The final in Asian Le Mans Series was run under the beating sun and 32 degrees at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.
Spirit of Race #8 with Pipo Derani, Come Ledogar and Alexander West started from Pole Position in LMP2, Algarve Pro Racing #25 with Anders Fjordbach, Chris McMurry and Mark Patterson had LMP2 Am pole an an overall fifth starting position, United Autosports #2 with Wayne Boyne, Garett Grist and Chris Buncombe was the fastest in LMP3, while Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88 with Xu Wei, Chen Wei An and Dries Vanthoor was the best GT car on the grid.
There was action right from the start, where Spirit of Race #8 got a huge jump on the field, when the lights went out. Fjordbach in the #25 had a really good start and was on an overall third, while teammate Ate Dirk de Jong in the #24 fell back to 6th in LMP2.
The LMP3 class was mixed up too, with the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 driven by Nick Adcock fell back to P6. Adcock didn’t have the same pace as qualifier Christian Stubbe Olsen, so there was no surprise in that.
Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 in the LMP3 category and TF Sport Aston Martin #5 in the GT category both had to do a 120 seconds Stop & Go due to engine changes earlier in the weekend. 120 seconds is about a lap, so it would be a tough day for them.
There were changes in the GT category too, with Tianshi Racing Team #66 taking the lead, and TF Sport #5 sitting second (until their penalty), Carguy Ferrari #11, before we found the Pole car #88 in P4. The championship opposition to #11, Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 was last in the category, but only until #5 served its penalty.
The stewards thought the Spirit of Race #8 had started a bit too well – actually a jump start! Pipo Derani had gone on the gas way way too early, and that was why the big gap to the rest of the field emerged. That gave the team a Drive-through penalty, costing them the lead of the race.
United Autosports #23 was also handed a Drive-through penalty, for having crossed the white line, when they exited the pits for the grid – before the start of the race. A silly and costly error by Patrick Byrne, but far from the first time that we’ve seen it in motorsport.
So that made United Autosports #22 with Phil Hanson take the lead of the race, ahead of Anders Fjordbach in the Algarve Pro Racing #25 and Panis Barthez Competition #35 with Jean-Baptiste Lahaye. The penalty for #8 sent them back to P4, 19,5 seconds from the race leader.
TF Sport Aston Martin #5 got an extra penalty, when the stewards thought they had jumped the start – a drive-through for them.
Just 20 minutes into the race we had Viper Niza Racing #65 with Nigel Moore taking the LMP3 lead – after the exact same driver made the big mistake of wearing non-FIA homologated shoes in the car, when he drove the car to Pole Position in the category. And that resulted in a disqualification from the quali, making them have to start from the rear of the category.
There was a very nice battle in LMP3, with Kay van Berlo in the United Autosports #3 trying to get past teammate Garett Grist in #2, while Colin Noble in the Ecurie Ecosse #79 tried to get past #3. It all ended up with #3 losing positions to both #79 and the championship leading Inter Europol Competition #13.
Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88 had a solo spin in the fast Turn 14, and lost about 10 seconds before Xu Wei eventually got going again.
Both Algarve Pro Racing cars pitted after 43 minutes of racing, to do their first fuel stop and driver change. The swap from Fjordbach to Chris McMurry in the #25 didn’t go too well, so they lost 26 seconds to their #24 teammates – just in the pitstop…
The United Autosports #22 was leading LMP2 after one our of racing, Algarve Pro Racing #25 led in LMP2 Am, Viper Niza Racing #65 in LMP3 and Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 in GT.
United Autosports #2 had a really long first pitstop and fell all the way back to P7 in the LMP3 category.
Christian Stubbe Olsen in the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 got a warning for contact with the Car Guy Ferrari #11, but both cars could continue without any issues.
Inter Europol Competition #13 took the LMP3 lead after 75 minutes of racing, but had United Autosports #3 and Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79 right in its wheel tracks.
