Algarve Pro Racing survived the night and heads the LMP2 Pro-Am sub-category with the #45 CrowdStrike-liveried car of James Allen, George Kurtz and Colin Braun, three quarters of the way through the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans (10-11 June).
Central France had bathed in glorious June sunshine throughout testing, practice and qualifying, but dark clouds loomed ominously and rain was reported at the Dunlop Curve and Tertre Rouge 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 correctly chose to keep the CrowdStrike ORECA 07 LMP2 on slick Goodyears for the starting stint.
From ninth in LMP2 and second in Pro-Am, Allen took the Algarve Pro-run #45 prototype away into the twice-around-the-clock enduro and survived an incident-packed opening lap, which preceded a Safety Car.
The neutralisation prompted some to box early and Algarve Pro was tenth, at the head of Pro-Am when racing resumed, although there were frequent changes in the running order on the approach to the first round of LMP2 stops, which came at the top of hour one.
Allen’s pace was competitive and Algarve Pro managed to go a lap longer than most before boxing to refuel and install Kurtz, who held onto third position in Pro-Am until he was summoned back to pit lane early for a ‘cheap’ splash-and-dash, with multiple slow zones in force.
CrowdStrike’s Kurtz was stellar throughout his maiden Le Mans race stint, as he kept the #45 machine in the thick of the Pro-Am fight until a third-hour downpour prompted Algarve Pro to fit wet tyres and insert the super-experienced Braun.
With several cars slipping into the barriers and gravel on the part wet, part dry track, the Safety Car was redeployed until conditions stabilised, at which point multiple teams opted to pit.
Algarve Pro, though, once again stayed out a little longer than its rivals and progressed back up into the Pro-Am podium places when another torrent hit Circuit de la Sarthe at the six-hour mark, just in time for the squad’s scheduled fuel and tyre stop.
Allen returned to the fray and his lap times were blistering in all conditions while running as high as fifth in LMP2 and second in Pro-Am.
In fact, he was frequently quicker than and closed in on the class-leading #80 AF Corse machine, until Algarve Pro was forced to replace a regulation Accident Data Recorder shortly after midnight.
A Safety Car minimised the time-loss and, although the Portugal-based team plummeted to 14th in the overall LMP2 queue, it remained third in Pro-Am, and Braun deployed frontrunning pace to reascend to second soon after the green flags flew.
Algarve Pro eventually found itself in the lead after the #37 COOL Racing car boxed for repairs during the 11th hour, but the CrowdStrike prototype also returned to the pits with a puncture after running over debris, conceding P1 to the #80 car.
Kurtz was then plugged in and, the only Bronze-graded driver on the track at the time, he ran solidly in second place with a two-lap deficit to the leader and no immediate threat from behind as the 24 Hours of Le Mans passed half-distance.
The #45 crew made it through the night relatively unscathed and Allen was at the controls when daylight returned to Le Mans and, in a dramatic turn of events, the Pro-Am-leading #80 AF Corse machine’s race came to an abrupt end in a collision with the barriers at the high-speed Porsche Curves.
On lap 183 with a little over nine hours left on the clock, Algarve Pro took over at the head of LMP2 Pro-Am and has since maintained a comfortable four-lap buffer over its nearest challenger, the #37 COOL car.
George Kurtz (#45 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “My first race stint during the hours of darkness was good. I was the only Bronze driver out there on-track and my lap times were strong. I was just knocking out laps for a couple of hours before allowing James (Allen) and Colin (Braun) to take over to do their thing. I feel good and I’m pleased it didn’t rain as it did in my earlier stints. All-in-all, the track is great, the car is well balanced and all of the testing, practice and racing I’ve done this past week has been good training for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. You have to wait to see what the race brings you to a degree. They say Le Mans chooses you, so we’ll see where we are at the chequered flag, but we’re in good shape at the top of LMP2 Pro-Am at this point.”