A tough start to the ALMS from Dubai but three top ten finishes give AMR teams a solid starting point (Updated)

Saturday, February 13, 2021

An interesting start to the two, double header race weekends for the Asian Le Mans Series starting in Dubai earlier today with a record grid of thirty-six cars including five of the new turbo charged Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GT3’s from three Partner teams taking part in the Series for the first time.

Running with an already tight timetable of events for rounds one and two this weekend, this afternoon’s first four-hour race thankfully took part under clear and warm blue skies having had two days of early Free Practice and Qualifying delayed with fog over the Dubai Autodrome Circuit. 

Having qualified these five cars from TF Sport, Garage 59 and D’Station Racing with their respective Pro driver yesterday, the #95 TF Sport car of John Harthorne would take the start of today’s race (having had Charlie Eastwood qualify the car) whilst its sister #97 car from the team but running under the Oman Racing title for driver Ahmad Al Harthy, who would start P10 after the efforts of Jonny Adam yesterday.

The two TF Sport cars would be split by the two Garage 59 cars as the #88 car of Maxime Martin would take the start after having qualified the car in P6 whilst Mike Benham would start the #89 from P9 after the efforts of Marvin Kirchhofer. The single car from Japanese team D’Station Racing would start with team owner Satoshi Hoshino behind the wheel after Tomonobu Fujii Qualified their green machine in P17.

It must be said that even before Official proceedings started on Thursday, one driver within an AMR team commented to us that the Porsche’s were really quick with some extremely fast Bronze’s aboard to boot so it was interesting just how this race eventually panned out!!

Anyway, the start to today’s race started quietly with thankfully nobody trying to win the Series at turn one on lap 1. With the #88 car’s differing strategy on starting drivers, it saw Martin quickly move up to P2 in class by the end of opening laps to set up a chase with the then leading GPX Racing Porsche. Early gains were also made by both Al Harty in the #97 and Hoshino in the #77 but Hartshorne would drop back as he conducted his first race aboard the #95 car – testing is one thing but racing is completely another!

Tyre degradation quickly became an obvious issue for all three classes of car that compete within the Series and many Gentleman Drivers particularly, struggling to get their cars around the 5.4km circuit as the tarmac quickly ‘turned to ice’ and apexes were missed as they headed back after achieving their minimum drive time of 55 minutes within the first stint.

Tom Gamble was the first of the five to swap into his (#77) car as Tom Canning, Ollie Hancock and Yuki Nemoto quickly followed suit in their #97, #95 and #89 cars respectively as these three drivers also got their first racing experience of the ALMS. Several laps later did Martin finally pit from second in class to allow Alex West out for his stint just after the first hour of racing.

Like the Bronzes before them, any over egging of the Michelin rubber in their early laps also had these silver/ bronze drivers having to manage their tyre wear more than they normally would have to. West was doing well up front in class having only dropped one position down to P3 whilst Canning was slowly pulling his #97 car up to P7 by the halfway point.

A definitive point for the #88 car came after the halfway mark as the race endured its only full period of caution for a prototype that had come to stop on track. That upset their race strategy enough to force them to pit for full service much earlier than they otherwise needed as West handed over to the new AMR Drivers Academy winner Valentin Hasse-Clot but then, that’s is what endurance racing is all about – just how these teams deal with these eventualities!

Unfortunately for the #89 Garage 59 car, by then their race was already effectively over after having received a drive through penalty before later suffering a puncture picked up from debris on the racetrack. These two unexpected visits to pit lane would sadly see them coming in as the last of the Aston runners in P17 by the end of the race. The #77 D'Station car would also see pit lane more times than anticipated after coming back in to pit lane during the FCY to avoid a more costly penalty during the resumption of the race for a too short a pit stop in the mid segment of the race!

Despite the late drama in the closing stages of the race where the then leading GPX Porsche first spun and then got a converted time penalty added to their race time for exceeding track limits (after its spin), that additional thirty seconds was not enough (only just) to lift the #88 car from its P5 finishing position. The #97 Oman Racing car would eventually finish P7 and the 395 TF Sport car P10 in class whilst the #77 would come home P13 in class after some great battling on track – some for the first time behind the wheel of an AMR GT3.

Not necessarily the race results that we may have wanted but all the teams would now have more data and experience to crunch on overnight before the second round of the Series in Dubai tomorrow. It will be very interesting to see how strategy changes to offset the now known race performances of others, tyre degradation and with their own driver rotations.

Update - We understand from those at the circuit that the Porsche has already received a +20kg weight increase ahead of tomorrows race.

Photo credits - ALMS / AMR / TF Sport / Garage 59 / D'Station

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