After four hours of sterling driving for Nielsen’s #2 pole-sitting pair, Colin Noble and Tony Wells successfully clinched the LMP3 win in their #2 NORMA, with Colin crossing the finish line with a significant lead over their main class rival – finishing an impressive 8th overall.
It was however, a somewhat bittersweet victory after the #3 was forced into retirement in the opening 90 minutes of the race; a huge blow to the team who had spent hours sourcing and preparing a spare car 10,000 miles away from home following irreparable damage to the team’s NORMA M30, shared by the North American squad of Garett Grist, Rob Hodes and Charles Crews.
Having qualified with class pole for Sunday afternoon’s 4-hour epic, courtesy of Black Bull Scotch Whisky-backed Colin Noble, it was co-driver Tony Wells on start driver duties. Wells enjoyed a good start, charging away from his LMP3 rivals, however the LMP2 car ahead braked early, meaning Martin Hippe in the #13 Inter Europol LPM3 went around the outside the NORMA, knocking #2 back to second. The pair then found themselves stuck behind an LMP2 Am car, Wells leaving his rival to make the move for overall position. Eventually Wells’ opportunity arrived; Tony took the outside line around T21 to pass the LMP2 Am car, in order to keep up with Hippe, a move that ultimately kept them in contention for the win at this early stage. Wells pitted from P2 after 73 minutes of flawless driving, before handing over to fast emerging young driver talent, Colin Noble.
Meanwhile, Charles Crews, who had started the #3 NORMA M30 from the back of the grid after mechanical failures spoilt co-driver Garett Grist’s qualifying the previous day, was on a remarkable comeback drive. Starting from 25th overall (7th in the LMP3 class), Crews was more than capable of salvaging success for the #3 squad. Having successfully navigated the GT field, and catching the bulk of the LMP3 pack, Crews had jumped up two places in under 20 minutes. When the first FCY of the race was announced, a strategy call by his rivals brought the #3 up to third, circa 25 seconds down the road from the sister car. Unfortunately, despite all the hard graft put in by the Nielsen crew leading up to the race, including the preparation and set-up of a complex LMP3 car from scratch – plus an engine change on Saturday; the #3 crew was gutted to see Charles come to a stop at T14 with mechanical failure.
However, the full course yellow brought out to recover the stranded #3 car, triggered a brilliantly executed strategy call by the Nielsen crew: the decision to put Tony back in the car to fulfil his minimum driving time. When Colin did resume driving duties, the #2 enjoyed plenty of clear air around with Noble taking several seconds a lap out of the #12’s lead – eventually growing his lead to 90 seconds. Unfortunately, the track returning to green after another FCY period whilst the NORMA was in the pits lost them the lead, however the #2 crew had the advantage of being a pit stop ahead of their main competition.
50 laps in, Noble was still demonstrating rapid pace, managing to squeeze past Gabriele Lancieri out the back of the 7.77km track, starting the lap from half a second back and creating a 1.7 second lead over the course of the lap – a gap that eventually increased to just under a minute. With Colin comfortable with his on-track advantage, he allowed his lead to decrease, instead choosing to preserve his fuel and tyres so #2 could take the chequered flag. Colin brought the NORMA M30 home with more than a 20-second advantage over the main LMP3 class rival, having completed 73 laps of this gruelling 34-corner South Australian circuit.
The team’s focus now turns to ensuring continued success for #2 in the second half of the season. Round 3 of the 2019/20 Asian Le Mans Series takes place at Sepang in Malaysia from 14th-16th February 2020.
David ‘Sven’ Thompson, Team Principal
“It was a bittersweet victory. We had such a rough weekend with car #3, then a victory for car #2 but I think that makes up for the hard work that everyone had to put during the last 48 hours. We made some good calls on the safety car, putting Tony back in the car for Safety Car and Full Couse Yellow and basically, that won us the race. Colin’s stint was absolutely rapid, Tony was solid, but I am gutted for car #3. The team really have worked their backsides off.”
Colin Noble, #2 Norma
“Nielsen did a really good job, we had a fast car all weekend. I was just trying to get consistent lap times and open the gap. After a good strategy call from Nielsen we managed to expand it to over a minute which made the last 20 minutes of the race quite comfortable. I knew I had a big gap, and we had cold tyres after the restart so I just played it safe and bought it home.”
Tony Wells, #2 Norma
“I was expecting (the heat) was going to be a big problem doing a double stint but it was alright. The track is awesome, is ridiculously long but it’s awesome.”
Garett Grist, #3 Norma
“Extremely disappointing weekend to say the least, I think it could have been a good weekend, look at the performance of the #2 car and where we were in Shanghai. I got eight laps in all weekend, I don’t think I ever had a weekend like this at a racetrack and I don’t think the team has either. Its massively disappointing, everything that could have gone wrong did but massive credit to all the guys who rebuilt a back-up car and re-did an engine after qualifying.”