Algarve Pro Racing Team battled to sixth and 18th in the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring (21-22 July).
Ryan Cullen, Harrison Newey and Gustavo Menezes jointly rose from 14th on the grid to fourth position during a dramatic, rain-affected race, but took the chequered flag in a highly respectable seventh place, while Ate Dirk de Jong, Tacksung Kim and Mark Patterson faced the weather and traffic-related challenges head-on to be classified 18th.
A positive and productive test at the Red Bull Ring on Wednesday (18 July) placed Algarve Pro Racing’s drivers on the front foot and enabled them to focus solely on race preparation, rather than single-lap performance in free practice on Friday (20 July) and Saturday (21 July);
The #31 ORECA 07 of Cullen, Newey and Menezes was 13th and 16th in FP1 and FP2 respectively as small, methodical setup tweaks were made in variable conditions;
A tyre-warming issue prevented the #31 crew from unlocking their true potential in qualifying and they were resigned to 14th on the grid;
Meanwhile, De Jong, Kim and Patterson achieved the 18th and 17th fastest times in FP1 and FP2 respectively, but completed the Bronze Driver Collective Test in sixth overall with a best lap of 1m24.432s;
The ELMS 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring got underway in dry conditions at 12.00 CET;
During a sublime opening lap, Cullen rose from 14th to tenth before latching on to the rear of High Class Racing’s Thomas Fjordbach, while De Jong enjoyed a clean, drama-free start from 18th on the grid;
Cullen moved up to eighth and held strong while keeping a watching brief on the three-way fight involving Tim Buret, Andrea Pizzitola and Konstantin Tereshchenko after the first round of fuel and tyre stops;
The first of many Full Course Yellows prompted Algarve Pro Racing to carry out its first driver-changes, switching Cullen for Newey and De Jong for Kim;
Eighth at the resumption of racing, Newey made a bold move for seventh while pursuing TDS Racing’s Loic Duval, who was himself catching United Autosports’ fifth-placed driver, Phil Hanson;
Heavy rain was on the horizon and localised showers reduced grip in the first sector of the 4.32km lap;
Unfazed, Newey made his way up to fourth to become ensconced in another battle with Norman Nato in second and Jean-Eric Vergne third, before giving way to teammate Menezes;
Kim, meanwhile, lapped solidly as conditions deteriorated to keep out of harm’s way in 18th, before passing the baton to Patterson;
Algarve Pro Racing’s engineers kept a keen eye on the sky, but tyre selection was a lottery as the rain changed in intensity;
After both switching to intermediates and then back to slicks, Menezes found himself in tenth and Patterson 18th, but the former made headway and concluded a dogged stint in sixth position.
Ryan Cullen (#31 APR-Rebellion Racing ORECA 07): “I felt I made another step forward this weekend. We found ourselves on the seventh row of the grid and I managed to make up places from the start to get us up to P8. There is a feeling of frustration, as we had the pace for a podium today, but there were some good battles out there and each place was hard-fought. Overall I’m pleased with my performance.”
Mark Patterson (#25 Algarve Pro Racing Team Ligier JSP2-17): “The result is a little frustrating, although the first two hours of the race were fantastic to watch; a lot of people span out and went into the gravel in the dry and I thought if we kept out of trouble and were steady, we would get ahead. Unfortunately, that never happened.
“Ate (Dirk de Jong) kicked things off and Tacksung (Kim) also did a good job and it looked like it was going to rain. The team called Tack in, threw me into the car and put me on slicks, before switching to intermediates. We didn’t have any front end on those tyres, so it was the wrong call, but once we got back onto slicks it was good fun, as I was really able to push! The Red Bull Ring is surprisingly physical – I really felt like I had done a double stint – and it’s now one of my top three European tracks.”
The fourth round of the 2018 European Le Mans Series – the 4 Hours of Silverstone – will be held on 17-18 August.