Algarve Pro Racing demonstrated its skill and determination by pulling off a masterful rebuild of one of its ORECA 07 LMP2s after it was involved in a horrifying crash during the build-up to the 2019 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Spa (20-22 September).
The #31 ORECA LMP2 prototype’s high-speed collision with the wall at the top of Spa’s infamous Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex caused significant damage to the car’s chassis, and with no available spare tubs, the team worked into the early hours of Sunday morning to meet the high standards set by race organisers, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and the FIA.
A day of testing on Wednesday (18 September) enabled Algarve Pro to home in on optimal setups prior to the race weekend proper;
The results were clear for each of Algarve Pro’s six drivers during FP1 on Friday (20 September), each reporting that significant strides had been taken but more work could be done;
Algarve Pro sat on the cusp of the top ten at the conclusion of the first 90-minute free practice session at Spa;
The Kloc Uhrwerk-backed team was a close second in the Bronze Collective Test with the #25 ORECA 07 of John Falb, who was a short way ahead of Tacksung Kim’s fourth-placed #31 machine;
A time of 2m04.343s put the #25 crew – Falb, Olivier Pla and Andrea Pizzitola – at the head of Algarve Pro’s FP2 charge in 14th position;
Prior to second practice on Saturday (21 September), further setup changes were made to the #31 to stop the car bottoming out in the first sector, but particularly along the Kemmel Straight;
Henning Enqvist was immediately up into the 2m04s but had a high-speed collision with the wall at the top of Raidillon. Mercifully, the young Swede got out of the car unaided and was given the all-clear after being taken to Spa’s on-site medical centre for precautionary checks;
The car’s chassis was severely damaged in the shunt and, with no spare tubs available, Algarve Pro faced a mammoth overnight repair job;
Against all odds, Algarve Pro completed the rebuild at 5:00 on Sunday (22 September). The car was deemed raceworthy by the scrutineers and would join the back of the LMP2 grid;
The ELMS 4 Hours of Spa began at 12:30 on Sunday, with Las Vegas racer Falb starting 11th in the #25 and fellow American James French 16th in the repaired #31;
Falb made use of a clean opening lap to breach the top ten, but lost tyre performance and fell back behind French, who was on a march;
A Safety Car prompted many teams, including Algarve Pro, to box early, bur a significant delay as French was switched for Kim took the #31 entry off the lead lap;
Falb stayed aboard the #25 for 1h15m and completed a strong double stint in 12th, passing the baton to ELMS Champion Pizzitola before Enqvist made his first appearance in #31 since his FP2 crash;
Pizzitola and Enqvist initially ran in 13th and 14th on the road, but the former was soon troubling the top ten.
Pla was installed in #25 at mid-distance and the Frenchman filtered back into 11th;
A second Safety Car played to the #25 crew’s advantage, bunching up the field and placing them in the fight for a top ten finish;
Algarve Pro rose as high as ninth with the #25 as rivals carried out their fifth and final pit stops. The Portuguese team minimised its time-loss and stayed inside the top ten by switching Pla for Pizzitola during a Full Course Yellow;
Enqvist ran a lonely race in 13th and French maintained position on his return to the cockpit, when he proved capable of running at the leaders’ pace in the 2m08s.
James French (#31 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “Hats off to Algarve Pro Racing for getting us out into the race, because it wasn’t looking so good after Henning’s incident. It was a fantastic effort and a testament to the strength of the ORECA 07 LMP2 that Henning made it out uninjured. The team prepared an awesome car that had absolutely no mechanic issues during the race, which is a miracle in itself, the car having been in such a terrible state on Saturday.”
Henning Enqvist (#31 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “It was a massive effort from Algarve Pro Racing. The team did a really great job to put the car back together to a standard that satisfied the scrutineers so we were able to start the race. Unfortunately, we were on the back foot because we didn’t have any feedback from FP2 or Qualifying, but it was a very good recovery nonetheless. I’m just delighted to have had an opportunity to race and finish my stint.”
Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal, Stewart Cox, said: “I’m very happy with the outcome, because on Saturday night we were only racing with one car. The team did a fantastic job mechanically to get everything fixed to a standard that the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the FIA and ORECA were all happy with. In fact, I have to give a big thanks to ORECA for their assistance, as it wouldn’t have been possible to get the #31 car out without them.”