Heartache in the high drama of Sepang Asian Le Mans

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Having qualified P4 earlier in the day for this evenings penultimate round of the Asian Le Mans Series from Sepang, all appeared to be ticking along quite nicely for the D'Station Racing team and the Series until they and the other twenty two cars from the LMP2, LMP3 and GT classes went to collect upon the starting grid for the race.

Torrential rain together with a thunderous electrical storm directly overhead first put pay to the live stream but quickly bit into other safety critical systems around the circuit that warranted the immediate postponement of the start of the race - fifteen minutes at a time before the delay became indefinite as first the storm had to pass over before some repairs could even begin.

Eventually, by the time the storm had passed and the Series had recovered as many systems around the circuit as they could (approx a 1hr 40min delay), the race eventually began behind the Safety car for two siting laps that Tomonobu Fujii undertook for the D'Station Racing AMR team behind the wheel of their #77 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GT3.

With TV coverage around the 5.5km, fifteen turn circuit being severely limited as a result of the storm, many camera positions had suffered from direct lightning strikes, so much of the race had to be followed with the benefit of live timing.

Despite the earlier heavy rain, the 31deg ambient temperature soon started drying the race surface as the cars were eventually released where Fujii was able to take the lead of the GT class somewhere around the opening lap which he held by right for the next 25 minutes before Liam Talbot in the #27 HubAuto Ferrari 488 Evo eventually found a route around the Japanese driver.

Forty five minutes in, the first Full Course Yellow allowed these top two GT cars to pit - the #27 electing not to change driver but the D'Station team did swap out Fujii for their gentleman driver and team co-owner Satoshi Hoshino. He went on to drive a great, consistent hour long stint - dropping only one position on track due to the staggered pit stop strategy from all the GT teams to eventually hand the car over to Ross Gunn from P3 with just over two hours remaining.

It became a lonely chase for the AMR factory driver as he began the chase towards the #27 Ferrari and #88 JLOC Lamborghini ahead in class, such were the gaps between them as two further FCY's limited that chase time down by several minutes apiece but at least it was only the top three GT cars on the lead lap of their class!

The #77 AMR car received a report from Race Control to fix both non functioning door number panel illuminations at their next stop (a repair that would cost them time in pit lane) whilst the #27 Ferrari ahead also got reported for speeding under the previous FCY so all was getting exciting in class as all were desperate to out score the then GT Class Championship leading CarGuy Ferrari who had been struggling all race with performance despite their earlier pole position.

Forty nine minutes remaining and Gunn pitted the car for another full service stop, albeit that he would again stay in the vehicle - confusion within the Prodrive support pit crew lead to a wheel rolling back towards the live pit lane and too many mechanics being adjudged to have worked on the car during that stop received then a further report to Race Control.

Ten minutes later the car was back into the pit lane - there appeared to be concern for the rear, non-drivers side of the car that slowed its departure. Was it a puncture or contact damage, we don't yet know but having used the customary cable ties to secure whatever was wrong, that eventually allowed Gunn to depart pit lane again - now down to P4 in class but critically still ahead of the #7 CarGuy Ferrari.

Then - disaster.

Attributed to his earlier stop or not, the timing screen suddenly flashed up that the #77 car had stopped on track at T5 on what would have been his out lap and from there the AMR Vantage GT3 would go no further in the race. Eventually being passed by the #7 car on track, the #77 D'Station car would suffer a non points scoring DNF in Sepang but at least the dismal performance of the then Championship leading #7 car may still leave a life line for the team at the series finale at Buriram in Thailand next weekend.

Indeed, such were the volume of incidence during the final hour of the race, the finishing positions of all classes in Sepang would have to be considered as strictly provisional. Then we will have to see just what Fujii, Hoshino and Tom Gamble can do together in Thailand to see if D'Station Racing AMR can earn themselves a place at the Le Mans 24 Hour.

Update - we understand that the D’Station Racing AMR race ending mechanical issue was done to gearbox failure!

Photo credits - D'Station / ALMS

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