Algarve Pro Racing was “assaulted” and taken out of a comfortable race-winning position in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Barcelona, having set the pace from the earliest stages of official testing (19-23 April).
The Portugal-based team was well and truly in control of P1 with the #25 ORECA 07 of Kyffin Simpson, James Allen and Alex Lynn, until the car was tipped into the gravel by a careless LMP2 rival who was trying to unlap themselves.
The collision dashed all hopes of victory, as the #25 trio fell off the lead lap and was ultimately resigned to eighth overall and fifth in class, with the #20 entry of Fred Poordad, Jack Hawksworth and Tristan Vaultier 14th on the road and eighth in Pro-Am.
Algarve Pro set out its stall early, as it held the initiative throughout the Prologue, the 1m30.223s set by Allen good enough for P1 on day two of testing but not eclipsing the 1m29.691s he registered the previous morning, to be the only driver to dip below the 90-second mark.
The pace was just as hot throughout free practice, but Algarve Pro was pipped to pole by just 0.039s in the very final moments of qualifying, Allen’s best time still netting him, Simpson and Lynn a spot on the front row of the grid.
A clean start to the 4 Hours of Barcelona ensured Simpson kept the #25 ORECA in second and, after a Safety Car, he went with the leading #47 COOL Racing entry, breaking away from the main LMP2 pack.
The Barbadian eventually found a way through into P1 and really stretched his legs, drawing out a healthy advantage until teammate Allen was inserted into the cockpit to continue the good work and keep the opposition at arm’s length.
In fact, Allen possessed a comfortable 11-second cushion when, at half-distance, Algarve Pro’s hopes of the Barcelona win took a big hit; contact from a lapped LMP2 car left the #25 beached in the gravel, the team falling off the lead lap to 12th overall and sixth in class.
Fired up, Allen featured inside the top ten before the end of his race run, and although Lynn also had a great deal of forward momentum during the final hour, he could only take the team to eighth in the combined classification and fifth in LMP2.
Poordad, meanwhile, progressed from 15th to 11th overall and sixth in Pro-Am during his first ever ELMS race stint but was ultimately demoted back to his original starting position of eighth in the LMP2 sub-category.
The #20 machine was passed to Hawksworth in the first driver-change on lap 24, and the Lexus Racing works driver made an instant impact, quickly ascending up into the top ten overall and fifth in Pro-Am.
From there, teammate Vaultier climbed as high as fourth during solid stints that were punctuated by another appearance by American Am Poordad, and the trio ultimately came home 14th overall and eighth in class.
Kyffin Simpson (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “Tough race! The first hour and a half went really well; the car was super quick and I was able to get into P1 in the opening stint, pulling out a pretty good gap over those behind. James (Allen) was really unfortunate to be taken out by lapped traffic. He got beached and that was that.
“However, James, Alex (Lynn) and Algarve Pro Racing all pushed hard to get back as much time as possible, but coming from a lap down was always going to be a challenge. We finished P5 in the end. I have to thank James and Alex for their efforts and Algarve Pro for executing a flawless week. We were just unlucky, and I’ve really enjoyed my time in Barcelona.”
Fred Poordad (#20 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “Well, we got the first European Le Mans Series race under our belts. It was a long week in Barcelona and my goal was to learn as much as possible. We finished eighth in class and can now build on that result over the course of the season. I’m super grateful to my teammates, Jack (Hawksworth) and Tristan (Vaultier), and to Algarve Pro Racing’s engineers, who all showed great patience with me. In fact, the whole APR crew is amazing, always giving us a competitive car, so I’m already looking forward to the next round in Le Castellet.”
James Allen (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “This result is definitely a tough one to take, as the car had good speed all week. I qualified well, Kyffin (Simpson) drove exceptionally and handed me the car in the lead, which I was able to hold onto until I was hit by a lapped car, leaving me in the gravel. I expected more care from a driver trying to unlap themselves from the race leader.
“Ultimately, it’s very disappointing to not walk away with the win I felt we deserved, but I can’t thank Algarve Pro Racing and my teammates enough for everything they have done to make us as competitive as we were in Barcelona. We will take the points and move on, focusing on the next round of the championship.”
Jack Hawksworth (#20 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “We had a very strong car from the moment we took to the track in the Prologue. Algarve Pro Racing has obviously worked hard over the winter and has provided a very quick package. In fact, both team cars were incredibly rapid in the race and, although we didn’t achieve the results our pace deserved, there are plenty of positives to build on for the rest of the 2023 season.”
Alex Lynn (#25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “It’s a disappointing end to an amazing week in general. The whole Algarve Pro Racing team flew from the very beginning of the Prologue to the very end of the race, but, sadly, one thing went wrong and that was enough to cost us the win. We won’t get disheartened because we have a lot of pace in our car and driver line-up, so we’ll regroup, go to Circuit Paul Ricard and take what we feel is ours.”
Tristan Vaultier (#20 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “It was a difficult day for us in the end, but the biggest positive is that Fred (Poordad) has been incredibly competitive, considering his lack of experience in LMP2. He improved throughout the week, which is very good for us moving forward.
“Both Algarve Pro Racing cars were also very quick; we were often the fastest cars on-track, so if we put everything together, we can definitely aim for top five results in LMP2 Pro-Am, which is brilliant, given that this is Fred’s first year in prototypes and downforce cars in general. As a result, I’m looking forward to the next round in Le Castellet. We’ll keep digging!”
Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal, Stewart Cox, said: “We had super quick cars all week long, since the very beginning of the Prologue, and we deserved to win the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Barcelona. Our drivers were performing brilliantly and we were in complete control of the race, in a management phase, not pushing and almost toying with the competition. We pretty much had it in the bag because we would have been able to pull even further away had we pushed, but there was no need.
“I didn’t want to make any comment on the day of the event because I was livid and needed time to think about what I want and need to say. Ultimately, to have had the victory stolen from under us due to an idiotic divebomb move is tough to take, but what’s more painful is that there are no real consequences for hitting the race leader and taking them out. The sport and the stewards need to take a good look at themselves, as people look to sport, particularly at a high level like this, for an education, and an example of how to behave. What they learned in Barcelona is that it’s ok to assault people because there’s no real punishment or downside. You’ll get away with it. We’ll be reviewing how we go racing.
“A drive-through penalty that equates to approximately 23 seconds is not proportionate, in my opinion. How is it right and fair that the person who did the hitting can be third when the one who was assaulted finishes a lap down? It’s like breaking into someone’s house, robbing them and getting a warning. I’d like to thank all the drivers who messaged me in support, all agreeing with me that there was basically no penalty. I’m certainly hoping for some redemption next time out, and there’s no reason why we can’t be just as strong in the remaining rounds.”