The Algarve Pro team made another significant step in its European Le Mans Series experience for its last race in the 2016 season. From the top 5 of the starting grid, the #25 Ligier JS P2-Nissan and its drivers challenged the current LMP2 championship leaders for a potential third-place finish.
For Algarve Pro and the other ELMS contenders, the penultimate round of the 2016 season marked the comeback to the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, one of the favourite layouts of racing drivers from all over the world. In the Belgian Ardennes, the team welcomed back Michael Munemann, teaming up with Swiss Jonathan Hirschi and Andrea Pizzitola, the young promising French talent from the Renault Nissan Alliance.
The race weekend started with the second position for the blue and white #25 Ligier at the Bronze Driver Collective Test. After establishing once again its regular position in the overall top 10 in Practice 1 and 2, Andrea Pizzitola qualified 5th overall and headed the pack of the five Ligier LMP2 chassis competing in Belgium.
Michael Munemann started the race under sunny conditions. He safely overcame the first major difficulty of the race start at the La Source hairpin and completed lap 1 in P9. He had an eventful first stint with a short safety car period at the end of lap 1 and a Full Course Yellow on lap 9. But he kept a consistent pace and was holding the 10th position overall before handing over to Jonathan Hirshi after 50 minutes of racing.
The Swiss driver got back on the race track amidst the cars of the LMP3 category and fought his way back into the overall top 10. After 90 minutes of racing a second safety-car period was very beneficial for the #25 Ligier. Many cars rushed into the pit lane at that moment. So did Hirschi and when the race was back to green he climbed up to P5, 20 seconds from race lead.
Another safety car period occurred at mid-race. The team took this opportunity to call the Ligier back into the pit and put Andrea Pizzitola at the wheel. At race restart (90 minutes before the chequered flag) the young Frenchman was 7th. Another series of pit stops by the leading cars brought the Renault Nissan Alliance driver in contention for the overall podium. 45 minutes long Pizzitola firmly established the #25 Ligier in the provisional overall top 4, briefly reaching P2. With 30 minutes remaining, Pizzitola showed a remarkable drive, battling with the current leaders of the LMP2 standings for P3 until the last 5 minutes.
Despite Pizzitola’s runoff in the last five minutes, Algarve Pro completed its best ELMS race to date. The car’s reliability and team’s growing competitiveness certainly open for a bright future in the top positions.
Stewart Cox, the team owner’s final words after Algarve Pro’s last outing in the 2016 ELMS : “Michael did really well in the Bronze session. In FP2 we did not get a clear lap in the traffic but we were quite happy with the pace and we had a really nice car. All three drivers were very pleased with the balance. Qualifying was fantastic and we were the fastest Ligier, but we could not outpace the Orecas in the straights in terms of top speed. Even though we finished in the gravel we were within the lead lap, which we did not achieve before. As we could see we pushed the current LMP2 standings leaders at the end of the race. Andrea gave his best shot today, we were the second quickest in Sector 2. The safety car periods also helped us a lot, we had a good strategy. Challenging the championship leaders is something I’m really proud of, and from this side I am really pleased with the team. Through this season we also challenged the reigning champions, and we were ahead of them today. Since they are around for a long time, it is a fantastic step for the team, a real big achievement.”