Were it not for one small issue, Eurasia Motorsport should have won the opening round of the Asian Le Mans Series, but as it was second position and pole position was still a very solid start to the season today (24 November 2019) at Shanghai International Circuit.
The team fielded two Ligier LMP2 entries for the four-hour race; the #36 driven by Aidan Read, Nick Foster and Roberto Merhi who led the way from the front of the field, only for issues entering the pits resulted in the runner-up position. The sister #1 Eurasia Racing New Zealand showed great promise, but disappointingly was forced to retire at quarter distance due to a gearbox failure.
The first race of the season naturally brought various unknowns, from being the first event for the JSP2 17 at this circuit, through to new teammates working together for the first time in the heat of battle. Ultimately, the podium position is a very welcome result, but it’s a little bitter-sweet given what it could and probably should have been.
Following extensive testing in Malaysia, the Asian Le Mans Series curtain-raiser got underway on Friday with first paid practice and then the first official practice session. It soon became apparent that the circuit itself more of a challenge year-on-year with bumps and cambers making it even harder for the team to manage tyre degradation.
Both cars worked through the planned programmes with no issues into Saturday, making setup changes all the way through to the super-tight 15-minute qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. Roberto and Masa were given the opportunity to qualify the #36 and #1 respectively.
Having shown good pace in practice, Roberto wasted no time as he banged in a time good enough to claim the pole on just his second flying lap in the #36. Masa meanwhile put in a strong performance but was frustrated to have made a mistake on his hot lap, resulting in a third row start in the #1.
It was an early start on Sunday morning for the team with the four-hour event getting underway under laden skies. Aidan was charged with starting the race in what would be a double stint on just the one set of Michelins, opening options for later in the race if needed.
It all went perfectly to plan with the young Australian quickly establishing a small margin at the front of the field from the #26 of James French. The gap varied between two and five seconds depending on traffic, but Aidan was never seriously threatened for the lead. He pitted for fuel only after 45-minutes and while the first stint was relatively easy, the second was much harder on the worn tyres.
The rival #26 car got the jump in the first stop sequence by short fuelling the Aurus, and Aidan was forced to yield to the #45 of Ben Barnicoat before pitting and handing over to Nick.
The Blancpain regular underlined his superb race-craft as he vaulted third to first – passing the #45 of Jack Manchester and then the #26 of French – following a safety car. Ultimately, he had to yield to the latter later in the stint but remained in close company throughout the run.
With both Inter Europol Endurance cars serving lengthy stop-go penalties in the adjacent pit box, the team delayed Nick’s handover to Roberto as long as possible as access to the pit box was compromised. In less than ideal circumstances however, they had to stop for fuel and tyres, but the team were forced to place the car on dollies to get the Ligier in position to fuel. This cost valuable time, and ultimately the victory.
Roberto was flawless in his run to the chequered flag, more than matching the race leader’s pace. As it was the Spaniard took the chequered flag in second position, 40 second behind the race winner.
The team now begin preparations for the second round of Asian Le Mans Series, which takes place at The Bend in Australia in January.
Mark Goddard, Team Principal
“We are delighted with the pace shown by both cars this weekend but having claimed the pole and then being second, it’s a little disappointing. The long pitstop lost us the race really, as the other car was in the way and we had to use the skates to put the Ligier in the right position for the fuel. With just a garage and a half for two cars, refuelling was always going to be tight, but this one really cost us. We had the pace to win the race, but it was lost in the pit lane. For the New Zealand car, it’s really disappointing to have to retire the car with a gearbox that is fairly new and well within mileage.”
“We really hoped and expected to win this race, so it’s not what we wanted (to finish in second). We lost time on the refuelling which is a shame as our pace on the track was good enough to win. There are always areas we can improve, but that 40-second loss cost us the race. It was out of our control and it wasn’t as it should be. We’ll take second, but we wanted the win.”
“It’s always good to kick off a new campaign with a strong result, which is exactly what we did today and as a group of people coming together for the first time, I think we showed great pace and performance. Unfortunately, the result just didn’t go our way which is part just about endurance racing and part being really unlucky. We had a good strategy and we maximised what we could and we (drivers) and the team did a good job, but it was just unfortunate to get caught out in pit lane by another car. We had to pit, and they were still there, so it’s disappointing that they don’t know the rules, get a penalty and then we penalised, so from that side I’m disappointed. As a team we can hold our heads high, we all did a mega job and had great pace, so I’m excited to see what the next one holds.”
“Overall, the race was well-executed from the driving side and we managed to put ourselves in a great position in terms of tyre usage (but double stinting the first set) which gave us freedom to run newer tyres later in the race. Unfortunately, we lost time in the pits, which put us back but from my side, I’m very happy with the race. To start from pole and feel comfortable at the front of the field was good. After the pit issue, we lost time to the leaders, so we couldn’t use the tyre strategy for Roberto, but it’s a fine start with the pole and P2.”