Algarve Pro Racing Team overcame several hurdles to finish the Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Zhuhai in second and third overall (29-30 October).
A significant delay at Chinese Customs meant Algarve Pro’s cars, parts and equipment only arrived at the Zhuhai International Circuit late on Thursday (27 October) evening, but a concerted effort by the team ensured it was just about ready to send its cars out in free practice.
On the backfoot with little or no time to complete its typical preparations, Algarve Pro resolutely soldiered on, confident that the speed and consistency its cars possessed while testing in inclement conditions earlier in the year would translate to strong performances in both qualifying and race trim.
A toss of a coin determined who would take the reins in the rain-affected qualifying session on Saturday (29 October) and Andrea Pizzitola and Andrea Roda were selected for the job.
A stunning time of 1m38.155s from the former was enough to take the #25 to pole position for the Asian LMS 4 Hours of Zhuhai, while the latter recorded a 1m40.540s to guarantee third on the grid for the #24 machine.
In the race proper, Michael Munemann got a superb launch from pole position and battled an experienced LMP2 field on cold hard-compound tyres to emerge from the first sequence of turns in second place overall, before utilising his supreme pace and timely Safety Car interventions to strengthen his position prior to the first driver-change.
Nicky Catsburg was next to step up to the plate, but the rapid Dutchman was shackled behind a Race Performance ORECA after the stop and a collision caused the #25 Algarve Pro entry to spear off into the barriers.
Despite being beached in the gravel, Catsburg was eventually able to recover to the pits where Algarve Pro’s mechanics replaced damaged front-end bodywork before releasing the car back into the race with severe and irreparable war wounds at the rear.
Pizzitola was left to conclude the four-hour contest and valiantly overcame his Ligier’s heavily compromised aerodynamics to set the fastest lap of the race – 1m29.510s – on his way to third in the final classification.
In the sister #24 car, Tacksung Kim was tasked with starting a race for the first time in his career. The Korean racer initially lost ground but overcame his nerves and significantly improved his laptimes before handing over to Matthew McMurry.
A sterling double-stint from the American followed and ensured Roda took charge of the #24 Ligier with a 20-second lead over the pursuing Jackie Chan DC Racing entry.
However, an ill-timed Safety Car negated Algarve Pro’s advantage and the initiative was lost to its rivals at the next pit stop, resigning the Portuguese outfit to a slightly underwhelming second-place result.
Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal, Stewart Cox, said: “It was an incredibly hard week and everybody involved with Algarve Pro worked tirelessly to make it happen and come back strongly. Considering where we were on Thursday with no cars or equipment, I think we did pretty well and filling second and third positions is respectable.
“I am disappointed that Nicky (Catsburg), Andrea (Pizzitola) and Michael (Munemann) didn’t win because I saw this as our best opportunity to reach the top step, but our data shows that Nicky wasn’t at fault in the incident with the Race Performance car, contrary to the stewards’ ruling; the guy in front overtook under yellows and we know Nicky braked 20 metres earlier than you normally would. Andrea (Pizzitola) did a stellar job to make headway thereafter.”
Cox continued: “In the #24 car, starting the race was a learning experience for Tacksung Kim and he did well to improve once he got over his nerves. Matthew (McMurry) was supremely good while driving a new car at an unchartered circuit in an unfamiliar championship. He certainly delivered on our expectations, and Andrea (Roda) also did a superb job up against drivers who are vastly experienced.”