The third round of Asian Le Mans Series 2021 was run at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
G-Drive Racing #25 with Franco Colapinto, John Falb and Rui Pinto de Andrade started the race from Pole Position, ahead of Phoenix Racing #5 with Kelvin van der Linde, Matthias Kaiser and Simon Trummer, while G-Drive Racing #26 with Ferdinand Habsburg, Yifei Ye, and Rene Binder had grabbed P3.
Eurointernational #11 had pulled out of the race meeting due to technical issues.
United Autosports #23 with Wayne Boyd, Manuel Maldonado and Rory Penttinen started the race from LMP3 Pole, ahead of RLR MSport #15 with Malthe Jakobsen, Bashar Mardini and Maxwell Hanratty, while DKR Engineering #63 with Laurents Hörr and Jean Glorieux was P3.
HubAuto Racing Mercedes #1 with Raffaele Marciello, Marcos Gomes and Liam Talbot was on Pole Position amongst the GT cars, ahead of AF Corse Ferrari #51 with Alessandro Pier Guidi, Ozz Negri jr and Francesco Piovanetti, while Precote Herberth Motorsport Porsche #93 with Klaus Bachler, Steffen Görig and Antares Au was starting from third.
The race was starting in daylight, just like we know from the Formula 1 race at the same venue, in comfortable 24 degrees and hazy sunshine.
It was an extremely messy start, where G-Drive Racing #25 and Phoenix Racing #5 ran way wide in Turn 1, so #26 was able to take the lead of the race. There were troubles amongst the LMP3 cars, where United Autosports #2 stopped, having barely crossed the start-finish line, resulting in the whole GT field having to avoid the slow car.
The Safety Safety Car was deployed following Lap 1, when #2 had to be recovered from the track, with Ian Loggie being completely dead-stick.
Malthe Jakobsen had taken the LMP3 lead in the RLR MSport #15, after a good first lap, while it was Garage 59 Aston Martin 1-2 in the GT category.
The race went back to green shortly after, with Matthias Kaiser in Phoenix Racing #5 instantly getting under pressure from Tom Blomqvist in JOTA #28.
The day got even worse for United Autosports, when #23 stopped on the circuit, with the need for the second Safety Car, to get Rory Penttinen removed from the track. Just like teammate Loggie, the car just died. So that was two of the three leaders in the Championship out of the race, less than 15 minutes into the race.
Immediately after the restart, the JOTA #28 made it past Phoenix Racing #5, with Blomqvist now hunting down the G-Drive Racing #26.
The day got a lot better for Aston Martin fans, when Oman Racing with TF #97 had raced it’s way up to third in the GT category, behind the two Garage 59 cars.
Kessel Racing Ferrari #27 pitted early in the race, with Francesco Zollo having to get his right front tire replaced, due to a huge flat spot, using the opportunity to get the car refuelled too.
There was a bit of trouble between Kessel Racing by Car Guy Ferrari #57 and Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #66, with #66 being parked in the run-off. Both cars were able to leave the scene of the crime, despite a lot of tire smoke from #66. The stewards looked into it but called it No Further Action.
There had been a small episode between AF Corse Ferrari #51 and TF Sport Aston Martin #95, that was investigated by the stewards too.
The turbulent start of the race continued, when DKR Engineering #63 was parked, nosed into a Tecpro barrier. Jean Glorieux was thankfully able to reverse out of it, and rejoin the race. That incident made the RLR MSport #15 grow to 45 seconds, with Nielsen Racing #9 being the new second-placed car in the race, with CD Sport #33 right behind them.
The lead of the race changed around the first pitstop, with JOTA #28 getting past G-Drive Racing #26, by being 3 seconds faster in the pits. Rene Binder tried to overtake Sean Gelael, who had taken over #28, but was unsuccessful in his attempt.
AF Corse Ferrari #54 got a Drive-through penalty, when Giancarlo Fisichella had been a bit too much outside the Track Limits.
Binder took the lead of the race, by outbraking Gelael at the end of the back straight.
Malthe Jakobsen handed RLR MSport #15 over to Bashar Mardini, with a lead of just over 70 seconds.
AF Corse Ferrari #54 got another Drive-through penalty on top of their previous Drive-through – Fisichella had simply been a bit too eager in the pits…
AF Corse Ferrari #27 also had failed to stay within the white lines, so they got a Drive-through.
A Full Course Yellow was needed, when there was debris on the track in Turn 19, that the marshals had to pick up.
JOTA #28 managed to hit the sweet spot, since the competitors all had pitted under green flag, while JOTA was able to do so during the FCY period. That gave Gelael a massive 58 seconds lead.
Nielsen Racing #9 moved onto an alternative strategy, by pitting during the FCY period, way ahead of the Ligier LMP3 needing fuel.
At the halfway point, JOTA #28 was leading LMP2, RLR MSport #15 in LMP3, and Garage 59 Aston Martin #89 in the GT category.
The halfway point of the race, was pretty much the point of the sunset too, with the track lighting coming into full use.
Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW #35 had a spin in Turn 6, where Jörg Breuer had to do almost a full lap, with the rear wheels pointing in different directions, and the rear bumping laying on the rear deck of the car, instead of being attached to its regular position.
A message popped up on the timing screen shortly after – incident between car #15 and #35 under investigation.
