A wave-around behind the safety car at Shanghai International Circuit determined the eventual result of the Asian Le Mans Series’ opening round of the championship (24 November, 2019) with the Nielsen Racing duo of Tony Wells and Colin Noble taking the runner-up position.
Back for the 2019-20 season, the British-based team fielded two entries with ELMS regulars Tony and Colin teaming up in the #2 Norma M30, while the trio of Garett Grist, Rob Hodes and Charles Crews took the wheel of the #3 entry.
Having tested at Portimao and Paul Ricard, the team headed into the four-round championship confident that they had the pace to win in the LMP3 class. Sunday’s four-hour race certainly showed this and were it not for a safety car that allowed the eventual race winners to gain almost a lap, Nielsen Racing would have topped the podium.
As it was, it was still a solid start to the season, with the #2 car taking the runner-up position, while the #3 unfortunately had issues early in the race re-firing the engine at the first pitstop and lost multiple laps as a consequence.
The team worked through the Friday paid practice session and then into free practice. Both sides of the garage made extensive setup changes to the cars, trying to dampen down the bumps that dominate the Chinese circuit. Ultimately, neither car could find big steps in performance, reverting to the initial setup for qualifying and the race. Successful it proved to be.
With Colin being pinged for track limits for running wide at the final turn, it was Garett who put in a sensational lap to claim pole position for the team. Colin was realistic having qualified fourth, just six-tenths off the ultimate pace, as with high tyre-deg, it was his third timed lap that counted.
It was a pretty gloomy Sunday morning in Shanghai but spirits within the team were high. As with the Michelin Le Mans Cup series this year, Tony took the start in the #2 Norma, with pole-sitter Rob Hodes taking the honours on the #3 Norma.
Tony made an excellent start to gain two positions off the line to run second to the #12 of Alessandro Bressan, with the #13 of Martin Hippe, close behind. It was a tremendous battle for Tony and one he thoroughly enjoyed. Ultimately the latter eventually gained the position, leaving the #2 in third position.
Meanwhile, the #3 ran well until the first stop but unfortunately the engine refused to re-fire. This cost the team any hope of a strong result – losing three laps in the process. First Rob, then Charles and Garett did an excellent on track to finish in sixth position.
In the #2, Colin took over mid-race, but with the safety car out, luck again fell by the wayside as the eventual race winners were given the wave-by. With the leader in LMP2 ahead, Colin had no such courtesy and had to stay behind the safety car.
Having pretty-much lost a lap due to unfortunate timing, racing resumed with Colin quickly passing Sebastien Page and then Gabriele Lancieiri to move second. However, with the huge advantage gained by the #13 Inter Europol Competition under SC, there was little to be achieved. Colin and Tony finished in second position, while the #3 trio took the chequered flag in sixth.
While disappointed in not taking the victory, it was a positive start as now the team prepare for round two of Asian Le Mans, this coming January in Australia.
David ‘Sven’ Thompson, Team Principal
“We showed our pace, but we leave China disappointed. The key thing for us was the safety car and almost every race, these things decide the race result. We got unlucky on this occasion, but P2 is still a good result. Sadly, with the #3, we had a problem in the first stop, but all three guys did a great job and showed superb pace.”
Colin Noble, #2 Norma
“The pace was good, the car felt great and was as good as it would ever get. We had a good chance of winning this race but the safety car didn’t help us out at all. I was one lapped car behind the race leader, so they got the wave-around and we didn’t but a good result anyway and we loo forward to Australia.”
Tony Wells, #2 Norma
“That was a thoroughly good race! I had some great battles today and I loved the competition during my double stint. I’m happy with P2, really enjoyed it.”
Garett Grist, #3 Norma
“For me, I knew we were out of contention by the time I took the final stint. My engineer was talking to me about the fastest lap and me and Colin battled over that for a while, and I was happy to get ahead of Colin even if didn’t count for anything. The team then told me took take it easy at the end and now we have three more chances!”
Rob Hodes, #3 Norma
“I made a good start and was almost with one of the LMP2 cars at the start. It’s frustrating that I lost one position on the opening lap, my mistake. We ran a good pace but sadly we lost time in the garage, so a little disappointed but a great weekend as whole with this team.”