Michelle Gatting took over from Margot Laffite in the R24 #50 LMP3 car after 80 minutes of racing. It was a bit of a lonely P8 at the time, with quite a gap to both the cars in front and behind her.
The Safety Car was called just minutes later, when the Spirit of Race #8 stopped on the circuit due to gearbox issues. Alexander West managed to get the car going again – but it got the whole field bunch up. That gave a completely new twist to the race, since all the gaps in the various classes was gone again.
Some of the teams used the opportunity to pit and swap the drivers.
That send Panis Barthez Competition #35 to the front of the field, ahead of Algarve Pro Racing #24, when the race went back to green.
United Autosports #23 had a solo spin with Salih Yoluc behind the wheel, losing about 15 seconds to the competition. They ran into further troubles just shortly after, since they had overtaken a car during the Safety Car, which is a big no-no – so that cost them a Drive-through penalty.
Francois Heriau had a spin in Turn 9 in the Panis Barthez Competition #35 after contact with Chen Wei An in the Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88, but got going again, even though Heriau lost 20 seconds. The stewards looked at the incident, but decided none of the drivers should have the blame for it.
Michelle Gatting in the R24 #50 and Michael Simpson in the ARC Bratislava #44 had a battle for 8th and 9th in the LMP3 category, with the positions swapping and changing a few times, matching each others laptimes.
Algarve Pro Racing #24 was leading LMP2 at the halfway point, United Autosports #23 was leading in LMP2 Am, while United Autosports #3 was ahead in LMP3, and Car Guy Ferrari #11 were the leaders in GT.
Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 didn’t make things easier for themselves, when they were caught speeding in the pitlane, which resulted in a Drive-through penalty, to the already served one, earlier in the race.
Algarve Pro Racing #25 put Anders Fjordbach back in the car with an hour and 48 minutes to go. It was the plan for the rapid Dane to finish off the race, which could be a challenge in itself, with the now 34 degrees air temperature.
Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 had a solo spin in the final corner, and lost about 20 seconds. They had already dropped to 4th in the GT category, so that didn’t make much of a difference, in the battle for the podium positions.
United Autosports #3 had a spin in Turn 14, and lost the LMP3 lead to Inter Europol Competition #13, who was heading for a potential Championship and Le Mans ticket – with 75 minutes left of the race.
Tianshi Racing Team Audi #66 was in a serious trouble shortly after, where Qi Peiwen ended up with a stranded car, where the left front wheel had a very different steering angle to the right front wheel. That resulted in the second Safety Car of the day, sending even more ripples through the field.
Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 had 16 minutes in the pits, but the majority of it was under Safety Car, where the mechanics were working in the engine bay.
United Autosports #3 got a Drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane. They however had such a gap to P4, that they could keep third for the time being.
Fjordbach in the Algarve Pro Racing #25 had target acquired on the LMP2 Am lead and overall third in the race. United Autosports #23 was 7 seconds ahead of the Dane. Between #23 and #23 we also had Panis Barthez Competition #35 running, and that combined with Fjordbach having the ARC Bratislava #4 with Darren Burke right up his neck, didn’t make it easy for him, having to keep glancing in the mirrors.
Christian Stubbe Olsen was put in the Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 with 62 minutes to go, and was therefore able to go to the flag without further scheduled pitstops. The team was on their way to a potential podium position in LMP3, if they could keep the pace up, and stay out of trouble.
The final hour of the race started with Algarve Pro Racing #24 as LMP2 leaders, United Autosports #23 as LMP2 Am leaders, Inter Europol Competition #13 as LMP3 leaders, and Car Guy Ferrari #11 as the GT leading team.
Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88 got a Drive-through penalty, since they team had abused the track limits a bit too much during the first three hours of the race. They had been warned several times, and by keep doing the same thing over and over, the hammer ended up falling hard on them.
