guy Ferrari #7 with Takeshi Kimura, Come Ledogar and Mikkel Jensen only qualifying fifth.
It was a perfect sunny day, with big contrast to last weekend’s monsoon conditions, but the high temperatures around 30 degrees could provide some significance difficulties, just like rain.
It was a very nervous start to the race, with Eurasia Motorsport #1 running way wide in Turn 1, dropping back in the field before Nobuya Yamanaka got up to speed. Nielsen Racing #2 also dropped back in the LMP3 category, with Charles Crews in the teammate #3 car taking the lead.
The GT lead also swapped, with T2 Motorsports Ferrari #75 dropping back, with Daniel Serra in Spirit Of Race Ferrari #51 grabbing the first position.
K2 Uchino Racing #96 jumped into second overall when Shaun Thong proved good speed for the season week in a row.
It didn’t last long before the LMP3 lead changed again, with ACE1 Villorba Corse #12 passing Nielsen Racing #3, who was passed by Viper Niza Racing #65 shortly after.
There was drama for both Car Guy Ferrari #7 and Nielsen Racing #2, both losing time due to faster oncoming traffic.
Inter Europol Competition #18 was being forced into the pit, with fluids leaking out of the car. The car wasn’t a part in the LMP3 title fight anyway, but it was still a shame for Dan Wells and Philip Kadoorie. The car did also develop at clutch issue, that the mechanics had to solve too.
Car Guy Ferrari #7 was under investigation for potential contact with Eurasia Motorsport #1. They were already last in their respective categories, but a penalty would make it extra hard for the team – especially the title defence for #7. And the worry became reality – a Drive-through penalty for #7 for the contact.
There was a close fight in the GT category, with Liam Talbot in the HubAuto Corsa Ferrari #27 losing two positions to the D’Station Racing Aston Martin #77 and JLOC Lamborghini #88 in the same turn, when Talbot ran a bit wide in Turn 1, and Tomonobu Fujii plus Yuya Motojima went past him.
Jack Manchester in Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 lost a lot of time in traffic, making Shaun Thong in K2 Uchino Racing #96 and G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 closing down a 3-second gap, to only a few car lengths. Manchester had every reason to be careful. If #45 should win the title, #26 was only allowed to finish no higher than third. And with 3 hours and 25 minutes left, it would be careless to be involved in a collision.
Inter Europol Endurance #33 had to pit for a new front of the car, with Danial Frost reporting issues over the radio.
The first pitstops of the day saw a repeat of the tendency in Malaysia, where K2 Uchino Racing #96 had some very slow stops, losing half a minute in the pits. It’s difficult to tell exactly what the team does wrong over and over, but it’s something that they have to solve for next season if they make the return.
Rick Ware Racing #52 was pushed into the garage after just under one hour of racing. It took them a bit over 20 minutes before Cody Ware could rejoin the track.
Mikkel Jensen was put in the Car Guy Ferrari #7 after one hour of racing. The Dane had his debut in the 488 GT3 model, but has previous GT3 experience from running a few years at BMW, with their GT3 car.
There were big troubles for T2 Motorsports Ferrari #75, with the car not exciting the pits as planned after their first stop of the day. David Tjiptobiantoro had handed the car over to Christian Colombo, but the repairs took a bit more than 15 minutes, before they were back on track.
There were troubles at D’Station Racing Aston Martin #77 too, pitting just 10 minutes after their first stop of the day. The car only made it halfway down the pits, with the mechanics having to push it the rest of the way. There was visual damage to the front of the car, but no other car pitted with damage. The mechanics tried to repair the car but had to give up due to the engine already being cooked due to loss of coolant.
There was drama in the LMP3 category after 90 minutes of racing. Inter Europol Competition #13 had ground to a halt on the track, without any signs of damage – but with a completely dead stick car. That was their title chances gone, in case Nielsen Racing #2 and not the least ACE1 Villorba Corsa #12 would complete the race.
That resulted in Full Course Yellow, so the car could be put in a place of safety. Even though they only were a few hundred metres from the pits, it wasn’t pulled into the pitlane, but behind the concrete barrier. The car was then pushed into the pits, so the mechanics could start repairing a gearbox issue, resulting in them stopping on the track. The team was however told to stop that work, since the car hadn’t come into the pitlane under its own power, but had gotten outside assistance. So they would have to sit and wait, for Nielsen Racing #2 and ACE1 Villorba Corse #12 to cross the finishing line, to see if the title was theirs or not.
A lot of teams chose to pit for fuel and tires during this FCY, including a few doing driver changes.
T2 Motorsports Ferrari #75 had a spin in Turn 10 but managed to continue with about 15 seconds lost, compared to a normal lap.
Graff #9 hit the concrete after just under two hours of racing, when Sebastian Page made a mistake in traffic, resulting in heavy damage to the Norma M30. Page wanted to give a faster LMP2 car a bit of room, so he got into the dirty part of the run-off area, losing the car. That resulted in another Full Course Yellow, so the car could be moved into a place of safety.
At the halfway point of the four hours, we had Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 in front of LMP2, Rick Ware Racing #25 in LMP2 Am, ACE1 Villorba Corse #12 in LMP3, and Spirit Of Race Ferrari #51 in the GT category.
While G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 pitted under the FCY period, we had Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 waiting until Manchester’s minimum drive time had run out, so Ben Barnicoat and Harry Tincknell would be able to run the last 1 hour and 49 minutes amongst them.
Graff #8 got a 50 seconds Stop&Go penalty, for speeding the pitlane. A penalty of that size can only be awarded if they have exceeded the allowed 60 kph by a huge margin.
