Algarve Pro Racing was on for a solid top five finish until its bold and daring race strategy was thwarted in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (7-9 August).
The Portugal-based team ultimately ended a drama-filled race at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in ninth overall with the #25 ORECA 07 LMP2 of John Falb, Simon Trummer and Gabriel Aubry, and 12th with Henning Enqvist, Jon Lancaster and Loic Duval in the #24 car.
In testing on Wednesday (5 August), Algarve Pro Racing focused all its attention on optimising its long-run performance, although the same was true of free practice, because rather than pushing for headline times in FP1 and FP2, the Goodyear technical partner used the sessions to learn more about the slick tyres ahead of Sunday’s four-hour race.
Everything went as anticipated; Falb notably topped the Bronze Collective Test, and a qualifying lap of 2m04.644s from Lancaster was good enough for seventh, although the Algarve Pro driver was third of the Goodyear runners limited to a single timed run.
Meanwhile, a frustrated Aubry in the sister #25 machine set his best time on his first flyer, but the Frenchman’s 2m05.200s wasn’t a true reflection of his pace; having selected the wrong gear at La Source, he lost six tenths of a second in the first sector.
Nevertheless, Algarve Pro felt it had a good grasp of the Goodyear rubber come raceday.
Enqvist and Falb took the first stints in the #24 and #25 cars respectively, and while both drivers lost track position during sensible opening laps, Algarve Pro’s prospects looked strong.
In eighth position, Enqvist’s attention was initially held by the pursuing #35 BHK Motorsport car of Francesco Dracone, but the #31 Panis Racing entry of Julian Canal soon emerged as the Swede’s main threat.
Unfortunately, places were lost after a protracted Safety Car intervention, Enqvist falling to the outskirts of the top ten, where he faced a growing challenge from the #50 Graff and #39 Richard Mille Racing entries.
The intensifying fight ultimately cost Enqvist time and allowed Falb in the #25 ORECA to take over as the lead Algarve Pro Racing contender after the first round of fuel stops, having pitted out of sequence with the bulk of the LMP2 field on lap 18.
However, the running order changed again when Algarve Pro switched the #24 crew to an alternate strategy by installing Lancaster and brimming the car with fuel much earlier than anticipated.
The spotlight was firmly on Lancaster, who lapped at roughly the same speed as the leaders, even in traffic, and seemed well-placed to pick off several rivals as pit strategies unfolded.
Algarve Pro’s tactical gamble, combined with Lancaster’s sublime pace, saw the #24 crew go from 13th to fourth with an assailable deficit to the top three runners, while Trummer in #25 also made headway into the top ten.
In fact, Lancaster got to within eight seconds of the podium while eking out 19 laps on a tank of fuel as track temperatures soared to 50 Celsius, but opportunistic stops by other LMP2 teams during a Full Course Yellow (FCY) negated Algarve Pro’s strategic advantage.
Trummer, meanwhile, was just six seconds off the eighth-placed #39 Graff entry before his mid-stint fuel stop, which was conducted as dark clouds descended on Spa.
Wet Goodyear tyres were kept close at hand, but it wasn’t until later, after Lancaster had stepped aside for Duval and Trummer for Aubry that the heavens opened and a wet track was declared.
Algarve Pro responded to the deteriorating grip levels by boxing Duval for grooved Goodyears, but to the team’s frustration, the rain dissipated quickly, and a stop for slicks and to fuel the #24 car to the finish was conducted with 40 minutes remaining.
Both Aubry in #25 and Duval in #24 enjoyed the cooler conditions and matched the leaders for pace in the 2m08s to ultimately receive the chequered flag in ninth and 12th respectively.
John Falb (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “We had a really good race. I was a bit unlucky in my first stint because the timing of the Full Course Yellow put us out of sequence with the main LMP2 pack and that meant we ended up ninth. That constitutes a small improvement over last time out in Le Castellet.”
Simon Trummer (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “We had some balance issues in testing and worked very hard to rectify those. We made some progress in time for the race, and the balance was pretty good, especially in cooler temperatures, but we need to take another leap in performance to reach the very front. Both John (Falb) and Gabriel (Aubry) were really quick and I hoped for something a bit better, perhaps inside the top five.”
Jon Lancaster (#24 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “A mixture of bad luck, misjudgements and a bit of risk-taking to make up for what we had lost at the start made for a frustrating race. There’s no reason why that couldn’t have reached the podium, so we’ll analyse the way the race panned out to hopefully do better next weekend in the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Spa. We’re always learning and making positive things happen, so it’s a shame we haven’t been able to collect points. If we can qualify higher up the grid we should be capable of converting our pace into results in the remaining races. I’m very much looking forward to the FIA WEC at Spa, where we will apply what we’ve learnt to hopefully come away with something strong.”