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Dubai podium keeps CrowdStrike Racing by APR in Asian Le Mans title hunt

CrowdStrike Racing by APR pressed on to a third-place finish in the 2023-24 Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Dubai (2-4 February).

The #4 crew of George Kurtz, Colin Braun and Malthe Jakobsen scored 15 points for P3 to keep themselves in the title hunt with only the two-part grand finale at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi (10-11 February) still to come, while the #25 Algarve Pro Racing trio of Chris McMurry, Freddie Tomlinson and Toby Sowery produced an impeccable performance to finish sixth in Dubai.

It was an Algarve Pro Racing one-two in Free Practice 2, so drivers felt there was more to extract from their cars when the #4 CrowdStrike Racing entry qualified seventh (1m50.182s) and the #25 APR tenth (1m51.020s).

However, in a strong, clean start to the Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Dubai for both Algarve Pro-fielded cars, CrowdStrike Racing’s Kurtz held station in seventh while McMurry lifted the #25 ORECA 07-Gibson two positions to eighth before an early Safety Car deployment.

Kurtz initially pressed the sixth-placed #3 DKR Engineering, which dived in for an earlier-than-expected pit visit, but the field spread and a resurgent #83 AF Corse soon arrived on the scene to initiate what would be a prolonged fight for P6.

Lapped traffic threatened to play a part in the battle but American Am Kurtz stood his ground until his first stop, after which CrowdStrike Racing ascended into the top four.

The tussle between the #4 and #83 raged on, though; places were traded, Kurtz initially losing out but recovering fourth in a slick overtake in the tricky downhill braking zone for Turn 1 as the race entered its second hour.

A Full Course Yellow (FCY) then prompted many, including CrowdStrike Racing by APR, to switch drivers and, after serving a drive-through penalty for track limits abuses, Braun surged forward and was back up inside the top four when the 2023-24 Asian Le Mans season reached half-distance.

Having been kind to his Michelin tyres early on, he was able to home in on the third-placed #25 APR car and then reduce a 30-second shortfall to the race leader all the way to the last driver-change to Jakobsen.

A welcome Safety Car preceded a feisty three-way fight for second place that saw Jakobsen take two cars in one fell swoop around the outside of Turn 14, before going on to set fastest laps as he tried to take chunks out of the leader’s advantage.

However, a longer final pit stop demoted the #4 crew to third and efforts to re-catch the top two contenders were ultimately unsuccessful, CrowdStrike Racing by APR rounding out the podium places and retaining second in the Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 Teams and Drivers standings, albeit with an extended 20-point deficit.

George Kurtz (#4 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “We had a shot at winning the Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Dubai, but there were a couple of things that didn’t go our way and some miscommunication around track limits and tyre management. We minimised the damage to our championship bid and are still in a pretty good spot going to Abu Dhabi, but you always want to come away with more. The drive-through penalty put us behind and in dirty air, and we got jumped for second because we required more fuel at the end. We’ll regroup and focus on Abu Dhabi, but it’s a tough series and you have to give credit to the other teams.”

Colin Braun (#4 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “It was a pretty nice job by CrowdStrike Racing by APR. It’s another podium, George (Kurtz) and Malthe (Jakobsen) did great work and we had good pace. It was definitely a “management” race where you had to take care of the tyres in order to have grip at the end of your stint. I may have gone too easy at first but was super-quick in my second run, and I had a lot of fun in what is my first trip to Dubai Autodrome. Overall, to knock off another podium is great, but we all want to win races. We’ve learnt a few things and we’ll put it all together for Abu Dhabi.”

Malthe Jakobsen (#4 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “We finished P3 and that isn’t the result we hoped for, because we always expect to win. We showed we had the pace to do it, but there were a few misunderstandings that didn’t help our cause. The #99 and #22 cars had a small fuel advantage that put them out front and, while I tried my best, I didn’t have the pace to go after them and battle for the win in the second phase of my stint. Nevertheless, we all did good work to fight our way through the field, I had some nice battles and executed at least one cool overtake. I had fun out there.”

After the early Safety Car, McMurry in the #25 ORECA relinquished eighth position to the pacey #83 AF Corse, but there were gains in the pits and the Bronze-graded American found himself in sixth and looking for a way back past the #83, as well as the #4 CrowdStrike car of stablemate Kurtz.

The #3 DKR later split the Algarve Pro-run entries, but there was a shuffling of the order when many teams boxed in reaction to a second-hour FCY, McMurry giving way to Tomlinson.

In an impeccable performance that belied his relative inexperience in LMP2 machinery, Tomlinson not only pegged the race-leading 99 Racing car for pace, but also responded to a stern challenge from the chasing #3 car.

Unfortunately, a pass off the track and the #3 entry’s subsequent failure to give back the position went unpunished, but Tomlinson was nevertheless a fixture of the top three for much of a stellar double stint that took him well into the third hour.

The Safety Car was scrambled shortly after the final driver-change to Sowery, who asked a lot of questions of the #3 in the fight for P4 while also keeping the chasing #55 Proton Competition car at arm’s length, but flat-spotted tyres left the INDY NXT racer vulnerable and he completed another solid race stint on the edge of the top six.

Chris McMurry (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “Considering we have a line-up consisting of young drivers with only two or three LMP2 races under their belts, and an Am who hasn’t been in Le Mans Prototypes for five years, running as high as second and finishing sixth is a decent outcome. That said, we all feel we could have finished a few positions higher and we have good momentum going into the final two rounds of the season in Abu Dhabi.”

Freddie Tomlinson (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “It’s my first LMP2 race at Dubai Autodrome and I had fun. There was a lot of work to do in my stint, because there were quite a few battles with class rivals and I’m just getting to grips with the car and things like traffic and tyre management, which was a bit of an issue in Dubai. I’ll take this experience forward to Abu Dhabi and see if we can do better there, because the whole field is really fast, competitive and performing at a high level. There has been a lot to absorb, but I feel it’s going well and it’s something I’m really enjoying.”

Toby Sowery (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07-Gibson LMP2): “It has been quite a while since my last visit to Dubai Autodrome, but of course this is my first LMP2 race here. The track surface is abrasive and grainy, so tyre degradation is a big issue. Nevertheless, our pace has been strong and we were looking good. It’s frustrating that we struggled a little more towards the end of the race. We knew from the opening round at Sepang that the Asian Le Mans Series field is tough, and LMP2 is only getting stronger. It’s never going to be easy and you need to get everything right to be in contention for the win.”

Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal, Stewart Cox, said: “There’s no doubt we should have won the Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Dubai because we had a quick enough car in the #4 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07. George (Kurtz) managed the tyres well but went too easy on them and then there was the drive-through for track limits – both are ultimately down to the fact pit-to-driver communications could have been much better.

“In the #25 Algarve Pro Racing car, Chris (McMurry) was the best of the new Bronze drivers. Freddie (Tomlinson) did a really great job, but the second part of his stint was quite difficult because he killed his front tyres while trying to pass cars in traffic. Toby (Sowery) is a Silver-rated driver who’s also doing a really good job; he was instructed to go on maximum attack and showed well against some established Pros, and it was only because a small lock-up left him with a flat-spot that he lost track position at the very end.”

Cox added: “There were undoubtedly some nice strategic calls, such as when we boxed during a Full Course Yellow, but also some mistakes. Both the #4 and #25 cars required too much fuel in the final stops and that cost us around five seconds to the leaders. Overall, it’s disappointing. Our cars were quick on a green track at the start of the week, but temperatures staying low and the circuit rubbering up helped everyone else more. For Abu Dhabi we’ll see what we have up our sleeves.”

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