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Disappointed Algarve Pro Racing edges P8 result from tumultuous 24 Hours of Le Mans

Algarve Pro Racing was deeply disappointed at the end of a tumultuous 92nd 24 Hours of Le Mans (15-16 June), but valuable lessons will be carried forward along with an increased determination to win across its two-pronged 2024 campaign in Europe and the USA.

The Portugal-based squad edged an eighth-place result at Le Mans with the #25 ORECA 07-Gibson of Olli Caldwell, Matthias Kaiser and Roman De Angelis, unable to recover laps lost to the LMP2 leaders during a first-hour repair stop.

And CrowdStrike Racing by APR’s quest for a second consecutive LMP2 Pro-Am victory ended abruptly when the #45 protype’s left-rear wheel made a bid for freedom at the 11th hour, with Colin Braun, George Kurtz and Nick Catsburg running fourth in class.

Race performance had been at the core of Algarve Pro’s testing and free practice run-plans, and drivers expressed confidence and positivity about their prospects for the twice-around-the-clock enduro.

The 2024 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans commenced at 16:00 CEST on an unseasonably cool and blustery June afternoon, Caldwell starting the #25 Algarve Pro ORECA and Braun the #45 CrowdStrike-liveried prototype from 15th and16th respectively.

Progress was made by both drivers during the early exchanges, but a gust of wind tipped the #25 APR machine into a slide, and a slight brush with the wall before Tertre Rouge resulted in a broken front-left steering arm.

Algarve Pro’s mechanics leapt into action and replaced the damaged part in a quick turnaround so that Caldwell rejoined the race where he started in P15, still hopeful that he, Kaiser and De Angelis would have opportunities to recover lost laps in the remaining 23 hours.

It wasn’t long before APR returned to pit lane for wet Goodyears as a downpour swept in from the direction of the Porsche Curves, but the rain abated quickly and the team swiftly reverted back to slicks.

Caldwell went on to gain 13th position at the expense of the #45 CrowdStrike Racing car, which lost time when a slow zone ended while it was in pit lane for an emergency service.

Instability in the changeable conditions had been hampering the #25 crew’s progress, but the introduction of a high-downforce rear wing during De Angelis’s first stint significantly improved the car’s balance as day gave way to night.

A protracted Safety Car lasting more than 90 minutes took the race beyond the stroke of midnight and, eligible for the passaround, both Algarve Pro-run cars recouped a lap.

On a charge, Catsburg and Caldwell breached the top ten, the latter turning in car-best lap times in the cool of the night.

Unfortunately, CrowdStrike Racing’s hopes of repeating its 2023 LMP2 Pro-Am class win were dashed when the #45 car’s left-rear wheel broke loose on an out-lap from a routine pit stop during the 11th hour.

However, Algarve Pro had to put its disappointment to one side and push on with the #25 entry, which was still in a solid ninth place as Le Mans hit mid-distance.

It was then that heavy and persistent rain left Circuit de la Sarthe in an “unraceable” condition, and competitors trundled around in a four-hour Safety Car procession that took them well beyond sunrise on Sunday morning.

The weather eventually stabilised and the field was unleashed with one third of the race to run, but Caldwell, Kaiser and De Angelis were still off the lead lap and unable to make an impression on the LMP2 frontrunners.

Rain intervened again late on, but Algarve Pro ran cleanly and managed to elevate the #25 ORECA to eighth at the back end of a turbulent 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Olli Caldwell (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “My start was good and I gained ground while staying out of trouble. However, we were only a few laps in when I had a massive snap of oversteer seemingly out of nowhere just before Tertre Rouge. It sent me wide, I touched the wall and bent the steering, which is very disappointing.

“Our car balance was unstable in the changing conditions, but we added quite a lot of rear downforce and the car gave a lot more confidence. We also stayed out of harm’s way and avoided any further mistakes, but we needed a bit more luck to get back on terms with the LMP2 leaders.”

Matthias Kaiser (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “I think we all hoped for more from the 92nd 24 Hours of Le Mans, because we knew we had more than an eighth-place result within us. A small error early in the race may have put us back, but we never gave up, pushing through what were very difficult conditions without making any further mistakes.

“My first race stint in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA was difficult but ultimately went quite well. Like Olli (Caldwell), I suffered with a loose rear-end, but we took an opportunity to add a bit of rear downforce in a later pit stop and the balance seemed to improve. However, our competitors also kept their noses clean and that prevented us from closing the gaps to them.”

Roman De Angelis (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “We knew that because the LMP2 class is so competitive, filled with high-calibre drivers, it would take some lucky breaks to get the laps that were lost in the opening stint back. We simply didn’t have those opportunities and ended two laps behind the eventual winner, but we can be satisfied that our pace was comparable and everyone executed well.

“My first 24 Hours of Le Mans has been an amazing, insane experience. I prepared well to ensure I did the best possible job for Algarve Pro Racing, but there’s only so much you can do. For example, only one of my nine hours in the car was dry and it was a completely different beast in the rain. I ran on a full range of tyres, including slicks on a wet track, and that’s something you just wouldn’t test. I really enjoyed the whole experience.”

Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal, Stewart Cox, said: “To say we’re disappointed would be an understatement. Both the #25 Algarve Pro Racing and #45 CrowdStrike Racing by APR cars fell off the lead lap pretty much straight away and, while we had good pace, each of our attempts to regain ground were unsuccessful, opportunities like Safety Cars not doing enough to help us.

“We had an incredibly poor run through the night and made an awful blunder with the #45 CrowdStrike car in a pit stop, which is really unlike us. We have to rethink and intensify our pit crew’s training, because losing a rear wheel meant there wasn’t enough drive to get a perfectly good race car back to the pits. It was heartbreaking to have to retire.”

Cox continued: “People often say that you win as a team and you lose as a team. We won last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans Centenary as CrowdStrike Racing by APR and we really thought we would be strong in this year’s race, but we’ve taken a big kick and it hurts.

“We won’t be blaming anyone, as we’re all pushing hard and it only takes a tiny lapse for mistakes with big consequences to happen. There were some unreal conditions during the night and it has been a strange Le Mans on the whole, but we’ll bounce back and I guarantee we are going to fight damn hard to win next weekend’s IMSA Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.”

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