Algarve Pro Racing took a dominant and controlled LMP2 Pro-Am victory from the centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the #45 CrowdStrike car of George Kurtz, James Allen and Colin Braun (10-11 June).
It’s the Portugal-based outfit’s fifth LMP2 Pro-Am win in FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) competition – more than any other team – and its second consecutive sub-class triumph at the French endurance classic.
The result owes to a supreme attention-to-detail and a race management strategy that ensured its drivers stayed on-track for the duration of a chaotic race, characterised by inclement weather, a high rate of attrition, protracted Safety Cars and Slow Zones.
France’s Loire Valley had bathed in glorious June sunshine throughout testing, free practice and qualifying, but dark clouds loomed ominously and there were reports of rain in the first sector of Circuit de la Sarthe’s 13.6km lap during the ‘countdown to green’ on Saturday (10 June) afternoon.
Some readied wet weather tyres as the pre-race formalities came to a close, but Algarve Pro considered the prevailing conditions and chose to keep the #45 CrowdStrike-liveried ORECA 07 LMP2 on slick Goodyears.
Australian racer Allen had been selected for the starting stint and, from ninth in LMP2 and second in Pro-Am, he survived an incident-packed opening lap that forced the Safety Car to intervene.
Some chose to box immediately but Algarve Pro stayed out and was tenth in the LMP2 queue, at the head of Pro-Am when racing resumed, and Allen lapped competitively until the first round of pit stops, the bulk of which came at the top of the first hour.
CrowdStrike’s Kurtz was installed for his first ever Le Mans race stint and the American Bronze did a stellar job to keep the #45 prototype in the thick of the Pro-Am fight, until a third-hour downpour prompted Algarve Pro to replace him with the super-experienced Braun, who was sent out into the deluge on wets.
With spotters positioned on all sides of the track, the squad was primed and ready to react to the ever-changing conditions, but several teams were caught out by the cloudburst and the Safety Car was redeployed as cars from every class span, struck the barriers or became beached in the gravel beds.
Braun, though, kept his nose clean and progressed back up into the Pro-Am podium places when another torrent hit Circuit de la Sarthe at the six-hour mark, and teammate Allen continued pushing forward to second in class by pulling out lap times that frequently exceeded those of the class-leading #80 AF Corse entry.
The pursuit of P1 stalled when Algarve Pro was forced to replace an Accident Data Recorder at around midnight, but a Safety Car limited the time-loss and, although it plummeted to 14th in the overall LMP2 classification, the Portugal-based team remained in contention for a Pro-Am podium.
Braun turned up the wick at the resumption of green flag racing, ascending to first when the #37 COOL Racing machine boxed for repairs during the 11th hour, but the #45 crew’s grip on P1 was relatively brief, a debris-induced puncture forcing an unscheduled stop that enabled the #80 car to take the initiative.
During the early hours of Sunday morning, Kurtz headed out into the darkness; he was the only Bronze driver on-track at the time and his thorough preparations with the team ensured he ran cleanly and solidly in second place with a two-lap deficit to the leader, and that no threat emerged from behind.
Algarve Pro’s race engineers and strategists provided a near-constant feed of information to all three drivers, managing their pace and passes, keeping them informed of incidents and their causes, and encouraging them to take no unnecessary risks.
As a result, the #45 CrowdStrike prototype made it through the night unscathed and, in a dramatic turn of events as daylight returned to Le Mans, Algarve Pro went to the top of the Pro-Am leaderboard when the #80 AF Corse car sustained terminal damage in a high-speed collision with the barriers at the Porsche Curves.
With Allen at the controls and a little over nine hours left on the race clock, Algarve Pro held a comfortable four-lap advantage over its nearest challengers, and the team guided its drivers through each stint to ensure they stayed on the track and continued moving forwards.
The #45 Algarve Pro Racing crew was never headed and received the chequered flag after 322 tours of Circuit de la Sarthe to seal the LMP2 Pro-Am victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second year in a row, with the biggest winning margin of the 13 WEC LMP2 Pro-Am races to date.
George Kurtz (#45 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “I could never have imagined being on the top step of the podium in front of thousands of people at the centenary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It would have sounded absurd if someone has suggested it before race week, so I couldn’t be happier to be here and I’m just trying to soak it all in and enjoy the victory. The rain made the race pretty tricky and it was just important to not make any mistakes and look after the car, which we did brilliantly as a collective. It helped that Algarve Pro Racing gave us a great car to begin with. It all came together and I feel really fortunate to be on the top step.”
Colin Braun (#45 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “What a day! I’m super proud of James (Allen) and George (Kurtz) because they both drove really well, and it was a tough race with a lot of challenges. The most difficult was probably the weather; getting back to the pits on slicks when the early downpours came, and then driving on wet tyres after the Safety Cars was really difficult, but it’s always important to just keep out of trouble and set a reasonable pace in such a chaotic race.
“We survived it all, which was key, and Algarve Pro Racing did a phenomenal job; we had to replace a data sensor in the middle of the night and they switched that out well, also executing perfect pit stops and a great strategy, and it’s super cool to stand on the 24 Hours of Le Mans podium. What more could you ask for?”
James Allen (#45 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “This is the first time I’ve ever worked with George (Kurtz) and Colin (Braun), but I was really impressed with both of them when we first tested together at Monza, as they adapted well to the new aero kit and tyres on the LMP2 car. As a result, we hit the ground running and got everything sorted out quickly here at Le Mans, and it soon felt like our race to throw away.
“The 24 Hours of Le Mans is always a pretty special event, but particularly this year with it being the centenary. This is the third time I’ve been on the podium and the second time I’ve won, and it’s always amazing to see the entire pit straight full of people from the top step. It’s really impressive.”
Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal, Stewart Cox, said: “It’s a remarkable achievement to take the 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 Pro-Am win two years on the trot, and the way the race was managed by the team and drivers George (Kurtz), James (Allen) and Colin (Braun) was critical to our success. I can’t fault our attention-to-detail this week; we worked hard to prepare George for his Le Mans debut, with thorough track walks, incident and data analysis, and by showing him how the car feels at every stage of the day and night, in all conditions.
“Our pace and overtakes were managed, our guys were kept fully informed of incidents and other drivers’ mistakes, we had people on pushbikes reporting the weather in various locations, because the strategy was to simply keep the car on the track. Thanks to everyone involved for doing their jobs so brilliantly. I’m keen to enjoy this result and really let it sink in.”