Victory in LMP3, pole position and a double podium in LMP2 in the first round of the Asian Le Mans Series!
22-24 November 2019: the 4 Hours of Shanghai, the first round of the 2019-2020 Asian Le Mans Series, turned into a hotly-contested race in which the LMP2 and LMP3 Ligier sports prototypes put on a scintillating display. In LMP2, the #36 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier JS P217 clinched pole position in the LMP2 Pro category, while in the LMP2 Am Trophy category the #4 ARC Bratislava Ligier JS P2 topped the time sheets in qualifying. In the race, the LMP2s scored a double podium finish with the #36 Ligier JS P217 finishing second in the LMP2 Pro category; and the #52 Rick Ware Racing Ligier JS P2 also came home second in the LMP2 Am Trophy category. In LMP3, the 2018-2019 category winner, Inter Europol Competition, brought its #13 Ligier JS P3 home in first place in the opening round after a hard-fought race.
The Ligier JS P217, making its debut in the championship, came out on top in qualifying thanks to the #36 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier JS P217 driven by Roberto Merhi who clinched pole in 1m 53.191s from the Dallara P217 and the Oreca 07s. In the LMP2 Am Trophy category for the older generation LMP2s, the Ligier JS P2 was also quickest. The #4 ARC Bratislava Ligier JS P2 set a stunning time in 1m 56.893s in front of the Oreca 05.
The Ligier JS P2s run by Rick Ware Racing making their debut in the series did not take part in qualifying. The cars were blocked in a container, which was delayed! However, the drivers were able to discover the circuit in the free practice sessions at the wheel of a rival Ligier as ARC Bratislava allowed them to do some laps each in its Ligier JS P2! Finally, the two Ligier JS P2s were delivered on Saturday evening at 5:00 pm. The team burned the midnight oil to put one of its two Ligier JS P2s on the grid for the start of the race at 9:45 am on Sunday.
The race. The #36 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier JS P217 in the hands of Nick Foster, Robert Merhi and Aidan Read led during the first part of the event. Read at the wheel managed to eke out a small gap over his rivals: between two and five seconds depending on traffic. Foster relayed him and rejoined in third place. He drove a flawless stint and fought to regain first place. But the team's hopes were dashed during the last driver change as it was hindered by two cars in the adjacent pit, the Ligier JS P217s entered by Inter Europol Competition, both stationary following a stop and go penalty. The Ligier JS P217 had to be put on rollers to be refueled and lost precious time. Mehri rejoined but was too far behind to win the race. The Ligier JS P217 finished second.
Its sister car the #1 Ligier JS P217 of Nobuya Yamanaka, Daniel Gaunt and Masataka Yanagida was also stopped in full flight. It lasted only a quarter of the race before being eliminated by a mechanical problem.
“We are delighted with the pace shown by both cars this weekend but having claimed the pole and then being second, it's a little disappointing”, said Mark Goddard, Eurasia Motorsports' Team Principal. “We had the pace to win the race, but it was lost in the pit lane.”
Inter Europol Competition, also victim of the late delivery of their container, still managed to put two Ligier JS P217s on the grid. They started fourth and seventh. The #34 Ligier JS P217 driven by Kuba Smiechowski, Mathias Beche and James Winslow and the #33 Ligier JS P217 of John Corbett, Nathan Kumar and Mitchell Neilson were both hit with a 3 minute 50 second stop and go penalty as they failed to respect the “pass around the Safety Car rule,” which obliges drivers to overtake the safety car, do a full lap and then replace themselves behind the leader of the category. They finished in fourth and sixth places.
In the LMP2 Am Trophy category, the #4 ARC Bratislava Ligier JS P2 crewed by Kang Ling, Miro Konopka and Andreas Laskaratos was not rewarded for its performance in qualifying. It was forced to retire after 77 laps when leading the category as it ran out of fuel on the track due to a leak linked to the crash box.
The #52 Rick Ware Racing Ligier JS P2 of Cody Ware and Mark Kvamme put on a great performance on its first outing in the Asian Le Mans Series. Above all, taking the circumstances into account as it did not participate in either free practice or qualifying due to the fact that the team didn't have any cars! The Ligier JS P2 started the race a lap behind the field as it didn't take part in qualifying and it picked off its rivals to see the flag in second place in its category. On his first race in sports prototypes, Ware set the third fastest lap in his category in the race. A promising start for the team!
In LMP3, the #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier JS P3, the reigning champion, driven by Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore, enjoyed a flawless race and scored its first victory of the season. It finished more than a minute in front of the Nielsen Racing Norma. “A really good strategy by our engineers and a perfect car makes a great race”, commented Martin Hippe. “I am really happy to be on the podium again like last year. I enjoyed my fight with Tony Wells (Nielsen Racing) but once I got past him, it was all about managing the tyres and handing the car over to Nigel in the best condition.”
The #12 ACE1 Villorba Corse Ligier JS P3 in the hands of Yuki Harata, Allessandro Bressan and Grabiele Lancieri proved to be a redoubtable competitor. It started in fifth place and soon took the lead before slowing and leaving the door wide open for #13 entered by Inter Europol Competition. It saw the flag in fourth place in front of the #65 Viper Niza Racing Ligier JS P3 in the hands of Douglas Khoo and Dominic Ang.
Rendezvous on 12th January for the second round of the Asian Le Mans Series on the The Bend circuit in Australia: a not to be missed premier!