Algarve Pro Racing extended its podium streak in international sportscar racing by fighting to second place in LMP2 Pro-Am in a dramatic FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (5-7 May), severely affected by heavy rain and stoppages.
Third place in the FIA WEC curtain-raiser at Sebring International Raceway in March preceded a team-best P2 finish in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Le Castellet, and the Portugal-based team has now finished runner-up in the WEC’s LMP2 Pro-Am classification at Spa.
In Qualifying, Algarve Pro went 11th in LMP2 and second in LMP2 Pro-Am after electing to limit itself to a single flying lap, to conserve a set of Goodyear tyres for the race proper.
The #45 crew was sixth after Rene Binder’s one and only flyer, and while the Silver-graded Austrian was certain he could have gone quicker, he, Steven Thomas and James Allen were more than satisfied with 11th.
American Am Thomas kept his nose clean and was 13th in LMP2 and second in LMP2 Pro-Am when the Safety Car collected the field at the end of the first racing lap, and he went on to run a quiet, uneventful opening stint.
Australia’s Allen was installed during the first round of pit stops and, with comparable pace to the class leaders on clear, traffic-free laps, he edged towards the #34 Inter Europol Competition and #41 Realteam by WRT entries in 11th and 12th respectively.
Light rain soon began falling on Spa-Francorchamps and the track was declared wet, but Allen pressed on and was mounting an attack on both the #34 and #41 cars when the race was halted for the first time.
Laps behind the Safety Car were followed by a second red-flag stoppage, thrown in response to intensifying rainfall, but the WEC field eventually returned to full racing speed, with the #45 Algarve Pro ORECA 07 12th in LMP2 and 2nd in Pro-Am.
Bronze-graded Thomas was reinstated and served out his minimum drive-time shortly after the neutralisations, and Algarve Pro pitted out of sequence to insert Binder before half-distance, when the weather was at its most extreme.
Conditions were such that the race became about survival, and a Full Course Yellow (FCY) preceded another Safety Car and red flag.
Despite being off the lead lap at the resumption of racing, Algarve Pro was able to take advantage of Binder’s impeccable turn of speed to progress to 11th, shortly before re-placing Allen at the wheel of the #45 ORECA as Spa’s track surface crossed over from wets to slicks.
In fact, for a moment it looked as though Algarve Pro would take the initiative in LMP2 Pro-Am when the #83 AF Corse entry received a three-minute stop/go, but the class leader was able to minimise the impact of the penalty by serving much of it under a FCY and the order remained unchanged.
Nevertheless, Allen breached the top ten and significantly reduced the gap to the eventual Pro-Am winner during the final hour, but he was pushed hard by the #10 Vector Sport car, which eventually found a way through into P10.
Thomas said: “I’m pleased with the end result but we always want to win the class. I thought Algarve Pro Racing did an amazing job, reacting well to the ever-changing conditions and executing terrific pit stops, and the engineers provided a well-prepared car that was good in both the wet and dry.
“I visited Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the first time two weeks before the FIA WEC round. It’s a great track – Eau Rouge is real – and I got up to speed quickly, which is important when up against some strong amateur drivers. For me, the main task was to get through the start without making contact, which I did, although it took a few laps to gain grip. I wish I had had more drive-time in the rain, but then conditions were extreme.”
Thomas continued: “Rene (Binder) was out there when the rain was coming down in sheets and, unlike many other Pros, he kept the car on the track and made progress. James (Allen), too, was seconds faster than those ahead of us, catching the Pro-Am leading AF Corse car at an impressive rate. To finish just seven seconds off the lead just makes us want to work harder and do better at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
Binder said: “The FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps was a very challenging race with many Safety Cars, Full Course Yellows and red-flag stoppages. At the end we finished only seven seconds behind the winners of the LMP2 Pro-Am class, which is both satisfying and a little frustrating, but I think it’s a very positive result overall and I’m very much looking forward to carrying this momentum into the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”