It was a bittersweet weekend for Philippines-based Eurasia Motorsport as Asian Le Mans returned for Round 2 of the 2019/20 season, this time at Australia’s newest and most exciting motorsport facility, The Bend Motorsport Park.
Fielding two Ligier JS P217 LMP2s, Eurasia honed in on the Trans-Tasman rivalry for the event, with each car sporting striking national liveries. The New Zealand and Australia cars were also represented through their respective driver line ups with the team competing up front all weekend and throughout the 4 hour endurance race. The #36 “Racing Australia” Ligier came home in P2 and whilst a podium finish for #36 was extremely well received by the team here in South Australia, gearbox gremlins robbed the #1 of a chance at a grandstand finale with six minutes of running left.
Never before have Eurasia fielded such a star-studded line up across two cars, which this time featured household name and V8 Supercars legend Shane van Gisbergen – a last minute recruit for the team. “SVG” was joined by fellow Kiwi racers; international race winner Dan Gaunt and one of motorsport’s hottest properties, Nick Cassidy. For Eurasia’s #36 entry the team drafted in high quality Aussie driving talent in the shape of emerging prototype and GT racer Aidan Read and Porsche Carrera Cup Australia champion and multiple GT race-winning Nick Foster. The duo were joined on their home soil by a familiar face: former Formula 1 driver Roberto Merhi.
Having qualified with typically impressive pace, both Eurasia Motorsport cars started Adelaide’s 4 Hours of The Bend from inside the Top 5. Daniel Gaunt was chosen for start driver duties for the #1 New Zealand crew, lining up the All Blacks-inspired Ligier LMP2 entry on the front row. He enjoyed a clean start, snatching the lead from pole-sitter Jack Manchester coming out of Turn 1 for the first time. Gaunt headed up the 25-strong field, for nearly half the race.
With less than 30 minutes of running complete, the first of four FCY calls was made to retrieve debris from the track. Gaunt dived into the pits, followed by the rival #26 G-Drive Oreca, to rejoin second behind teammate Aidan Read. Regrettably, this was to be the only yellow period that worked in the #1’s favour. Following a mega 84-minute stint, Gaunt handed over to van Gisbergen for what would prove to be a remarkable prototype debut, but the call was unfortunately premature – ultimately playing into the hands of the #26 G-Drive rival who snatched the lead during their stop under the safety car just minutes later.
Van Gisbergen, who had never driven a prototype before Friday easily rivalled the pace of the most successful LMP2 racers to keep the Racing New Zealand Ligier in the top three – whilst also maintaining pressure on the #26. It was 25 minutes into the second half of the session when van Gisbergen resumed the race lead for the #1 crew under yet another FCY. The battle for supremacy was not limited to the track; off-track Eurasia realised they were locked in a strategy battle with G Drive Racing by Algarve Pro, with both car running similar strategies. Whilst Eurasia’s engineering brains made the best possible calls throughout, the impossible ability to foresee FCY and safety car periods seemed like the only way to gain the upper hand over their rivals.
With the safety car summoned at the 90-minute mark, the team were optimistic van Gisbergen could launch maximum attack. However, Shane’s chances were thwarted at the restart by a lapped LMP2 car. This meant the pressure was firmly on Racing New Zealand’s final driver, Nick Cassidy. Cassidy took over the #1 Ligier with an hour to go and it was looking to be a nail-biting fight for victory at The Bend with the Super Formula champion taking 2 seconds a lap out of Rusinov’s lead. Despite Rusinov taking advantage of a pit stop under FCY, from which he emerged 30 seconds ahead of Cassidy, Eurasia’s strategy meant they were still on track for the win.
In a horrible twist of events, a mechanical issue developed at the restart to rob Eurasia’s Racing New Zealand car of victory; the car wheeled into retirement with only six minutes of running remaining.
However, what was New Zealand’s loss, was Australia’s gain. Also starting Sunday’s four hour epic inside the top five was the Eurasia’s #36 Racing Australia LMP2 entry, starting by fast emerging Australian racing talent, Aidan Read. It didn’t take long for Read to launch his assault, knocking the #34 back to 5th. Jack Manchester’s incident further promoted Read to 3rd less than 30 minutes in, with the resulting FCY period triggering the leaders to pit – giving Read the overall race lead.
As the race resumed, Read was consistently smashing fast sector times, before going on to set the new lap record. When Roberto Merhi took the helm of the #36, he did well to keep the car in contention. With the #1 sister car and its main rival on different strategies to the #36, Merhi joined the race from third, and maintained a podium position throughout his single stint, before handing over to teammate Nick Foster – 50 minutes left on the clock.
With both Eurasia cars still in contention for a win, Foster’s sights were firmly set on chasing down Rusinov for the lead – a target shared by Eurasia teammate Nick Cassidy. To conclude four hours of playing catch up to counteract the unfortunately timed FCY and safety car calls, Nick brought the car home P2 after the sister car up ahead was forced into retirement, rewarding the #36 crew with their second podium in as many races.
Whilst G-Drive’s #26 entry may have enjoyed it’s second win of the season, #36 remains it’s closest championship challenger – a mere 13-point margin separates the LMP2 rivals. Therefore, the team’s focus now turns to ensuring victory for #36 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.
Daniel Gaunt (#1): “Great first stint! Once the pitstops start happening you know you are going to get out of sequence but you just have to push on, you don’t really know the pace to go at, you just go as quick as you can – that first stint was definitely fantastic. Overall, I can’t fault the weekend. We were up for a podium and if we caught the yellows at a better time, we would definitely been on for a win. It’s been a fantastic weekend and I am looking forward to Malaysia.
Shane van Gisbergen (#1): “Obviously pretty disappointed with how things ended as we could have got the win, but overall I really enjoyed the experience with a great team and awesome cars!”
Roberto Merhi (#36): “Aidan was really fast on a clear track, scoring the fastest lap. I went in right after, stopping when the track was green so we couldn’t benefit like the other. We were unlucky with the yellows, otherwise, we would have ran at the front and challenged for the win.”
Nick Foster (#36): “The car was fantastic engineering wise, the team in the garage, mechanics, pitstop, everything was mega and just again – I don’t want to use bad language – but we got screwed by full course yellows and safety cars and it just put us out of the game. Happy to finish on the podium, disappointed that for sure it should have been more and it could have been more, not just for us but also for the team and for the #1 guys because they also drove a mega race. Happy and disappointed at the same time.”
Mark Goddard (Eurasia Team Manager): “Bittersweet again. Obviously, very happy to have second place with car #36, but with the #1 car gearbox problem we missed a decent result. We’ve proven the cars are quick, we’ve got good drivers and we just need a slice of luck now to be able to win.”