The #28 JOTA Oreca 07 Gibson have gone back to back at Yas Marina with a thrilling conclusion to the Asian Le Mans Series finale. Sean Gelael holding off a late charge from Franco Colapinto in the #25 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01, with a head-to-head battle over the last two laps deciding the race.
The gap at the line, a measly 0.422 seconds.
The podium was completed by the #5 Phoenix Racing Oreca 07 Gibson, ahead of the #26 G-Drive Aurus 01. The top 5 was completed by the #64 Racing Team India Oreca 07. The 4th place result for the #26 G-Drive car confirms the championship victory for Yifei Ye, Rene Binder and Ferdinand Habsburg, along with an automatic-invite to the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours, G-Drive’s second consecutive Asian Le Mans Series title win with Algarve Pro racing (and therefore the third overall title for Sam and Stu Cox).
LMP3 saw another United Autosports domination, with a lock out of the podium in the P3 class. The #23 Ligier JS P320 taking home a third race victory this season, ahead of the #3 example and the #2 rounding out the podium. The third win for the #23 United Autosports Ligier also earns a Le Mans auto-invite for Manuel Maldonado, Rory Penttinen, and Wayne Boyd, which is United Autosports’ 6th auto-invite for the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours (along with invitations for: reigning Le Mans P2 champions, 1st and 2nd in the 2020 ELMS P2 class, 1st in the 2020 ELMS P3 class, plus having an auto entry via their WEC entry).
CD Sport’s #33 Ligier finished an impressive campaign in 4th, with DKR Engineering recovering the #63 Duqueine M30-D08 to 5th after a number of drive through penalties throughout the race. Nielsen Racing finished 6th and 7th, losing out with the #9 car on the last lap to drop from a possible podium position for Tony Wells and Colin Noble.
An astonishing race in GT built to a thrilling conclusion, ultimately won by the #57 Kessel Racing by Car Guy Ferrari 488 GT3. Mikkel Jensen having the pace when it mattered to maintain the lead after a late splash and dash, helped by a directive from race control for the challenging #7 Inception Racing by Optimum Motorsport McLaren 720s GT3 to drop back to redress a position change to the #99 Precote Herberth Porsche 911. Ben Barnicoat in the #7 McLaren would re-take second place, dragging Davide Rigon in the #55 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 with him, who finished third.
Precote Herberth’s #99 finished in 5th, losing a further position to the #95 TF Sport Aston Martin, but the result for the #99 was good enough to seal the championship and with it a Le Mans invite. Provisionally the other invitation winners were the Inception Racing Optimum McLaren 720s, the #55 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, and the championship leaders heading into the day, the #40 GPX Racing Porsche, who finished 14th in class after a horror race.
A truncated first hour of the race saw multiple incidents, resulting in almost 40 minutes of safety car running before the hour mark. Firstly, contact between the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari and what is believed to be the #27 Kessel Racing Ferrari saw the #60 end it’s race in the turn 18 wall off to driver’s right, 10 minutes into the race. This gave GPX Racing #40 Porsche the chance to pit to replace the driver’s side door, after contact on lap 1 saw the mirror hanging off the car.
The much bigger incident was a scary moment at the end of the long straight at Yas Marina: The #51 AF Corse Ferrari and the #54 AF Corse Ferrari making heavy contact on the entry to turn 11, and both ending their race hard into the TechPro barriers at the end of the run-off.
Both Thomas Flohr and Francesco Piovanetti were assessed at the track’s medical centre, with one driver later admitted to hospital with a suspected leg injury, the front end of the #54 AF Corse car destroyed, the rear end of the #51 car suffering heavy rear end damage.
The unfortunate demise of the two AF Corse Ferraris resulted in a 30 minute safety car period to clear debris and repair the barriers, allowing a number of teams to make some of their mandatory 110 second pit stops. Notably, the #55 Kessel Racing by Car Guy Ferrari was one of 6 cars to make two of their 110s stops under Safety Car, while a delay for both G-Drive cars saw them emerge behind both the #28 JOTA Oreca and the #5 Phoenix Racing Oreca.
