An eventful opening for the2016/2017 Asian Le Mans Series season was what was offered at the Zhuhai circuit in China, with Jackie Chan DC Racing taking the first win thanks to a stellar performance of Signatech-Alpine driver Gustavo Menezes along with a faultless stint of Ho-Pin Tung.
The green flag was out and the No. 35 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA was quick enough to take the lead from the polesitter No. 25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier, which also lost terrain to the No. 8 Race Performance ORECA in the LMP2 field. Michael Munemann was starting the race, and the amateur driver found it hard to even stay in front of the LMP3 frontrunners, as it was the case with Tacksung Kim in the No. 24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier.
Two yellow flags in a row, with even the presence of the Safety Car, were the opportunities seen for DC Racing to go to the pits and put some extra fuel, retaking the lead with 30 minutes of racing.
It didn’t take long also to see ELMS entrant Tockwith Motorsports lead confortably in the LMP3 class, mostly due to traffic from the other classes, with the No. 4 ARC Bratislava Ginetta being the only outside in the Ligier show. Clearwater Racing had the GT class control, although a pair of the Team AAI cars tried to stay in close pursuit.
With 45 minutes of racing a collision between the No. 67 PRT Racing Ginetta and the No. 48 PS Racing ADESS led to another Safety Car, seen again as a chance for refueling for DC Racing, but with other teams also coming for their stops.
Once the first hour was over, Algarve Pro Racing changed their drivers in both cars, with Nicky Catsburg getting the No. 25 Ligier while Matt McMurry got the No. 24, and while they were matching pace with the leaders, the No. 25 was able to battle for second place with the No. 8 Race Performance ORECA, driven by Struan Moore in that moment.
The battle between Algarve Pro Racing and Race Performance was pretty close and heated, and while they were lapping the No. 99 WinEurasia Ligier JS P3, the LMP3 spun on track while both LMP2 cars were sent far into the gravel trap, bringing another Safety Car period. Both cars returned to the track to go to the pits for further checks, returning after almost 30 minutes, and with various laps lost, both teams would only work to at least finish the race.
After the halfway point, all the class leaders were firm in their positions. DC Racing was holding a 40 seconds gap to Algarve Pro racing in LMP2, while Tockwith Motorsports dominated the LMP3 class, sometimes even lapping around the same times as the LMP2 cars, and in GT, VS Racing was in front of Spirit of Race and Clearwater Racing by more than 40 seconds.
While Ho-Pin Tung was doing consistent lap times in the No. 35 DC Racing ORECA 03R, it was a bit slower that what McMurry was clocking in the No. 24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JS P2, and with 1 hour and 35 minutes remaining the gap that was once of 46 seconds was practically cut in half by the young American driver, which could be the opportunity to turn things around in the LMP2 class. Algarve Pro then subber McMurry for Andrea Roda while in the lead, with the two cars swapping places in the pursuit game.
Last hour of racing came with open fights for all class victories and then had another Safety Car period due to contact between the PRT Racing Ginetta LMP3 and the WinEurasia Ligier JS P3. The race restarted with the DC Racing ORECA 03R opening the gap to 1 minute to the No. 24 Algarve Pro Ligier, but this wasn’t enough to guarantee their victory as the car was under investigation for overtaking during a Safety Car period, but no word was given. Even though the No. 35 still had a pit stop to make, the 37 seconds lead would still make things comfortable enough for the Chinese team, and the situation wasn’t changed until the finish line. The Algarve Pro pair of Ligier JS P2 models completed the overall podium, with the No. 24 car finishing in second and the No. 25 car in third.
Fourth overall was the LMP3 class winner, the Jackie Chan DC Racing Ligier JS P3, with Tockwith Motorsports and G-Print by Triple 1 Racing completing the all-Ligier class podium. The GT class finish was closer, with the No. 38 Spirit of Race Ferrari 458 GT3 coming fifth overall with only 1.191 seconds ahead of the No. 61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GT3.
The next round of the Asian Le Mans Series will be on December 4th at Fuji Speedway in Japan.
PHOTO: Vision Sport Agency