Thai podiums keep Algarve Pro Racing in contention for Asian Le Mans Series titles
Algarve Pro Racing Team remains in contention for the overall 2018-19 Asian Le Mans Series title and the LMP2 Amateur Trophy, after finishing runner-up in both classifications in the 4 Hours of Buriram at Chang International Circuit (11-12 January).
A dogged joint performance by Ate Dirk de Jong, Harrison Newey and Andrea Pizzitola took them to the second step of the LMP2 podium, while Chris McMurry, Mark Patterson and Anders Fjordbach recovered from a thrilling, yet troubled first hour to finish within sight of the eventual Am Trophy winners.
Fjordbach led the Algarve Pro Racing charge in Friday (11 January) practice. The Dane in the #25 Amateur Trophy entry set the third fastest time in FP1 and went on to head an Algarve Pro one-two in the red flag-disrupted FP2 session, with Pizzitola in the #24 car some four hundredths of a second adrift;
Having been in the groove all weekend, Fjordbach was the natural choice to qualify the #25 Ligier JSP2 and he completed the fast and frantic 15-minute session in fifth overall;
Unfazed by the scorching ambient temperatures, which soared well above 30 Celsius, Newey put in what was perhaps the qualifying performance of the 2018-19 season to secure an extra point for pole position;
A colossal dogfight with United Autosports' Phil Hanson came down to one thousandth of a second at times, but BRDC Superstar Newey rose to the challenge, consistently delivering purple sectors and improved lap times to ultimately stretch his advantage and secure P1 with a 1m25.571s;
The Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Buriram (Saturday 12 January) was held on Children’s Day – a national holiday in Thailand since 1955, it’s a celebration of the role children play in the development of the country;
Algarve Pro Racing held a one-two at the end of the first 4.55km tour of the Chang International Circuit, De Jong standing his ground on the sprint to Turn 1 as McMurry used a sensational launch to surge from fifth to second;
De Jong stretched his legs while McMurry acted as his rear-gunner, keeping the highly-rated Hanson in the third-placed United Autosports machine at bay for three laps;
Ultimately, de Jong and McMurry were powerless to stop Hanson’s progress;
McMurry concentrated his efforts on fending off Panis Barthez Competition’s Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and United Autosports’ Patrick Byrne in a tense three-way tussle for third;
The American Am was wrong-footed and briefly relinquished track position, but a drive-through penalty for causing a collision with the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 demoted the American to fifth;
De Jong stood firm in P2 until the first round of stops, when Newey stepped into the #24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier and McMurry gave way to Mark Patterson in the sister #25 car, which was served with two additional penalties for overtaking beyond track limits and speeding in pit lane;
BRDC Superstar Newey was consistently quicker than race leader Hanson and successfully halved his sizeable 53-second deficit during the first phase of a dogged double stint in the #24 car;
Patterson, meanwhile, dropped outside of the top ten after serving the third penalty, but the South Africa-born American’s resurgence saw him break back into the top six before the end of his stint;
Fjordbach was installed in #25 after 90 minutes of racing. The Dane was soon back inside the top six and bridging the gap to Algarve Pro Racing’s rivals for the LMP2 Amateur Trophy;
By boxing just prior to a Full Course Yellow, the #24 crew lost heaps of time to United Autosports, which minimised its time-loss by synchronising its scheduled fuel stop with the neutralisation;
Algarve Pro Racing’s deficit subsequently stood at 1m01s at the resumption of racing, but Newey continued chipping away at United Autosports’ advantage before passing the reins to Pizzitola, who was quick to breach the 1m26s barrier;
Fjordbach was also going great guns in the #25, lapping in the 1m26s in fifth with an ever-diminishing gap to the #4 ARC Bratislava car at the head of the Am Trophy classification;
An over-exuberant lunge on a lapped GT runner resulted in contact and a spin for Pizzitola, who lost more than 15 seconds in the incident;
However, entering the fourth and final hour, Pizzitola was still second, with Fjordbach fifth overall and second in the Am Trophy classification. The order remained the same and Algarve Pro Racing celebrated podiums for both cars in their respective classes.
Ate Dirk de Jong (#24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2): "I have some mixed feelings about the result because we could have fought for the win, but because of the spin and puncture during the third hour and an overheating issue, we had to slow down and consolidate second position.
"My stint went very well. I took the lead for a few laps at the start and handed the car to Harrison (Newey) in second. Due to an ill-timed Full Course Yellow, United Autosports gained 30 seconds on us. However, today's result proves we can fight for the victory at Sepang."
Chris McMurry (#25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2): "When you're 53 years old and not chasing a racing career, you can throw caution to the wind from time-to-time, so I just went for it at the start. I'm sure the team enjoyed seeing two light blue cars out front. Mark (Patterson) and Anders (Fjordbach) drove so well, but once again we destroyed our race with penalties. Remove the penalties and we would have finished third overall, maybe second. The same was true at Fuji. So for Sepang we need to focus almost solely on this part of our performance. If it means losing a second here or there, we just need a clean performance, it will be well worth it."
The 2018-19 Asian Le Mans Series concludes with the 4 Hours of Sepang in Malaysia (22-24 February).