Algarve Pro Racing Team was wiped out of the running for a podium finish in a cruel twist of fate during the dramatic and truncated European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (21-23 September).
The #31 ORECA 07 ran as high as second, thanks to a stunning opening stint from Gustavo Menezes, and the car remained in podium contention until it was struck by a wayward GTE-spec Porsche that had been sent spinning in a separate collision with the #26 G-Drive Racing entry.
Matt McMurry returned to the fold as a temporary replacement for Ate Dirk de Jong, who will race as part of Algarve Pro Racing’s 4 Hours of Portimao line-up;
McMurry, aged 20 from the USA, set a best time of 2m31.735s while reacquainting himself with the #25 Ligier JSP2-17 on a wet-but-drying track during FP1;
The rain-affected FP1 session ended with the #31 APR-Rebellion Racing ORECA 07 in second overall, after Gustavo Menezes set a 2m20.715s when Spa was at its best;
The Bronze Collective Test, held on a dry track, brought Friday’s running to a conclusion, and Mark Patterson took Algarve Pro Racing to the fifth fastest time (2m14.206s);
In FP2 on Saturday (22 September) morning, Menezes recorded a new team best time for Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. His 2m02.769s was some 1.5s faster than Algarve Pro Racing’s fastest time from testing (Wednesday 19 September), and the American felt the car could be improved further;
Slick tyres were required for LMP2 qualifying. Menezes took Algarve Pro Racing to fifth on the grid with a time of 2m01.665s, while McMurry completed the session in 15th and without an engine cover, after slamming the sausage kerbs at Eau Rouge-Raidillon;
Forecasted severe weather prompted ELMS organiser, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, to change Sunday’s (23 September) schedule and start the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps 75 minutes earlier than planned;
Persistent rain fell during the build-up to the race and forced officials to implement a Safety Car start;
After four laps behind the Safety Car, the ELMS field was released into a plume of spray. Unfazed by the poor visibility, Menezes carved his way from fifth to third on the first racing lap;
McMurry’s opening stint was cut short, as an Safety Car deployment prompted Algarve Pro Racing to carry out an early driver-change and insert South Korea’s Tacksung Kim into the #25 Ligier;
At the restart, Menezes hounded the championship-leading G-Drive Racing entry of Andrea Pizzitola, applying unrelenting pressure until the Frenchman made a mistake by running wide across the gravel at Stavelot;
Ryan Cullen took the reins of the #31 ORECA and remained in podium contention until he was struck by a wayward GTE-spec Porsche that had been sent spinning in a separate collision with the #26 G-Drive Racing entry;
Cullen returned the ailing ORECA to the pits, where Algarve Pro Racing replaced all damaged body panels before sending the car back into the race, albeit a long way from the third place it had previously occupied;
Sadly, a driveshaft failure – a legacy of the contact – brought the car to a stop and caused another Safety Car intervention;
Just prior to the neutralisation, Mark Patterson stepped into the #25 Ligier. He climbed to 13th in class when the Safety Car was deployed, and then race officials chose to red-flag the race as conditions worsened at the two-hour mark.
Mark Patterson (#25 Algarve Pro Racing Team Ligier JSP2-17): “At the beginning of my stint, I was still in the ‘enjoyment zone’ of racing, but it got to a stage where you were no longer accountable for what the car did underneath you and that isn’t fun. Under Full Course Yellows and behind the Safety Car, the windscreen starts to fog up and you literally can’t see the lights of the car ahead of you. We had an alternate strategy, which was first actioned when we switched Matt (McMurry) for Tacksung (Kim) early in the race. We hoped it would help us achieve a top ten result. We covered more miles on the lead lap than ever before, so the strategy was working and we had a fighting chance of a maiden top ten.”
Matt McMurry (#25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2-17): “The trickiest part was on the first racing lap, as I was behind a long train of LMP2 cars in 14th with absolutely no visibility. It was a matter of survival and just figuring out where the line was to stay out of harm’s way. I wish we had been able to go to full distance because we were capable of finishing higher than 13th, but the rain did eventually come down harder and there wasn’t really much more than officials could do.”
The European Le Mans Series concludes with the 4 Hours of Portimao at Algarve Pro Racing’s home circuit, Autodromo do Algarve (26-28 October).