Algarve Pro Racing won the 2018-19 Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Sepang (22-24 February) to finish runner-up in the final championship classification.
In a flawless team performance, Ate Dirk de Jong, Andrea Pizzitola and Harrison Newey possessed supreme speed and benefited from inspired, reactive strategic calls to secure their second victory of the 2018-19 Asian Le Mans season at a hot and humid Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.
The final weekend of the 2018-19 Asian Le Mans Series began with an Algarve Pro Racing one-two in FP1 on Friday (22 February) afternoon;
The #25 Ligier JSP2 of Anders Fjordbach, Chris McMurry and Mark Patterson headed the times on a 1m54.986s, a full second ahead of the sister #24 car of Newey, Pizzitola and De Jong in P2;
It was the #24 that topped the times in the second phase of free practice on Saturday (23 February) morning with a time of 1m55.211s;
Algarve Pro Racing set the pace during much of the quick-fire qualifying shootout, but Pizzitola’s best (1m55.407s) ultimately assured the #24 crew of third position, while Fjordbach went fifth fastest on a 1m55.840s to head the Am Trophy order;
The Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Sepang itself was held in typically hot and humid ambient conditions on Sunday (24 February) afternoon;
A lock-up in the braking zone for Turn 1 saw De Jong tumble from third to sixth, but Fjordbach was ready to pick up the baton as the lead Algarve Pro charger in P3 overall;
Fjordbach, sat at the head of the LMP2 Amateur Trophy order, matched the race-leading #8 Spirit of Race and #22 United Autosports cars for pace to stretch his advantage over the rest of the field;
However, the #8 Spirit of Race entry would be served with a drive-through penalty for jumping the start, promoting Algarve Pro Racing’s Fjordbach to second place overall;
De Jong, meanwhile, gained one place when the #23 United Autosports car was also served with a drive-through;
Fjordbach pegged the leading #22 United Autosports car of Phil Hanson for pace throughout the opening stint, but McMurry climbed aboard the #25 in the first round of LMP2 pit stops, when de Jong relinquished the sister #24 machine to Pizzitola;
France’s Pizzitola emerged from the pits in fifth, but lapped significantly quicker than those ahead of him to steadily reduce his 1m20s deficit to the outright leader, clearing both McMurry and Spirit of Race’s Alexander West to breach the podium places entering the second hour;
However, a timely Safety Car prompted Algarve Pro Racing to pull its drivers in for earlier-than-scheduled second stops, the team’s quick strategic thinking ultimately propelling Pizzitola to first position with a healthy 11-second advantage over United Autosports’ Paul di Resta;
The final driver changes were conducted with 1h45m remaining. Denmark’s Fjordbach replaced Patterson in the #25, before Newey took the reins of the race-leading #24 car;
Algarve Pro doubled its lead over United Autosports in the penultimate round of stops, but a second Safety Car significantly reduced the Portuguese team’s 22-second advantage;
The Safety Car punctuated a storming stint from Fjordbach, whose pace was unrelenting in the stifling heat; the Danish racer recorded purple sector times to rise from seventh to fifth, and he continued closing in on Panis Barthez Competition’s Jean-Baptiste Lahaye in fourth overall until the #25 car slowed to a halt at Turn 10 during the final hour;
At the Safety Car restart, Newey and Hanson breached the 1m55s barrier while trading purple sectors in the fight for the outright victory, but Algarve Pro’s BRDC Superstar found an extra gear to build a sizeable buffer and seal a convincing win in the curtain-closing 4 Hours of Sepang.
Ate Dirk de Jong (#24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2): “To finish on the top step of the podium in endurance championships like the Asian Le Mans Series is what I’ve been working towards since starting car racing three years ago. We finished first at Fuji, second in Buriram and first here at Sepang, but the non-points score in Shanghai hurt us and meant we ultimately finished second in the championship. Nevertheless, I’m happy with my performance in the last two races; my stint at Sepang was relatively easy because it was much shorter than Andrea’s and Harrison’s. It took a little bit of time – about five or six laps – to find a rhythm, but it then went pretty well. Andrea and Harrison, though, did an insanely good job all season.”
Andrea Pizzitola (#24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2): “The Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Sepang was a really nice race and I’m so happy to have finally won with Ate (Dirk de Jong). It’s a hugely satisfying result, particularly as it was such a difficult race in the heat. It was a superb effort by Algarve Pro Racing, which made some great calls, including to triple-stint the tyres for Ate and me. Ate and Harrison (Newey) did a great job in their stints. For me, it was just a case of not making any mistakes and giving the car to Harrison in one piece so he could finish the job.”
Harrison Newey (#24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2): “Ate (Dirk de Jong) and Andrea (Pizzitola) made my life easy, because I was given the car in the lead. The Safety Car cut our lead down, but the car felt fantastic – Algarve Pro Racing did a great job with it all weekend – and I just had to bring it home.”