Spirit of Race #8 pitted with 55 minutes left of the race, and didn’t return – the gearbox issues were too big to make it sensible to continue.
United Autosports #22 got a 20 seconds pitstop penalty for an error during one of the previous pitstops. They had plenty of time to the third place car, but it would open up a bigger gap to the leading car.
Algarve Pro Racing #25 was all of a sudden slow on the track, and Fjordbach ended up having to park the car on the track, without being able to drive it back to the pits. That was a really sad end to the season for them. And that basically handed the LMP2 Am championship and a Le Mans ticket to ARC Bratislava #4, as long as they would take the chequered flag.
There was drama again with 30 minutes to go, when the United Autosports #23 were in troubles, with Guy Cosmo stopping on the track. After a couple of minutes of delay, he managed to fire up the car again, and return the car to the pits. But with gearbox issues hampering them too, they never returned to the track either.
Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 with Christian Stubbe Olsen behind the wheel in LMP3 was running second in the category, about one minute behind the leading Inter Europol Competition #13, and about 43 seconds ahead of his teammates in the #79.
Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79 and United Autosports #2 made contact with each other, when Chris Buncombe in #2 tried to overtake Tony Wells around the outside. After a few seconds of delay, we had both cars racing again. Both cars were handed a warning for the contact.
#7 received a Drive-through penalty, since Olsen had overtaken in a yellow flag zone. That didn’t cost them any position, since the gap to United Autosports #3, who were the new third placed car, was so large.
After 4 hours and one lap of racing in Malaysia, we had the Algarve Pro Racing #24 with Andrea Pizzitola, Harrison Newey and Ate Dirk de Jong as winners, ahead of United Autosports #22 with Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson plus Panis Barthez Competition #35 with Jean-Baptiste Lahaye, Matthieu Lahaye and Francois Heriau.
In the LMP2 Am category, we unfortunately only had the ARC Bratislava #4 with Miro Konopka, Ling Kang and Darren Burke crossing the finishing line, while United Autosports #23 with Guy Cosmo, Patrick Byrne and Salih Yoluc plus Algarve Pro Racing #25 with Mark Patterson, Chris McMurry and Anders Fjordbach both having to retire.
The LMP3 category was won by Inter Europol Competition #13 with Martin Hippe and Jakub Smiechowski, ahead of Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #7 with Nick Adcock and Christian Stubbe Olsen, while United Autosports #2 with Chris Buncombe, Garett Grist and Wayne Boyd finished P3.
Michelle Gatting, Margot Laffite and Katherine Legge drove the all-female R24 #50 home on 8th place in the LMP3 category.
Car Guy Ferrari #11 with James Calado, Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino made a clean sweep of the 2018/19 season, but winning 4 our of 4 races. Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88 with Dries Vanthoor, Xu Wei and Chen Wei An finished second, while Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 with Alessandro Pier Guidi, Ozz Negri JR, and Francesco Piovanetti finished third.
In the Championships we had Car Guy Ferrari #11 gabbing the GT title in impressive manor, ahead of Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 and Tianshi Racing Team Audi #88.
Inter Europol Competition #13 won the LMP3 title ahead of United Autosports #2 and Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen #79 with Tony Wells and Colin Noble.
ARC Bratislava #4 won the LMP2 Am title, from United Autosports #23 and Algarve Pro Racing #25.
United Autosports #22 won the LMP2 title ahead of Algarve Pro Racing #24 and ARC Bratislava #4.
The four class winners all gets an automatic entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 2019 – if they want to go. But the four winners this season 99,9% want to take the trip to France.
We all know a lot more about that this Friday, when the final starting spots are handed out to the big race.
That was the end to a truly amazing Asian Le Mans Series 2018/19 season. There was excitement right from the very first meter in Shanghai three months ago, and right until the finishing line was crossed today in Malaysia.
The 2019/20 season starts on 24 November at the Formula 1 circuit in Shanghai, with another fantastic season waiting for us.