Last weekend embarked the opening round of the Asian Le Mans Series in China, Zhuhai. A place I’d never visited before. I arrived late evening at Hong Kong airport on the Tuesday full of optimism.
Hong Kong had a fascinating skyline which grabbed my attention for the entirety of my short time spent in the city, its a shame the race weeks fly by when visiting a new place.
My first impressions of the circuit was that it wasn’t particularly interesting, Zhuhai race circuit is very stop-and-go which is aggravating when you have a car underneath you with lots of aero.
However the more I drove it, I learned that the layout was surprisingly narrow and the walls are built close to the track with lots of bumpy braking zones so you had to be on it. To be fair, it made it refreshingly old school, exciting and sketchy compared to most of the tracks on the calendar in Europe.
As for the car, it was my first time driving an LMP2. The weight, aero and speed of the car all added up to an enjoyable balance in a car which you could push very hard, especially with Michelin tyres fitted. The compound of tyre I really liked, I was so happy to not be on Pirellis after spending the whole year on them. The Mclaren 650s GT3 on Pirelli tyres was stressful to drag a time out of, the Oreca LMP2 was more predictable and a pleasure to drive to its limitations.
The event itself was a big success in terms of the number of fans and interest in the paddock. I really was surprised at the fairly large fan base from the start of the race until the end.
Going into it I thought it would be low key, you might look at AsLMS as a driver and think why would you do that? But the championship’s value has grown so fast, its hit a point that its worth doing over the winter months. You get more than enough track time, from Thursday until Sunday with a list of top drivers competing to keep you fresh and improving.
The event itself was a big success in terms of the number of fans and interest in the paddock
I personally feel the organisers did a solid job during the event too, they have the experience of WEC and Le Mans so its hardly a surprise that the weekend ran smoothly and the format worked for the teams and drivers. Qualifying was 15 minutes with generally the quickest drivers out of each car doing the session, I liked this time limit because it always creates a need to deliver in a small window. The qualifying session was wet and all of the running up until this point had been dry so it was a complete unknown for all of us.
I’d never driven the car in the wet so in the 15 minutes available I didn’t have the experience to string a lap together, every lap was a learning process which I needed to filter.
As for the competition, the lineup was filled with talent, especially in the GT class which had a lengthy list of drivers being paid to race. You had the classic names racing out in Asia such as Andrea Calderelli and Matt Griffin. In the LMP2 class though, I was pleased to see the likes of Gustavo Menezes, Andrea Pizzitola and Nicky Catsburg because without these stand out three I wouldn’t know if my pace was strong or not.
The race started out with me in P4, I moved into P2 and stayed there for the majority of my double stint.
Towards the end of the second stint, I was fighting with Nicky Catsburg hard and fair for 20 minutes until he hit me from the rear and beached us in the gravel. I got the car going and handed it over to my teammate Georgio Maggi. The result we wanted was over so when I got back in the car for the final 40 minutes with fresh tyres I pushed very hard and found a rhythm.
I ended up doing a string of 1 minute 29s, my fastest being a 1.29.603 only 1 tenth from the fastest lap which was set by Andrea Pizzitola, 1.29.510. To be only a tenth of in my rookie weekend in the Oreca 03R Judd was a solid result for me.
There will be more cars on the grid in Fuji, potentially two more LMP2 entries
Unfortunately my brakes completely failed two laps to go at the first corner which resulted in my finishing the race in the barrier. However, the Race Performance team worked very hard and we showed our pace this weekend in a competitive light.
There will be more cars on the grid in Fuji, potentially two more LMP2 entries. I can only speak from my experience in my first weekend but the organisers wanted to engage with you and have a relationship with its drivers and teams. I had a number of personnel working for AsLMS make themselves known to me and made sure I knew that if there was anything they could do for me then I could go to them.
I’m looking forward to being back in Tokyo and I’m chuffed to be heading out for Round 2 in Fuji after an enjoyable debut.
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