Racing Team India #64 had a spin at Turn 1, taking Arjun Maini almost a minute to get back going, but he was able to resume racing without further issues.
Phoenix Racing #5 had closed the gap to #64, with Kelvin van der Linde trying to outbrake Maini, but ended up outbraking himself instead. The South African made his way past the Indian just a few laps later.
RLR MSport #15 was handed a Stop & Go penalty for having hit the Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW #35. That was the end of the race lead for them, with Mardini already having used up almost all the advantage that Jakobsen had given to him, when he handed the car over to the local driver. That put Nielsen Racing #8 into the lead of the race.
The final hour of the race started out with JOTA #28 leading LMP2, Nielsen Racing #9 in LMP3, and GPX Racing Porsche #40 in GT. There was however a bit of pit strategy that would have to play out, so there was still potential for the LMP3 and GT3 cars to swap positions.
CD Sport #33 was sadly parked in the garage, when Adam Eteki had pitted with some kind of issue. He was the final driver of the day anyway, with Michael Jensen and Nick Adcock already having completed their stints.
There were troubles between AF Corse Ferrari #27 and Oman Racing by TF Aston Martin #97, when the two cars collided in the hairpin, halfway around the lap. #97 had hit the rear of #27, which had punctured the radiator, and dropped a lot of debris on the track. That resulted in a Full Course Yellow, so the track could be cleaned. While #97 came to a steamy stop behind the Armco, while #27 trying to get back to the pits, to get a new set of tires, and get all the flapping body parts removed from the car.
DKR Engineering #63 was pushed into the garage, where the mechanics quickly got the rear lights of the car repaired, before Laurents Hörr could drive back on track.
Phoenix Racing #5 got a Drive-through due to Track Limits.
There was drama for the championship-leading G-Drive Racing #26, which all of a sudden was driving slowly through the run-off area, at the end of the back straight.
Formula Racing Ferrari #60 had won the lottery regarding the FCY period. They had been around 1oth position during most of the race, but Nicklas Nielsen was able to run in fourth, since a lot of the competitors had pitting under green, while #60 pitted during FCY.
G-Drive Racing #26 had made an error during an earlier pitstop, but got away with 5 seconds pitstop penalty, to be served during the final pitstop of the day.
There were some signs of an internal Nielsen Racing battle brewing, with Colin Noble in #9 racing only a few seconds ahead of #8 with Matt Bell. That gab only got smaller and smaller, when Noble was stuck behind a couple of GT cars.
AF Corse Ferrari #27 got a Stop & Go for the clash with #97 earlier in the race.
Inception Racing McLaren #7 and AF Corse Ferrari #51 had some kind of incident on track, but the stewards decided to call No Further Action.
There was a late penalty for HubAuto Racing Mercedes #1, when Raffaele Marciello had broken Track Limits. That cost the team a podium spot, at the dying moments of the race.
JOTA #28 with Sean Geleal and Tom Blomqvist won the race, ahead of G-Drive Racing #26 with Yifei Ye, Ferdinand Habsburg and Rene Binder, while the sister car #25 with John Falb, Franco Colapinto and Rui Pinto de Andrade finished P3.
Era Motorsport #18 with Kyle Tilley, Andreas Laskaratos and Dwight Merriman was the only LMP2 Am car in the race, and they saw the chequered flag.
The LMP3 category was won by Nielsen Racing #9 with Colin Noble and Tony Wells, ahead of their teammates Matt Bell and Rodrigo Sales in #8, while United Autosports #3 with Duncan Tappy, Andrew Bentley and Jim McGuire finished third.
RLR MSport #15 with Bashar Mardini, Maxwell Hanratty and Malthe Jakobsen finishing fourth, after having lead more than half of the race.
The GT category was won by GPX Racing Porsche #40 with Alain Ferte, Axcil Jefferies and Julien Andlauer, ahead of brand colleagues Precote Herberth Motorsport Porsche #99 with the Renauer twins Robert and Alfred plus Ralf Bohn, with Formula Racing Ferrari #60 raced by Nicklas Nielsen, Johnny Laursen and Alessio Rovera grabbing third place, by keeping out of troubles all race – and with a bit of luck surrounding the final FCY period.
Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #66 with Patrick Kujala, Christian Hook and Manuel Lauck took the third GT Am win of the season.
G-Drive Racing #26 defends their championship lead, pulling a bit further away from their teammates in #25, while JOTA #28 moved 7 points closer. Those three cars are still in with a shot at the title, with a single Le Mans auto-invite up for grabs.
United Autosports #23 is still leading the LMP3 championship lead, while Nielsen Racing #9 moved into second, ahead of United Autosports #3 and Nielsen Racing #8, while United Autosports #2 still has a theoretical chance of the title. The two latter teams have to hope for everybody in front, to have a really bad day – but that was exactly what #23 had today, with less than 15 minutes of racing completed.
GPX Racing Porsche #40 extended their GT lead, ahead of Precote Herberth Motorsport Porsche #99 and Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #55, and Garage 59 Aston Martin #88. #40 and #99 are the only cars left with a shot at the title – but on the other hands, there are four Le Mans invite to race for. So Porsche has already secured another pair of auto-invites.
The remaining auto-invites for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will be decided tomorrow Saturday, when the season finale will run at the Yas Marina Circuit, starting 12.45 CET, and can be viewed via this link.