The Inter Europol Competition #18 return to the track after almost two hours of repairs, so the drivers would get a bit more race time when they had made the trip to Thailand anyway. The sister car #13 was still in the pits.
JLOC Lamborghini #88 had done some error during one of the pitstops, so they got a 10 seconds pitstop penalty, that they had to serve during their next stop.
There was drama for Nielsen Racing #3, who stopped right at the pit entry. Garett Grist did, however, get the car restarted, and could return the car to the pits, where the mechanics could have a look at the issue.
Inter Europol Competition #18 had a high-speed spin in Turn 1, but Philip Kadoorie made a swift return, with only minimal time loss.
The final hour of the race started with G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 leading the LMP2 category, with their pitting under FCY advantage, while Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 had pitted under green, 10 minutes later. Rick Ware Racing #25 was still leading the LMP2 Am category. Graff #8 was on top of the LMP3 standings but needed one more pitstop than the ACE1 Villorba Corse #12 did. HubAuto Corsa Ferrari #27 was leading GT the GT cars, racing towards the title, as long as they would keep that position all the way to the chequered flag.
Ben Barnicoat in the Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 did, however, have a lot of pace, catching Roman Rusinov in G-Drive by Algarve #26 by 2-3 seconds per lap.
Eurasia Motorsport #36 went off the circuit at Turn 3 and got stuck in the gravel, so Nick Foster had to be dragged out of there. That resulted in another Full Course Yellow, which several of the GT and LMP3 used for their final fuel stops.
When the race went green with 47 minutes left on the clock, we only had #45 trailing #26 by 12 seconds. On the first full flying last, Barnicoat was able to take four seconds out of Rusinov’s lead. The second position in the race would however still be enough for the 26 car to take the title – but not P3, if Carlin would win the race. Inter Europol Endurance #34 were less than 30 seconds before the G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26, so they couldn’t make any wrong steps towards the chequered flag.
With 37 minutes to go, the gab was virtually zero, with Barnicoat running right under the rear wing of Rusinov, who understandably were careful through traffic, since he had everything to lose.
Barnicoat dived past Rusinov with 33 minutes to go, but outbraked himself at the final corner, having to let the orange Aurus past the Dallara gain. Two minutes later, both cars arrived at a bit lump of GT traffic, and that was the opportunity for Barnicoat to squeeze past the Russian, and taking the lead of the race.
Just a few seconds later, there was a message on the timing screens – team manger of car 26 to the stewards. Was there a penalty waiting for G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26?
Rusinov got two new tires on the car, at his final planned pitstop. Barnicoat continued to put down one fast lap after the other, before he would pit for the final time of the race.
Inter Europol Endurance #34 was pushed into the garage, from an otherwise impressive third in the race. It took just over 20 minutes before they were back on the track, but rejoined in the last spot of the LMP2 category.
Nielsen Racing #3 was tipped around by HubAuto Corsa Ferrari #27, when Rob Hodes didn’t go quite as fast through a corner, as Tim Slade had expected him to do. The investigation followed soon afterwards. Would that result in a penalty or just a racing incident? The answer came five minutes later – no further action.
Graff #8 got a 1-second Stop&Go penalty, because they hadn’t fulfilled the minimum pitstop time.
Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 with Jack Manchester, Ben Barnicoat and Harry Tincknell won the race, ahead of G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 with Roman Rusinov, James French and Leonard Hoogenboom, while K2 Uchino Racing #96 with Shaun Thong and Haruki Kurosawa secured their first Asian LMS podium position in third.
Rick Ware Racing #25 with Anthony Lazzaro, Phillippe Mulacek and Guy Cosmo won the LMP2 Am category, ahead of their teammates in the#52 with Gustas Grinbergas and Cody Ware behind the wheel.
LMP3 was won by ACE1 Villorba Corse #12 with David Fumanelli, Alessandro Bressan and Andreas Laskaratos, with Nielsen Racing #2, driven by Tony Wells and Colin Noble in second, and Graff #8 with Neal Muston and Matthias Kaiser in third.
HubAuto Corsa Ferrari #27 won the GT category, with Tim Slade, Marcos Gomes and Liam Talbot behind the wheel, ahead of Car Guy Ferrari #7 with Mikkel Jensen, Takeshi Kimura and Come Ledogar, while Spirit Of Race Ferrari #51 with Daniel Serra, Ozz Negri Jr. and Francesco Piovanetti finished third.
The GT Championship also went the way of HubAuto Corsa Ferrari #27, ahead of Car Guy Ferrari #7 and JLOC Lamborghini #88.
Nielsen Racing #2 won the LMP3 title, ahead of CE1 Villorba Corse #12 and Inter Europol Competition #13. This is the second time in four months, and the latter lose a title in the very final race of the year, missing out on the ELMS LMP3 title too.
The LMP2 Am was already decided last time out, with Rick Ware Racing #52 claiming the title, ahead of teammates in the #25 ins second, and RLR MSport #59 in third.
G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26 wins the LMP2 title, ahead of Thunderhead Carlin Racing #45 and Eurasia Motorsport #36.
That hands a 24 Hours of Le Mans 2020 entry to HubAuto Corsa Ferrari #27, Nielsen Racing #2, Rick Ware Racing #52 and G-Drive Racing by Algarve #26. Now we only have to wait and see if the teams want to take up those entries, but we will know that in the very near future.
That was the conclusion of an amazing Asian Le Mans Series 2019/20. It’s been a very good field of at least 23 cars each time, with good battles in three out of the four categories. If RLR MSport #59 hadn’t been hit by the fire in Australia, it could very well have gone down to the wire in the LMP2 standings too.
We still await the 2020/21 schedule to be released, with the brand new to Asian LMS, Suzuka, being the only event announced yet.