All of a sudden we’re at the mid-point of the 2017/18 Asian Le Mans Series season, the teams and drivers readying for the longest race of the season, a six-hour endurance race, in Thailand.
The Chang International Circuit is the venue, and it should attract a bumper crowd. Locally, the people of Thailand will be celebrating Children’s Day on race day, a national holiday which when it co-incided with the AsLMS race in 2016, resulted in a crowd of over 100,000 turning up. No really, in an age where it’s increasingly difficult to attract fans to watch live motorsport, over 100,000 people showed up to watch the Asian Le Mans Series, magnificent, an absolutely fantastic feat for both the series and Asian motorsport.
Because of Children’s Day, this weekend’s event should be no different in terms of crowd figures, or indeed excitement, as the points races begin to take shape and the end of the season nears.
On the entry, there’s plenty of changes from the last race at Fuji, including a few notable driver changes and a new team.
In LMP2, the #7 Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport Oreca 05 Nissan will have a very different look for the remaining two rounds as it will run an all-Malaysian driver line-up. With the support of the Sepang International Circuit, the new driver line-up will see Jazeman Jaafar, who made his debut with the team in the previous round, share with Weiron Tan and Afiq Ikhwan Yazid. For the final round especially, the locals will have a clear favourite, for this weekend it’ll just be interesting to see how they get on.
It’s an ambitious move too to run with the Malaysian trio, as it comes as part of an initiative by the Sepang International Circuit’s which is aiming to field a team with an all-Malaysian line-up in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans as early as 2019. The Asian Le Mans Series, is a perfect place to begin this endeavour.
ARC Bratislava’s #4 Ligier JSP2 will also feature a new driver for this round, Gustavo Yacaman, who has ELMS and FIA WEC experience, will join the team’s regular drivers Miro Konopka and Konstantins Calko in Buriram.
ARC Bratislava will head into this weekend full of confidence
Yacaman takes the seat filled by young Dutchman Rik Breukers, who put in a head-turning performance in the race at Fuji. He’s unavailable due to commitments with his new Grasser Racing programme, in which he will contest the Dubai 24 Hours this weekend, as well as the Daytona 24 Hours in two weeks time.
Yacaman though, should fit in nicely, the Columbian fresh from an drive at Daytona in the Roar Before the 24 where he was driving the AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports JS P217-Gibson. He had race winning form in 2017 with Graff Racing in the ELMS too.
Because of this, after its podium finish in round two, ARC Bratislava will still head into this weekend full of confidence, and remain a dark-horse in the race for victory.
With the six hour format there are bolstered squads up and down the grid, Viper Niza racing replacing the injured James Winslow with reigning LMP3 Champion Nigel Moore, the Tockwith Racing man making his first appearance of the season back in Asia.
John Graham’s license issues are now behind him, he’s good too go in the Algarve Pro Ligier, also now a three man crew as planned.
Aussie racer Scott Andrews moves over from the absent Eurasia LMP2 Ligier to the #11 Taiwan Beer LMP3.
And finally, in the GT class, there’s a driver change at Audi Sport customer racing Asia by TSRT, with Alex Au driving in place of Liu Peng. Au, who was a regular in GT Asia back in the day, has Asian Le Mans experience, competing with Eurasia Motorsport in the opener.
Round 3 of the Series will also see the return of Team NZ to the Asian Le Mans Series. Behind the wheel of their #77 Porsche 997 GT3 will be regular drivers Graeme Dowsett and John Curran, and joining Kiwi, Will Bamber. Bamber, brother of two-time Le Mans winner Earl Bamber, finished third in Porsche Carrera Cup Asia in his full season in 2017, claiming race wins including a double victory at the Bangsaen Grand Prix round. He also finished runner up in China GT driving a Lamborghini Huracán.
Round 3 of the Series will also see the return of Team NZ to the Asian Le Mans Series
Team NZ’s return to the main Series follows on from their excellent form in last year’s Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup. There, the team claimed the GT Cup Class title for the second consecutive year. It’s good to see them back.
Now that the changes to the entry are covered, it’s time to take a look at the points battles. With just two races left, each point is crucial, especially for the teams in with a clear chance at earning an automatic Le Mans entry, which in the next couple of years, looks to be as valuable a prize as its ever been.
At the front of the field, it’s clear that the favourite is the #8 Jackie Chan DC Racing X Jota ORECA. Harrison Newey, Stephane Richelmi and Thomas Laurent have amassed 51 points from two race wins and a pole position, and have been the class of the expanded LMP2 field. However, as we found out as recently as last season, leads aren’t safe until mathematically your rivals have no chance to take the crown.
The challenger here is BBT, the ex-GT team has proven itself more than capable of racing in prototypes, Anthony Liu, Davide Rizzo, with the help of Pipo Derani look to be the only real threat. Derani is a class act behind the wheel, and took a very important pole position in Fuji to show off the JS P2’s speed against the ORECA 05. With the points gap at 14, finishing ahead of the leaders is a must here.
In LMP3, Jackie Chan DC is also on top, as its duo of Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne look to help the team win the titles in both prototype classes in the team’s #6 Ligier JS P3. The full season pair are joined by Formula Renault racer Gabriel Aubry, who tested for the team in the WEC Oreca at Bahrain and could well be set to play a full season part in a post Thomas Laurent team future!
At Fuji the battle for the LMP3 title was blown wide open. KCMG claimed the win in the opening round in Zhuhai, but suffered issues in Fuji leaving the door open for the Jackie Chan DC Racing to take the win.
The victory came after duels with Taiwan Beer GH Motorsprot and Viper Niza Racing. WIN Motorsport was another of the LMP3 competitors to hit reliability issues so expect to see them bounce back in Buriram.
Cosmo and Byrne have a 10-point lead, over the Viper Niza duo of Dominic And and Douglas Khoo, and a 13-point advantage over KCMG’s Josh Burdon and Louis Prette. Another surprise result could see this three-way title race go down to the wire, which could make for some real drama at Sepang!
At Fuji the battle for the LMP3 title was blown wide open
And in GT, Fist Team AAI’s two GT3 cars have led the way since the opener. Piloting these two impressive cars are a group of very talented and successful international drivers including factory backed drivers. The team’s line-up for this round will remain unchanged and includes Marco Cioci, Chaz Mostert, Jesse Krohn and Ollie Millroy. They will supported by Asian drivers Lam Yu and Junsan Chen.
As it stands, the #90 crew of Mostert, Krohn and Chen are tied with Yu and Millroy on 44 points, with the Tianshi Racing Team trio of Massimiliano Wiser, Peng Liu and Weian Chen third, 14 points adrift.
Needless to say, this weekend will be a crucial one for the teams in points battles, with so much to play for over the next few weeks.
Saturday’s 6 Hours of Buriram is set to begin at 12:00 local time in Thailand.