Algarve Pro Racing heads LMP2 Pro-Am with James Allen, Steven Thomas and Rene Binder in the 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (11-12 June).
The #45 trio retook the initiative and gapped their class rivals soon after the sun rose over Circuit de la Sarthe on Sunday morning, as Sophia Flörsch, John Falb and Jack Aitken in the sister #47 car also regained more ground.
An innocuous-looking collision with the wall late on in FP2 on Wednesday (8 June) resulted in heavy damage that necessitated a complete ground-up rebuild of the #45 ORECA 07 that took Algarve Pro’s mechanics right through Wednesday night to the following afternoon.
Having been unable to participate in Qualifying-Practice, Allen, Thomas and Binder were obliged to start the twice-around-the-clock endurance race from the back of the grid, but the former was quick to rise to 18th in LMP2 and fifth in Pro-Am in the opening stint.
Thomas was installed in the #45 at the top of the first hour and the American Bronze stood his ground during a stellar double race run, and Binder pushed on to successfully reduce the deficit to the Pro-Am leading #39 Graff Racing and #83 AF Corse machines.
As darkness descended, Thomas, Allen and Binder crept up to the very top of the LMP2 Pro-Am classification, but the order shuffled incessantly throughout the night and Algarve Pro eventually fell off the lead lap with the #24 Nielsen Racing, #83 AF Corse and #3 DKR Engineering entries all in close proximity.
For a while it looked as though the win was out of reach for Algarve Pro, but the Portugal-based team retook the initiative shortly after daybreak and set about stretching its advantage, pitting during slow zones to stay ahead of the competition.
However, it hasn’t been plain sailing for Flörsch, Falb and Aitken because, moments after the race started, the #47 machine slowed to a halt with an overheating gearbox actuator.
Flörsch trundled back to the pits and, although five laps were lost while mechanics resolved the issue, the ORECA has since run faultlessly and competitively, Aitken setting car-best lap times in the 3m33s after taking the controls two hours into the race.
The #47 crew pushed on into the night and soon regained a lap on their class rivals, but there was little scope for further improvements as Le Mans debutant Aitken completed a long night drive before Falb and Flörsch returned to the fray during the early hours of Sunday morning.
But efforts to recoup lost laps were unrelenting and the team eventually moved up to 24th in LMP2 and seventh in Pro-Am at the expense of the #35 Ultimate entry shortly after the sun rose on France’s Loire Valley.
Sophia Flörsch (#47 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “I did a quadruple stint towards the end of the night, stepping out of the car at around daybreak. It was a tough one with all the slow zones, but I’m pleased we survived the night and we’re still trying hard to gain back the laps we lost in the first ten minutes of the race.
“The motivation hasn’t lessened but the goals have changed, because rather than targeting a podium finish in LMP2 Pro-Am, it’s now all about making up as many places as possible and not finishing last. Algarve Pro Racing has worked incredibly hard all week and it’s really sad that our car had the failure at the start, but it’s racing at the end of the day.”