Another dimension to the early yellow flag running was the eating up of Pro-Driver time in the P3 and GT classes. Unfortunately, RLR M-Sport, both Garage 59 cars, and Walkenhorst Motorsport would pay the price later in the race as other teams served significant chunks of their Amateur driver times under Safety Car.
A brief run of green flag saw Sean Gelael in the #28 JOTA Oreca 07 and the recovering Franco Colapinto in the #25 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 break away from the field, before another FCY was called for significant debris on the entry to turn 4. A change in strategies with both G-Drive Aurus cars taking tyres saw them lose position again, while the #57 Kessel by Car Guy Ferrari took the last of it’s mandated 110s stops, giving them pit lane freedom for the rest of the race.
Gelael would maintain the lead of the race on the resumption of green flag running, until another moment passing traffic for the #28 JOTA Oreca. Diving into turn 4, Gelael made contact with the #89 Garage 59 Aston Martin of Mike Benham, resulting in a spin for both and a loss of the lead for the #28 machine. Rui Pindo di Andrade being gifted a 10 second gap in the #25 G-Drive Aurus 01 by the contact, which he held through to the next round of pit stops.
A strong showing from Jean Glorieux in the #63 DKR Engineering Duqueine M30-D08 saw him hold the lead after the FCY, until a penalty for repeated track limits violations relegated the #63 and returned the #23 United Autosports Ligier JS P320 to the top step.
The middle part of the race saw a variety of strategies in GT play out as teams tried to make sense of the best course of action. Nicky Catsburg ran as high as 7th overall in the #34 Walkenhorst BMW M6, but had used all of his available drive time by half race distance, handing the car over to Am-drives Chandler Hull and Jonathan Miller for the latter half. Garage 59 had also used a lot of their pro driver running in both the #88 and #89 cars to be in the mix, but had swapped out for Alexander West and Mike Benham for the middle stint.
In contrast, The #99 Precote Herberth Porsche 911, the #55 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488, the #57 Kessel by Car Guy Ferrari and the #7 Inception Racing Optimum Motorsport McLaren 720s had front-loaded their Am driver stint, and were now making moves through the field with their Pro drivers. Also in the mix, the #97 Oman Racing with TF Aston Martin were attempting to stretch their fuel window, running a 75 minute stint with Ahmad Al Harthy behind the wheel, pitting with 85 minutes left.
As night fell across the circuit, differences in tyre strategy in P2 allowed Tom Blomqvist, now installed in the #28 JOTA Oreca 07, to reel in Rui Pinto di Andrade in the #25 G-Drive Aurus 01. After 3 laps of battling, Blomqvist made the move coming onto the main straight, just before the penultimate round of pit stops for the LMP2 class. G-Drive elected to change tyres and drivers, giving Franco Colapinto the tools to reel in the 20 seconds lost to JOTA with the tyre change, but in the process picked up a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, dropping them behind the #5 Phoenix Racing Oreca.
Meanwhile, the differences in strategy in GT were causing battle trains of multiple cars as Pro-drivers attempted to process the field. Robert Renauer in the #99 Precote Herberth Motorsport Porsche and Davide Rigon in the #55 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari getting stuck behind the pair of Garage 59 Aston Martins; Yuki Nemoto in the #89 and Valentin Hasse-Clot in the #88 doing a great defensive job to hold position, which also allowed the #7 Inception Racing McLaren at the hands of Ben Barnicoat, the #97 Aston Martin driven by Ahmad Al Harthy, and Come Ledogar in the #57 Kessel Racing by Car Guy Ferrari the chance to press their advantage ahead of the field. While the Inception Racing team still had a 110s stop to make, all of their rivals had fulfilled their requirement, giving them the opportunity to make a shorter splash to gain time.
Oman Racing with TF and Kessel Racing by Car Guy made their penultimate stop with 80 minutes remaining, dropping Jonny Adam in the #97 to 7th, just behind Davide Rigon in the #55 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, and Mikkel Jensen in the #57 to 9th, behind Charlie Eastwood in the #95 TF Racing Aston Martin. They would both inherit positions while the cars around them pit, but the question was could they make their last stop short enough to maintain that position in the closing stages.
