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4H Zhuhai Preview: A Strong Field Set For The Season Opener

A look at the class of 2017/18 at the dawn of a new Asian Le Mans Series season

The first round of the 2017/18 Asian Le Mans Series kicks off this weekend at the Zhuhai International Circuit, with a 16-car strong entry list featuring many familiar teams and drivers to DSC readers.

This will be the second time the series has visited the Zhuhai International Circuit since the ACO took over management. The 4.319km track, is now home to many motorsport teams including Audi Sport Customer Racing Asia by TSRT that will be racing in the Asian Le Mans Series this weekend.

The Asian Le Mans Series grid will see a mix of cars which is synonymous with the Le Mans brand of racing with both prototypes and GT cars sharing the track for the 4-hour race.

The field this year will be a truly international one, featuring teams and drivers from 19 different countries. And, for the opening round, there will be 11 Chinese drivers, racing on home soil.

Growth in LMP2, as Algarve Pro and Jackie Chan DC return

At the front, last season’s runner up is back, this year badged as Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport. The WEC outfit, which won the Le Mans 24 Hours’ LMP2 class this year, returns with a three-car effort, with team co-owner David Cheng chasing his fourth Asian Le Mans Series title. With two entries in LMP2 it will be hoping to go one better in the championship after finishing second last season. They have brought with them a strong line up of LMP2 Class winners from both Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship.

Leading the way for the team will be the Chinese pairing of David Cheng and Ho-Pin Tung that race for the team in the World Endurance Championship. Its sister LMP2 entry will also be one to watch. Thomas Laurent, who is currently leading the LMP2 class in WEC with the team, and who has recently been selected by the Toyota LMP1 as its driver for the Bahrain Rookie Test, will be joined by Stéphane Richelmi and rookie Harrison Newey. Richelmi was the World Endurance Championship LMP2 Champion and winner of the LMP2 class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year.

Returning after a stellar performance last year that saw it claim the LMP2 Championship is Algarve Pro Racing. The 2016/17 Team of the Year will return this year in an effort to defend its title. They bring with them strong history with the series that also saw them finish second in the 2015/16 season. As a result of winning the title last year, the team received an invitation to race in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

This year though, its driver crew is made up of three Bronze-graded drivers – Ate Dirk De Jong, John Graham and Dean Koutsoumidis – who will be eager to impress, but realistic in their chances of taking the title against the other five cars in the field that includes five Silver drivers and three Golds.

Eurasia Motorsport also returns this season, with a two-car team in LMP2. In its #33 entry will be female Japanese racer, Keiko Ihara who is previous Asian Le Mans Series round winner in 2014 with Oak Racing and Alex Au, who has years of experience in the GT3 ranks with Phoenix Racing

LMP3 Championship runner up ARC Bratislava meanwhile, will make the step up to fight for outright honours this year in the LMP2 Class. ARC, is another Asian Le Mans Series team that ran at Le Mans this year in LMP2 (below).

It’ll employ the same three drivers for this season as it did at Le Mans, with young Dutch driver Rik Breukers joined by Miro Konopka and Konstantins Calko.

After finishing third in the GT class last season, BBT will also make the big step up to the top prototype class of the Asian Le Mans Series. BBT should be able to challenge for podiums straight away, with a solid driver line-up, headlined by 2016 Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours winner Pipo Derani.

BBT should be able to challenge for podiums straight away, with a solid driver line-up, headlined by 2016 Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours winner Pipo Derani

Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo, who as a duo regularly competed with BBT during its GT3 years in Asian Le Mans, GT Asia and Blancpain GT Asia Series, complete the trio.

Big names headline five-car LMP3 class

LMP3’s numbers are down in the opening round of this season, but the quality is still very much there, with four Ligier JS P3s set to race this weekend.

Reining Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup Champions, WIN Motorsport will compete in the LMP3 class, with William Lok again leading the way. He will again be joined by the 2015 Le Mans LMP2 winner, Richard Bradley, fresh from his ELMS campaign with GRAFF, in which he won two races to finish the season. Will Lok and Bradley prove to be a force to be reckoned with in the LMP3 class this year?

They will be joined by their main protagonists in the 2017 Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup, championship runner up TKS, in the next round to be held in Japan. TKS won the GT Cup class in the previous season.

In addition to dominating this year’s Sprint Cup, WIN Motorsport also picked up a top ten finish in the Race to Le Mans support races. The team is hoping to progress further up the ACO endurance racing ladder with ambitions to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the coming years.

It will have fierce competition for LMP3 honours, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans entry with Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA which is racing with American Guy Cosmo, and former Le Mans LMP2 winner KCMG also returning to the series with Josh Burdon, Louis Prette and Neric Wei.

Will Lok and Bradley prove to be a force to be reckoned with in the LMP3 class this year?

Niza Viper Racing is also back with Douglas Khoo and Dominic Ang to challenge for LMP3 victories throughout the year.

New names and familiar faces make up the GT3 and GT Cup numbers

FIST Team AAI have a strong line up in GT, racing both a Mercedes AMG GT3 and a BMW M6 GT3 this year. Behind the wheel of its BWM will be one of Australia’s top Supercar racers, Chaz Mostert. Joining Mostert will be Junsen Chen, a long-time supporter of the Asian Le Mans Series, who raced, and finished the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016.

Also in the team’s stable is British racer Olly Millroy, who raced with the team last year and Finnish BMW works driver Jesse Krohn.

Joining them in the GT3 class will be Tianshi Racing Team and Spirit of Race. The former brings an Audi R8 for Chinese drivers Peng Liu and Weian Chen and Italian Massimiliano Wiser, and Spirit of Race, the ELMS, WEC and Blancpain regular run by AF Corse, will race a single Ferrari 488 with an un-confirmed driver crew.

FIST Team AAI have a strong line up in GT, racing both a Mercedes AMG GT3 and a BMW M6 GT3 this year

It’ll be interesting to see how the four cars fare against one another, after last season’s hard-fought GT3 title race between multiple teams and manufacturers.

And, after winning the GT Cup class in this year’s Sprint Cup, Team NZ will be hoping to do the same again in the main series with its Porsche 911 Cup car for John Curran and Graeme Dowsett.

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