Algarve Pro Racing has tightened its grip on the overall European Le Mans Series (ELMS) championship and extended a lead in the LMP2 standings after executing a textbook run from pole to victory at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (22-24 September).
By converting a stunning pole position into a P1 result in the ELMS 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with the #25 ORECA 07-Gibson of Kyffin Simpson, James Allen and Alex Lynn, the Portugal-based squad will take a 15-point advantage into the season-ending double-header on its home soil at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (20-22 October).
Barbados-born Simpson led the 40-strong ELMS field away from the very front of the grid and, although a Safety Car thwarted his earliest efforts to scamper away, the newly-confirmed 2024 IndyCar driver was able to pull a gap once back up to full racing speed.
After the first round of routine stops, Algarve Pro’s lead extended to approximately 25 seconds as Simpson kept to a prescribed pace to save fuel while navigating lapped LMP2 Pro-Am, LMP3 and GTE traffic for the remainder of an impressive double stint.
However, Allen was second to the #22 United Autosports car when he entered the race during hour two, but his rival was on a contrary strategy that was compromised by another Safety Car and the Australian happily resumed the lead at the restart.
Still fuel-saving, he was unable to drop Racing Team Turkey by more than four seconds for much of a first stint that was interrupted and extended by successive Safety Cars and Full Course Yellows, but swift, well-timed pit stops ensured Algarve Pro recovered the high ground whenever new threats emerged.
In fact, the Portuguese-flagged team got the better of both COOL Racing entries in pit lane, finally leapfrogging the #37 car during a fourth Safety Car, which fell neatly during the final LMP2 fuel window.
Algarve Pro’s pit crew was some six seconds quicker than the opposition in the last round of pit visits but the #25 car was still fourth in the train, behind teams that had stopped earlier and were fuel-saving intensely during the drawn-out neutalisations that followed.
Their attempts to reach the finish without a further splash-and-dash were in vain, and Algarve Pro reclaimed its rightful place at the head of the field with seven minutes to go, Lynn completing a flawless run to a second ELMS win of the year.
The point for pole had put Algarve Pro level with Duqueine Team in the ELMS LMP2 Teams and Drivers standings, but the Spa triumph gives it a 17-point cushion, with 15 points over the nearest opposition in the overall classifications and two races remaining in Portimao.
In LMP2 Pro-Am, Bronze-graded Fred Poordad bogged down off the line and was in among the LMP3 pack when the Safety Car collected the field, following a multi-car incident at the first pinch-point, La Source.
The American Am lapped in a relatively lonely ninth-place in class to the end of his double stint, which preceded Viscaal’s first Spa race appearance in the #20 ORECA, beginning during the second hour.
The first task was to chase down the top eight in Pro-Am, but a second neutralisation brought him into play with the #21 United Autosports USA machine, which he harried and passed, to then rise all the way up to fifth.
In fact, as the last of the LMP2s to stop during a third Safety Car, the Dutchman led the race outright until he was summoned back to pit lane to pass the baton to Vautier, who found himself contesting an LMP2 Pro-Am podium with the #83 AF Corse machine, only to receive a nudge that sent him into a spin and put the #20 down in seventh overall and sixth in class on the very last lap.
James Allen (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “It’s so great to come away with our second win of the 2023 European Le Mans Series, to both extend our overall championship advantage and take the lead in LMP2. It was certainly a wild race and, while we definitely had the pace, it was more down to being both clean and smart with strategy and pit stops. I can’t thanks Algarve Pro Racing’s engineers and mechanics enough for the sharp strategy calls and pit stops that made sure we were always in a good position. I’m really proud of their effort, as well as Alex (Lynn) and Kyffin (Simpson), and I can’t wait to get to the season finale in Portimao.”
Alex Lynn (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “The European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps was very strategic. Some races you win with pure speed and others you win by making the right decisions at the right time, and I think we had both at Spa. I have to say this weekend was textbook by Algarve Pro Racing. We’ve been wanting to put on a display like this all year and I’m proud we did it.”
Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal, Stewart Cox, said: “The stop/start nature of the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps made it difficult because we had very quick cars and knew we were capable of gapping the field quite easily, so we would have preferred the race to run green throughout. That was taken away by all the Safety Cars and Full Course Yellows, but while it’s frustrating, that’s the game and it was then about managing the restarts and making sure there were no mistakes in the pit stops.
“The Spa win is unquestionably a great result but there’s still a long way to go, with 50 points still up for grabs in the remaining two races in Portimao. It’s our home track and we’ve done a fair bit of testing there, but it’ll only take a change of track and weather conditions to throw all of that knowledge and data out of the window, so we take nothing for granted.”