Pole and podium kickstart Nick Foster’s Asian Le Mans title challenge
Were it not for one small issue, Eurasia Motorsport should have won the opening round of the Asian Le Mans Series, but as it was second position and pole position was still a very solid start to the season today (24 November 2019) at Shanghai International Circuit.
The team fielded two Ligier LMP2 entries for the four-hour race; the #36 driven by Aidan Read, Nick Foster and Roberto Merhi who led the way from the front of the field, only for issues entering the pits resulted in the runner-up position. The sister #1 Eurasia Racing New Zealand showed great promise, but disappointingly was forced to retire at quarter distance due to a gearbox failure.
The first race of the season naturally brought various unknowns, from being the first event for the JSP2 17 at this circuit, through to new teammates working together for the first time in the heat of battle. Ultimately, the podium position is a very welcome result, but it’s a little bitter-sweet given what it could and probably should have been.
Following extensive testing in Malaysia, the Asian Le Mans Series curtain-raiser got underway on Friday with first paid practice and then the first official practice session. It soon became apparent that the circuit itself more of a challenge year-on-year with bumps and cambers making it even harder for the team to manage tyre degradation.
Both cars worked through the planned programmes with no issues into Saturday, making setup changes all the way through to the super-tight 15-minute qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. Roberto and Masa were given the opportunity to qualify the #36 and #1 respectively.
Having shown good pace in practice, Roberto wasted no time as he banged in a time good enough to claim the pole on just his second flying lap in the #36. Masa meanwhile put in a strong performance but was frustrated to have made a mistake on his hot lap, resulting in a third row start in the #1.
It was an early start on Sunday morning for the team with the four-hour event getting underway under laden skies. Aidan was charged with starting the race in what would be a double stint on just the one set of Michelins, opening options for later in the race if needed.
It all went perfectly to plan with the young Australian quickly establishing a small margin at the front of the field from the #26 of James French. The gap varied between two and five seconds depending on traffic, but Aidan was never seriously threatened for the lead. He pitted for fuel only after 45-minues and while the first stint was relatively easy, the second was much harder on the worn tyres.
The rival #26 car got the jump in the first stop sequence by short fuelling the Aurus, and Aidan was forced to yield to the #45 of Ben Barnicoat before pitting and handing over to Nick.
The Blancpain regular underlined his superb race-craft as he vaulted third to first – passing the #45 of Jack Manchester and then the #26 of French – following a safety car. Ultimately, he had to yield to the latter later in the stint but remained in close company throughout the run.
With both Inter Europol Endurance cars serving lengthy stop-go penalties in the adjacent pit box, the team delayed Nick’s handover to Roberto as long as possible as access to the pit box was compromised. In less than ideal circumstances however, they had to stop for fuel and tyres, but the team were forced to place the car on dollies to get the Ligier in position to fuel. This cost valuable time, and ultimately the victory.
Roberto was flawless in his run to the chequered flag, more than matching the race leader’s pace. As it was, the Spaniard took the chequered flag in second position, 40 second behind the race winner.
The team now begin preparations for the second round of the Asian Le Mans Series, which takes place at The Bend in Australia in January.