While the intrigue was building in GT, Kelvin van der Linde was breaking the P2 race wide open, with a string of fastest laps at the seat of the #5 Phoenix Racing Oreca. Unfortunately, the incredible pace took too much out of the tyres, and Franco Colapinto in the #25 G-Drive Aurus managed to reel in the Phoenix machine over the course of 20 minutes, and took second place at the last pit stop thanks to great work from the G-Drive pit crew. Colapinto then set about eating into a large gap to Sean Gelael in the #28 JOTA Oreca, with just over 30 minutes left.
In P3, the #3 United Autosports Ligier had managed to take the lead heading into the final pit stops, but due to a stop 1 second shorter than the minimum mandated time earlier in the race lost position to both the #23 United Autosports Ligier and the #2 United Autosports Ligier. The #2 car was holding steady in second but was penalised for making contact with the #40 GPX Porsche, who had been given drive-through penalties for track limits and pit lane speeding violations. The penalty for the #2 United Autosports Ligier saw them drop behind the #3 sister car, as well as the #9 Nielsen Racing Ligier at the hands of Colin Noble. A tight battle between the #9 Nielsen Racing Ligier, the #2 United Autosports Ligier, the #33 CD Sport Ligier, and the #63 DKR Engineering Duqueine went down to the final lap, with Colin Noble losing out in the final sector, his tyres rooted, to drop off the podium to 6th, and allow United Autosports a dominant 1-2-3 for the last race of the season.
The action in GT was kicked off with 37 minutes remaining by the #7 Inception Racing McLaren taking its last stop, perfectly nailing the mandated 110seconds. Just behind, the #55 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari also made its last stop, a much quicker 52seconds. The gap as the two cars exited pit lane was 3 seconds, with the #55 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari just ahead of the McLaren. Ben Barnicoat on fresh tyres quickly eclipsed Rigon, while the #99 took its last stop with 25 minutes remaining.
The 45 second stop for the #99 Precote Herberth Porsche put Robert Renauer just ahead of Barnicoat, who quickly eclipsed the Porsche (but as it would later turn out with the pass assisted by contact) and continued to eat into the gap to the #57 Kessel by Car Guy Ferrari and #95 TF Sport Aston Martin ahead. Mikkel Jensen in the #57 was pulling away from the #95 Aston Martin while Barnicoat in the McLaren was pulling away from Renauer, now engaged in battle with Davide Rigon in the #55 Rinaldi Racing McLaren.
With 10 minutes left and 43 seconds of a lead, Kessel called Jensen in to make his last stop. Great work from the Kessel by Car Guy crew saw the pit stop take only 37 seconds, returning Jensen to the lead, and ultimately a race victory for the #57 Ferrari.
The battle for the podium was not yet settled, with race control ordering Barnicoat to redress position to the #99 Precote Herberth Porsche 10 minutes after the pass was made, the pass deemed to be assisted by avoidable contact, and with Barnicoat 10 seconds up the road. Barnicoat gave the position back, then immediately made the pass back for second, allowing Davide Rigon to also move past the Porsche, giving Inception Racing and Rinaldi Racing the final spots on the podium, and each a Le Mans Auto Invite.
Just as GT was being resolved, Franco Colapinto closed the gap to Sean Gelael, giving us a grandstand finish for the overall win. Gelael managed to hold off the 17-year-old’s attacks for the final two laps of the race, successfully navigating traffic to confirm a double victory for JOTA at Yas Marina.
The #18 Era Motorsport Oreca would finish the season with a clean sweep for LMP2 AM wins with Dwight Merriman, Kyle Tilley and Andreas Laskaratos whilst in GT Am the early elimination of the #66 Rinaldi Ferrari saw the #34 Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3 take race winning honours, the #66 had already secured the class title.
The Asian Le Mans Series managed to cram 16 hours of racing into 10 days in an extremely intense and compacted schedule, and it was only fitting that the most intense and compacted racing came right at the end of the season. Congratulations to the entire team at the Asian Le Mans Series for their incredible achievement in running this season!
More to come tomorrow…