The opening race of the 2017/18 Asian Le Mans Series at Zhuhai saw a dominant win from the new look #8 Jackie Chan DC Racing crew of Thomas Laurent, Harrison Newey and Stephane Richelmi, the rapid trio coming home comfortably clear of the #37 Team BBT Ligier of Davide Rizzo, Anthony Liu and Pipo Derani.
The overall podium was completed by the ARC Bratislava Ligier crew of Miro Konopka, Rik Breukers and Konstantins Calko.
At the start of the race Thomas Laurent got a clean getaway, David Cheng in the sister #7 Oreca initially sticking with the leader but then running wide on Lap 2 into turn one, allowing Davide Rizzo through into 2nd in the #37 Team BBT Ligier.
It was the start of real trouble for Cheng’s run, the car briefly stopping on circuit before pitting. The eventual diagnosis was a failed alternator, the initial symptoms being failed power steering, then electronics issues. Either way, despite the best efforts of the crew the car’s run was effectively over very early in the race.
An early Full Course Yellow for debris at T14 saw the BBT crew opt to take fuel, a move that would help them to inherit the lead as the #8 needed a longer routine stop at the 50 minute mark to replace the rear clip, damaged in a clash with the #66 Tian Shi Audi (the cause of the FCY) that later saw the R8 crew penalised.
Laurent had pitted with a very healthy margin but the repair to the car took time and Harrison Newey, second man aboard the #8 was then left to try to chase down the #37 Ligier.
He did just that, and more, posting an impressive display on his endurance racing debut to catch and pass the #37 before pulling away, leaving Stephane Richelmi with a relatively simple task to manage the gap.
Anthony Liu put in some good times on his LMP2 debut but, in truth, the pace of the Oreca was too hot to handle, even the talents of Pipo Derani could not make much of an impact in the final hour.
The ARC trio pushed hard too, Breukers finding it tricky to switch on the tyres at the start and running wide at T1 but running faultlessly thereafter, followed up by an equally error-free run from Konopka. A push from Calko at the end was impressive, but not enough to trouble the BBT car.
Fourth would go to Eurasia, Keiko Ihara putting in a very impressive long stint at the start of the race (and a short stint at the end), the Japanese lady driver having her best race in this writers memory despite a whole year away from racing. The #33 would cross the line but then expire on the slowing down lap. She’ll be looking forward to Fuji, next up, not least as she’s lijkely to have a second co-driver to share the load.
Ate Dirk de Jong started in the #25 Algarve Pro Ligier and put in another ‘iron man’ stint, Dean Koutsoumidis taking the race ending run but the duo not able to get onto terms with the Eurasia effort before the flag.
In LMP3 the story would be a tale of two groups of Ligier, the troubled runs from WIN Motorsport and Viper Niza Racing seeing them both out of serious contention.
The #1 car had suffered from niggles all week, fuel pump and fuel cell leakage during free practice, and had a puncture mid-race with Richard Bradley at the wheel that effectively counted out any further challenge.
The #65 Viper Niza effort saw a fractured run with a couple of runs into the gravel. All in all a race to forget from the affable Malaysian duo.
That left three cars in podium contention but the charge of the #6 Jackie Chan DC Racing pair of Patrick Byrne and Guy Cosmo fizzled early on as they followed a pre-determined strategy to pit Cosmo to change to Byrne in the early FCY, unaware (with an inoperable radio) that the race was about to go back to green. Thereafter the pair pushed hard throughout, putting in impressive times but struggling to make up the ground lost. A podium finish was a very fair reward for the day’s efforts.
The win though would be contested between the #18 KCMG and #11 Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport efforts with two factors determining the final result.
The first would be a driver through penalty adjudged to the #1 for a Full Course Yellow speed infringement that cost the car the lead.
The second would be a final push from polesetter Josh Burdon that would see the KCMG car pull clear, much to the disappointment of the #11 crew who pushed hard throughout.
The GT class meanwhile saw, against all expectations, a real fight between all three contenders in the final part of the race.
The win would go to the #91 FIST Team AAI BMW M6 GT3 after a near race long fight back against the team’s other car, the #90 Mercedes AMG GT3.
Ultimately the deciding factor would be brakes, or rather a lack of them, on the AMG, the Zhuhai circuit notoriously hard on the stoppers, and with precious little by way of long straights to help cool them down. It saw Chaz Mostert in the BMW taking some 40 seconds pout of a near 80 second advantage held by the Mercedes in his stint and Jesse Krohn finishing the job when he took to the wheel for the final stints.
The Tian Shi Audi was within 4 seconds of the battling AAI boys into the final hour but needed a final stop. But for their stop and hold for the early contact with the leading car then the R8 too could well have been in the mix.
All in all an engaging affair all round, More cars are required, and more are coming, but there’s little doubt that the trio in the #8 Jackie Chan DC Oreca are going to be very tough to beat.