Spirit of Race’s #8 Ligier JS P2 emerged victorious in the opening round of the 2018 4 Hours of Shanghai today, Alex West, Come Ledogar and Pipo Derani completing a fight through the field after an incident at the start which left the team dead last, to make it a perfect weekend in China.
The car (which started from pole with West aboard) collided with the #22 United Autosports Ligier JS P2 of Phil Hanson at Turn 1, causing the Swiss-flagged Ligier to spin out, and drop down the order. Hanson too fell to the back as a result.
“It wasn’t the best start but thank god I was able to keep it out of the gravel and continue,” LMP2 newcomer West, who along with Ledogar was making his Asian Le Mans debut, commented.
But in the end, it was those two cars that would be fighting for the win, aided in part by dramas elsewhere in the class in the first half of the race.
The winning margin for Derani at the end was just 55 seconds. Paul Di Resta in the United Autosports Ligier after a monster stint from Hanson until the final hour, had to make a splash before the end, dropping him from the lead to second. Then, making matters worse, after losing the lead late, Di Resta had a small mechanical hiccup which cost the team about 30 seconds, the car slowing on track, effectively ending the lead battle with under 10 minutes to go.
“It was good, we were a little lucky in the race but brought home the victory. It was a really good day for us, thank god for the safety car (caused by the #1 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA) because it allowed us to close some of the gap and make up time we lost,” Derani said.
United Autosports did however, score a double podium, the #23 Ligier JS P2 Nissan of Guy Cosmo, Patrick Byrne and Salih Yoluc coming home third, and winning the LMP2 Am sub-class.
Two key contenders suffered early, the #24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier suffering a terminal mechanical failure in the first hour while Andrea Pizzitola was in the lead.
After the Algarve Pro Ligier’s demise, the #1 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA 05 Nissan came to the fore and it too retired, Weiron Tan in the second hour of the race suffering a wheel-nut failure which sent his left-rear tyre flying across the pit straight, and the car spinning into the gravel trap at the final corner. It too would retire on the spot.
This left the door wide open for the other LMP2 runners, and ultimately it would be Spirit of Race’s day.
The top four were all Nissan-powered JS P2s, the first of the Judd-engined chassis was the #25 Algarve Pro Ligier, which finished fifth and third in LMP2 Am behind the #4 ARC Bratislava Ligier.
Another win for Inter Europol
LMP3 was won by Inter Eurpol, the Polish team, which started from class pole, keeping its cool throughout and enjoying a quiet run through the race en route to victory.
Kuba Smiechowski took the wheel at the start and fell down the order in the tricky conditions, with the track low on grip and the visibility lower than usual due to fog.
But he and Martin Hippe were in the fight throughout, and by the end had regained the lead, Hippe bringing the team’s ELMS-finale winning Ligier home 47 seconds clear of the #2 United Autosports Ligier which finished second.
“I didn’t have the best of starts,” said Smiechowski. “We dropped back with one of the safety cars we gained a lot of time and our engineers called us in for a tactical stop which was a great move and this is what got us the win I think.”
“We’re really happy about this, there was a real team effort all weekend. Even yesterday when we got pole we were perfect,” added Hippe.
The #36 Eurasia Ligier completed the podium, despite being handed a 10-second stop go penalty towards the end of the race.
Ecurie Ecosse / Nielsen Racng’s Ligiers completed the top five, the #79 of Colin Noble and Tony Wells in narrowly missing out on a podium afer being involved in a thrilling fight for the class lead with United’s Matt Bell before Wells’ stint after two and a half hours.
The other Ecurie Ecosse Ligier meanwhile, was caught out by the second safety car, losing almost an entire lap, preventing Christian Olsen and Nick Adcock from fighting for a podium in the #7.
Car Guy and Modena take GT and GT Cup class honours
GT was a topsy turvy race, particularly at the beginning. It was a Ferrari 1-2 at the end of the race, but it wasn’t a comfortable formation finish for the ‘Prancing Horse’ teams by any means.
The winning car was the #11 Car Guy 488 GT3 of James Calado, Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino, which dropped down the order early during Kimura’s stint, before gradually climbing the standings during the second half of the race before Calado climbed aboard with a comfortable lead and brought it home.
“This is our first race as Car Guy, with a Ferrari, in Asian Le Mans, and we won! I couldnt’ have asked for anything more, we all did our best,” said Cozzolino.
The #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari took second, the Swiss-flagged team adopting a similar strategy to the Car Guy crew, saving its world-champion factory driver (Alessandro Pier Guidi) until the end.
A lot of time was lost during Francesco Piovanetti’s time in the car when the conditions were at their worst, but the team recovered well when Oz Negri was aboard, coming home a lap behind the Car Guy 488.
Completing the podium was the TF Sport Aston Martin, which at one point led the race after Bon Grimes and Johnny Mowlem tag-teamed the first half of the race.
Ultimately the Red River Sport-liveried Aston wasn’t as strong over longer stints, and the team faded slightly. It was though, a very impressive, (almost entirely) clean run for the two British drivers, who clearly enjoyed every minute of their first Asian Le Mans weekend. A podium here, was thoroughly deserved.
They did benefit though, from issues striking the pole-sitting #88 TSRT Audi, which led comfortably in the opening hour with Weian Chen behind the wheel.
The team had a small fire at a pit stop after an hour of racing and lost a ton of time trying to get it going again.
When they did, they were down the order to last, and had any chances of a podium then dashed later when they were dealt a lengthy stop-go penalty just after Dries Vanthoor climbed in (up to third at the time). Eventually, the team’s Audi finished fourth, ahead of its Mercedes.
In the GT Cup class, Modena Motorsports led comfortably early with Benny Simonsen at the wheel, but in the final hour looked set to finish second.
The Open Road Racing exampled opened up a huge lead, but was later found out to have not spent enough time in the pits, resulting in a late five-minute stop and go penalty being dished out, which in turn handed Simonsen and Phillippe Descombes the lead once more in the final few minutes.