Algarve Pro Racing is in the thick of the LMP2 Pro-Am fight, having kept its nose clean in the rain-affected, incident-packed and Safety Car-dominated opening six hours of the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans (10-11 June).
Official testing (Sunday 4 June) was positive for the #45 Algarve Pro crew, as Le Mans rookie George Kurtz got up to speed quickly and, although the sessions were punctuated by yellow flags and slow zones, Colin Braun also found a rhythm around Circuit de la Sarthe, which he last visited way back in 2007.
The aim for the first free practice session of race week on Wednesday (7 June) was for Kurtz and Braun to rack up as many laps as possible, to understand the procedures and rulesets while working through the predetermined run-plan.
Experienced Australian racer James Allen was then elected to qualify the #45 prototype and he put Algarve Pro ninth in LMP2 and third in the Pro-Am sub-category after his first flyer of the stop/start 60-minute session, compressed somewhat by a pair of red flags.
There was a lot of movement in the times at the restart and Allen himself chiseled away, setting a 3m35.578s to provisionally secure a place inside the top eight, but the pace increased further and Algarve Pro ultimately wound up just two tenths off the time required to participate in Thursday’s (8 June) Hyperpole session.
However, race preparations continued apace in Free Practice 2 as the sun set on Wednesday evening, and again in FP3 and FP4 the following day.
Kurtz and Braun completed their five mandated laps under the cover of darkness, and some quick times were extracted from the #45 ORECA, even with Algarve Pro fully focused on long runs.
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 teams readied wet weather tyres as the pre-race formalities came to a close, but Algarve Pro correctly chose to keep the CrowdStrike-liveried ORECA on slick Goodyears for the start of the centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
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 the Pro-Am sub-category 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 on lap 19, 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 install 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 and circulated for a protracted period until conditions stabilised, at which point several teams opted to pit.
Algarve Pro stayed out a little longer and that decision put the team fourth in Pro-Am, but, since its latest driver-change from Braun back to Kurtz, it has progressed even further and held P2 at the six-hour mark.
James Allen (#45 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “It has been a chaotic first quarter of the 100th anniversary 24 Hours of Le Mans. We have seen several changes in conditions that have caught out a lot of teams and drivers. At the moment, we’re just trying to keep our nose clean as much as we can, hoping that climatic and track conditions settle moving forwards into the night.”