The final round of the Asian Le Mans most successful campaign came to a close at Sepang in Kuala Lumpur last month. Having watched this series as a youngster in Formula 3 and at the time thinking, thats not for me, it wouldn’t be worth doing, I now that I was wrong.
Now, seeing the number of drivers and teams competing in it and it was beneficial for me to keep sharp, learn the feel of a prototype car and compete against a few of the drivers who are currently doing well in LMP2. Also looking down the field into LMP3 and GT, there were factory drivers present at every round, who paired up with AM drivers and private teams to pushed development throughout the teams. It added to the quality of the racing and also the series created another market for Pros to partner with Ams. It’s not only the GT Asia Series but now ALMS thats created job opportunities for Pros to work with Ams out in Asia, this is very positive for drivers who don’t have factory roles but have strong relationships with gentleman drivers.
There was a nice feel in the paddock come Friday when practice kicked off. Most drivers and teams had taken a week of to relax in between these two races because there was only a week apart between round 3 & 4. My first impressions of the track was that it didn’t feel or look that wide when I was in the car, the TV always perceived it as quite wide in my opinion.
I loved the first sector in the LMP2, you can brake super late with the carbon brakes going into T1 and then you can use all the aero through T5 & T6. I found it easier to learn than other tracks I’ve been too, it was enjoyable and I felt like I could really push to the limit quite early on in the practice sessions.
For me, Zhuhai was the least pleasurable track out of the whole series. Some drivers thought it was a bit bland with all the braking zones, it was at times sketchy with the amount of bumps but at least it had close walls, which were good because you felt like you were risking it at times. Fuji meanwhile is a world class track which entertains some of the best championships in the world, so I would rank this track in having the best facilities and highest level of track maintenance. I know a lot of the drivers loved going there, the track is enjoyable and the views are unique!
In my opinion though, Buriram was the winner out of all the tracks. It was easy to learn so you could push straight away, Sector 2 was flat out in the LMP2, you’d be flat through three corners which on new tyres out of that sector so you could hustle the car confidently which was nice. If I could have one wish for having a different track on the calendar for next year, it would be Suzuka, instead of Fuji for next year. It tests your skills differently, it’s rapid and dangerous, especially in the wet because the track holds a lot of water making it unpredictable which is fun but at the same time, not fun! It makes the experience purer and I love that about Suzuka.
By Saturday everyone was feeling refreshed and ready to get down to it, we only had an hour on track Friday so as a team we just used it for us drivers to get as many laps as possible and make a change or two before really focusing on Qualifying and race set ups. We had two practice sessions on Saturday before quali later that day. We were fortunate again, to have no hick ups with mechanic mysteries going into Qualifying.
When the all important session arrive it was Ho Pin-Tung, Andrea Pizzitola and me that did the session in our cars. It was a much tighter quali than Buriram, more like Fuji where the top three was separated by two tenths. I had the fastest sector 1 & 3 but unfortunately lost a big four tenths in the middle sector which put me P3, the car struggled with a nervous rear in the medium speed corners which make up that sector. I could feel if I were to go in harder it would rotate to much so I was a bit constricted. Andrea took the pole, which was a strong performance from him to finish his form in qualifying the car the most successfully out of the LMP2 field throughout the rounds.
As for the race, it was dramatic, unfortunately because of our car on the first lap. Giorgio made a blinding start going from P3 to P1 immediately but going into the first corner he and Ho Pin came together which spun around the Jackie Chan DC racing car. The #35 only had to finish this race to win the title but sadly the contact on their rear right and front left of ours put the car out of the race.
From my point of view, it was a 50/50 collision, Maggi came off the brakes slightly to catch up with Ho Pins dive on the outside of him and Ho Pin had more space to use to his left to be safe. The incident was given no further action from Eduardo Freitas. I know from speaking with Giorgio, that he was gutted for the outcome and like most humans felt awful but this is racing, it will always happen and as drivers we could all share a moment or two of honest mistakes that resulted in finishing another drivers race.
So, after the the mishap we had a race on our hands to get back in the lead, we sustained damage on the front left which ripped of some aero elements. But it would take more time to change, we had a serious gearbox problem in Fabian Schiller’s stint which meant he had to use the clutch to upshift and downshift, he didn’t pit but thankfully the system came back to life and the car ran normally towards the end of his stint going into mine. He did a mega job of getting back into P2 but we were put back into P3 after that problem when I got in for a single stint at the end.
There was a minute gap to second place, so I pushed very hard and managed to overtake the driver at the final corner, on the penultimate lap. Much to my relief and the team’s as we would have been gutted to leave that race P3.
The overall winner of the race and the championship was the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier, they didn’t put a foot wrong and deserved to take the win on that day. There is always a reason behind not getting the result you want and on some races we simply had too many failures, we were struck with too many mechanicals in two races but the car never missed a beat in the practice sessions.
I look at the outcome on the overall result as unfortunate and slightly disappointing not to win overall but I really enjoyed the campaign with all the people involved, the organisers were very friendly and helpful at ALMS. Like I stated in one of my previous columns, the paddock is filled with many faces you know or recognise which makes the experience pleasant and most of the racing was at a high level to entertain and keep us drivers sharp in the off season.
The series is one to watch, I hope to go back. Congratulations to all the winners of each category and thank you to the tracks, marshals and organisers for doing a great job.
Between AsLMS races, you can follow Struan on his social channels: