The growth of the LMP3 category in the last few years has been strong, with a good set of regulations the class has offered a superb level of machinery with good racing throughout racing grids the world over.
When the first news broke that FRD (Formula Racing Development, who run Formula Renault in Asia and the factory Ford Chinese Touring Car team in China) would be establishing a one make prototype class, the first questions were obviously regarding the viability of trying to establish another grid with prototypes when the Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup struggled to attract sufficient entries. FRD made the move to get internationally renowned teams such as Eurasia, Craft Bamboo and Le Mans winners KCMG to join the party.
The format was that FRD would own all the cars and equipment, with service fees being paid to the teams to run the cars, something which is not entirely known as standard protocol.
They announced the series to initially be a 5 round series in China, but doubters were proved partly right when organisers had to call off the first round, due to take place in May, due to customs issues with the cars. However, once all was said and done we were all pleasantly surprised by the success of the first weekend last weekend at the new Zhejiang International Circuit. It is not often that you would attempt to run a new series, with a new promoter, at a new track (normally just one variable is enough!), but save a few niggles here and there, it was a resounding success.
Ligier supply all the team’s cars, the JSP3 proving a solid and reliable machine by which both pro and gentleman drivers alike can push to the limits.
This was also the first time that an LMP3 ran on the Giti tyre, as opposed to Michelin as the standard tyre worldwide. Pre-event testing took place in quite horrific conditions, with heavy downpours throughout the 4-hour afternoon session.
Dry running then took place the following day on the slick specification tyre and everyone seemed to enjoy well running cars from the off which was a positive start. Much of the first event’s PR came thanks to the Craft Bamboo Team, who, with their partnership with the Cars 3 movie, innovatively liveried their cars as the lead characters.
The DC Racing team had a partnership with the new Jackie Chan movie ‘The Foreigner’, while my Eurasia entry was backed by street fashion brand EVISU with the company’s seagull logo emblazing the sides of the ‘batmobile-esque’ machine.
Apart from some of the sporting regulations being cleared up regarding which driver qualifies and starts each race (there are 2 x 10 minute qualifying sessions, and one 50 minute ‘opening’ race and a 60 minute ‘Main Race’), the weekend was generally smooth running with everything going off without a hitch.
Recently appointed FRD race director Shane Rogers is making good in-roads with regards to organisation and his understanding of all sides of motorsport. Online live streaming ensured that races could be followed on a variety of channels, or from some local Chinese TV stations (although only in Mandarin it must be said!).
For those of you who don’t know me (whom I’m sure is most of you!), I am new to sportscar racing. My career began in 2009, after my passion was ignited by watching Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button’s successes in Formula One. I was a relative late starter, at 18 years old I took part in my first kart race, 19 in Formula Ford, before being sponsored by the Racing Steps Foundation into Formula Renault UK in 2010.
My career brought me to Asia in 2012, after having finished 2nd in the 2011 Finals series, but with no further opportunities for me due to budget. This was where I packed up my things and made a one-way trip to Hong Kong in April 2012 with 800 quid in my pocket. I utilised crowd funding, social media, business, investment and sponsorship in order to continue my career which ultimately
brought me race wins in Formula Masters, a Championship in the form of the 2015 Asian Formula Renault Series, a podium in the Macau Grand Prix, and the opportunity to test a World Series by Renault 3.5 car at the Motorland Circuit in Spain.
After signing to become the first foreigner and subsequently pole sitter in the Chinese Touring Car Championship in 2016, I made my one-off debut in the Audi R8 LMS Cup in Korea and also took part in the Super Taikyu race at Fuji in a Mercedes SLS GT3.
It was quite clear coming into this year that the opportunities for drivers who were past single seaters but without a GT3 budget (silver drivers are ineligible to compete in the GT4 class of Blancpain GT Series Asia, something which made my plans for this year very difficult!) were pretty few and far between. This was until the FRD LMP3 Series came along.
Sensible budgets, professional teams, and a platform which allowed both top quality talents such as Mathias Beche to race against up and coming silvers (and the forever young James Winslow!) and bronze gentleman drivers ensured that 11 cars lined up on the grid for the first event, with a rumoured further 2-3 for the next round at the Shanghai F1 circuit on July 29/30.
The races were largely exciting and for the most part well balanced. Pitstop times are decided by driver ratings, for example, the Platinum Beche and Silver Winslow must have 170s, a silver duo would be 160s, and silver/bronze at 140s. These will be reviewed in season and can be changed (unlike a driver’s FIA grading), and given the podium ended with Platinum, Bronze and then Silver, it might be that the silver’s need slightly less penalty, but this will be decided by the organisers in good time.
It is also beneficial in that the winners of the series will be given the lease of an LMP2 car and entry fee for Asian Le Mans, with potential to race Le Mans in 2018, and the runners up the lease of an LMP3 car. Some might question whether a duo who’ve raced Le Mans and Asian Le Mans on many occasions should be eligible, but at the end of the day it is a good thing that there is some real quality on the grid, and all the way through it. Indeed, James Winslow commented in the press conference that this was possibly the strongest LMP3 grid in the world right now!
I hope to be able to bring the readers of DSC more of an insight into prototype racing in Asia this year, the behind the scenes of a driver’s life on a race weekend, and a greater look into the commercial and economic side of the sport. Many thanks for reading and see you on the race track!