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Algarve Pro Racing seals top five and Pro-Am Trophy win on home turf in Portimao

Algarve Pro Racing completed the 2019 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with a top five and a Pro-Am Trophy win for John Falb, Olivier Pla and Andrea Pizzitola on home soil at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (25-27 October).

In free practice, the #25 crew had excellent pace and featured highly on the timesheets while working through issues;

On Friday (25 October), Algarve Pro placed fifth in FP1 with #25, thanks to Pla’s time of 1m33.363s, while the #31 crew of James French, Henning Enqvist and Tacksung Kim experimented with alternate setups;

Falb and Kim recorded the second and fourth-best laps of the Bronze Collective Test, the latter possessing high levels of confidence from the outset of testing on Wednesday (23 October);

Algarve Pro Racing – the home favourite – carried its speed into Saturday (26 October) morning, Pla breaching the 1m32s barrier to finish the 90-minute FP2 session in third;

However, traffic prevented the French racer from maximising the Dunlop tyres’ peak grip in the early stages of his LMP2 Qualifying run, and #25 was subsequently resigned to tenth on the starting grid, with the sister #31 car 17th;

A dramatic start to the ELMS 4 Hours of Portimao claimed several victims, but Falb in the #25 ORECA 07 kept out of harm’s way and French emerged from the chaos with light damage to the #31 car’s front dive planes;

Falb and French, who both chose the outside line through the first three turns, made up places as the incidents unfolded and were fifth and 12th at the end of lap one when the Safety Car was scrambled just before the red flags flew;

There was an extended delay while the Portuguese marshals cleared the track of stricken cars, debris and spilt fluids;

The race was restarted behind the Safety Car after a 55-minute stoppage;

At the resumption of green-flag racing, Falb consistently found speed and initially stay on terms with the top four, while French moved up one spot to 11th before serving a drive-through penalty for an alleged jump start;

The Safety Car reappeared and prompted Algarve Pro to box both cars – Falb stayed aboard #25, but French was replaced by Kim in #31, which also took on a replacement nose section;

Racing resumed with 2h35m on the clock and Algarve Pro ran 11th and 17th with #25 and #31 respectively;

The #25 car, which had lost 30 seconds in the pits after rear-end contact behind the Safety Car forced Algarve Pro to replace a damaged legality panel, cycled back through the field and was second overall at the end of Falb’s superlative 37-lap stint;

Kim was also running competitively in hot pursuit of Dragonspeed’s Henrik Hedman, and the South Korean used superior traction out of Turn 15 to drive around the outside of the #21 entry on lap 25;

France’s Pla emerged from the driver-change in ninth, but progressed to eighth and reduced a 27-second deficit to the seventh-placed #32 Panis Barthez Competition car over the course of his stint;

Following the penultimate round of scheduled pit stops, Enqvist slotted into 12th overall, maintaining position for French’s return to the #31 cockpit during the fourth and final hour;

Control was passed from Pla to Pizzitola on lap 64, and the outgoing ELMS Champion was soon up into P7 with the recovering #26 G-Drive Aurus of Jean-Eric Vergne looming large in his rear-view mirrors;

Vergne ramped up the pressure with 20 minutes remaining, showing his nose more frequently, but Pizzitola was able to respond by upping the pace;

Algarve Pro Racing led on home soil before pitting for a final splash of fuel, but ultimately received the chequered flag as the Pro-Am Trophy winner in fifth place overall with the #25 ORECA 07 of Falb, Pla and Pizzitola.

John Falb (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07): “Finishing with a top five finish and the Pro-Am victory feels absolutely mega. We’ve been working so hard all year and all I’ve wanted to do is spray some Champagne on the European Le Mans Series podium. We pushed really hard to get a result here in Portimao, on Algarve Pro Racing’s home soil. It’s a nice reward for everybody.”

Olivier Pla (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07): “It’s great to end the 2019 European Le Mans Series on the podium. Algarve Pro Racing provided perfect conditions in the race and I believe finishing in fifth place as the first of the Dunlop runners was the most we could have hoped for. It was important to finish as high as possible – we wanted to do it for John (Falb) – and it’s a great reward to stand on the podium to receive the Pro-Am Trophy.”

Andrea Pizzitola (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07): “I’m very happy with a top five result to end the 2019 European Le Mans Series. We did the best possible job as a team. The car was so good that I would have been delighted if we finished seventh – we had to push the whole way through the race, but the car was capable of that and it’s particularly nice that John (Falb) got to spray some Champagne on the podium.”

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