Three constructors of LMP3 machines went head to head for the first time in the history of this fledgling class, which the Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup promotes as its top division. Teams utilising chassis from Ligier, ADESS AG and Ginetta were all represented on the overall podium by the end of the weekend after two exciting one hour races, that will make up the format of each round.
Ten cars made up the field for the inaugural Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup event held at the Sepang International Circuit over the weekend of May 27-29, divided into three classes for LMP3 prototypes, smaller CN prototypes and GT Cup cars. Teams on the entry list for round one of the ACO’s (Automobile Club de l’ouest) brand new championship, created to enable drivers to make their first step onto the ‘Pyramid of endurance’ in Asia, included long time Asian LMS supporters and reigning LMP3 champions DC Racing plus Eurasia Motorsport (under the Wineurasia banner). All three rounds of the first season will take place on the newly resurfaced Sepang International Circuit and will award the champions from each class free entry into the 2016/17 Asian LMS which in turn awards its champions invitations to the famous and most prestigious endurance race of them all – The 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Qualifying, Saturday 28th May
Qualifying for both races took place on Saturday morning with tricky track conditions following rain before the session was due to start, but the heat quickly started to dry the surface and qualifying commenced in ‘damp’ conditions.
The accolade of being the first ever pole winner went to Ollie Millroy, who negotiated the track the quickest in his Team AAI ADESS 03 LMP3 with a best time of 2m20.057. Incredibly, and largely due to the conditions assisting in levelling out performance between the classes, the only CN car competing over the weekend, PS Racing‘s Ligier JS53, driven beautifully by Neric Wei, qualified alongside the ADESS on the front row of the grid. The GT Cup pole for race one went to Robert Webb driving the #11 Team Lotus HK Evora GTC.
In the second session (to determine the grid for race two), Matthew Solomon, currently enjoying a successful season in the Australian GT championship where he campaigns a Mercedes AMG GT3, returned to Eurasia Motorsport, having had a fruitful 2014 season with them competing in the Single seater Formula Masters China Series, bagged pole position with the Wineurasia Ligier lapping in 2m18.852.
Sebastien Mailleux, repeating the excellent performance of his team mate, was responsible for putting the PS Racing CN car on the front row with a best lap time of 2m21.746. In GT Cup, Dominic Ang drove the #28 Team Lotus Evora GTC to the class pole and 4th place overall with a lap of 2m28.881. Sadly, one car that was unable to take part in qualifying and race one was the DC Racing Ligier LMP3 which had suffered gearbox problems, gear shift to be precise. A huge shame because this car is always a contender for victories in Asia.
Weather conditions were much better by the time racing got underway, hot and sunny, the most appropriate way to describe the Malaysian afternoon. Charlie Robertson made a terrific start and his PRT Racing Ginetta LMP3 took the lead from pole winner Ollie Millroy who lost a further spot on the opening lap to Aidan Reed‘s #94 Wineurasia Ligier. Robertson and Reed then pulled out a gap of a couple of seconds on the Pole winning ADESS, with the other ADESS 03 from Nexus Infinity racing placed in 4th.
This was how things looked until half way through the race and the round of pit stops, after which the complexion of the race changed significantly. Aidan Reed handed the #94 Ligier over to Matthew Solomon who exited the pits in the lead of the race, chased by the #67 Ginetta now being piloted by Ate de Jong, but unfortunately they had missed their pit window by six seconds and had to come back to pit lane in the closing stages of the race for a stop & go penalty which dropped them to third overall behind the #94 Team AAI ADESS.
Nexus Infinity managed to bring their car home in 4th place in the LMP3 catagory and 4th place overall, a little disappointed as they felt the car had the pace to enable their drivers, Garnet Patterson and Adrian D’Silva, to climb onto the podium. Rounding out the top 5 was the CN class car of PS Racing with drivers Neric Wei and Sebastien Mailleux with the #28 Team Lotus HK Evora winning the GT Cup class taking 6th place overall from the #11 Team Lotus HK Evora GTC.
Wineurasia made it two wins out of two, this time converting pole position into victory and for the second time in two days won at the Sepang International Circuit. It all seemed too easy as the #94 car lead almost the entire race. The day was made easier for them as their LMP3 rivals hit trouble, with Team AAI having gearbox issues of their own, forcing them to withdraw. Despite their bad fortune, they showed good will by donating a component from their car to fellow competitors, DC Racing, enabling their Ligier to compete, albeit having to start at the back of the field. Fantastic sportsmanship – one of the reasons we love sportscar racing so much!
DC Racing were up to second place by the end of the first lap but over the one hour race, try as they might, Jamie Winslow and Dean Koutsoumidis couldn’t quite catch the bright green and red machine but they turned their weekend around with a solid second place finish after such a tough start to the weekend, however this team are used to winning and will be anxious to get back to Sepang in August and set the record straight!! It was joy for the Nexus Infinity team as they achieved their goal to get their #27 ADESS on the podium after a sensible and solid race in which they started from 5th on the grid. The chassis, manufactured in Munich, seems to have found better reliability and strength over the short off-season, much better than the car showed during the 2015/16 Asian LMS season in the hands of AAI.
The PRT Ginetta LMP3 had a difficult afternoon, suffering oil pressure problems and off the track spins, could only manage a 4th place finish, however their efforts were rewarded with the fastest lap of the race (2m00.886). Finishing in 5th was the CN Ligier of PS Racing, having a second reliable and steady race in the hands of Sebastian Mailleux and Neic Wei ahead of the GT Cup winners, the #77 Team NZ Porsche, driven by Graeme Dowsett and John Curran, putting the disappointment of retiring on the final lap of race one behind them, with second and third place going to the #28 and #11 Team Lotus HK GTC’s.
It is fair to say the opening round of the Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup has been a success, with a good range of quality and diversity running through the grid. With the prospect of more teams joining the championship over the next two rounds we can expect another exciting event to unfold when the series arrives again at the Sepang International Circuit on the weekend of August 5-7.