Final ALMS race tomorrow to finalise auto invites for Le Mans 24 in GT

Friday, February 19, 2021


Taking with them their robust performances in their last race at Dubai Autodrome on Sunday, the five Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT3 car entries from Garage 59, TF Sport and D’Station Racing were all hopeful of something similar in today’s penultimate round of the Asian Le Mans Series from Yas Marina – but most would be left somewhat disappointed.

Moving into the two final four-hour races at the Abu Dhabi circuit which would involve more night time running with their later race starts, today was to be a busy day for the thirty five runners after already having run two Qualifying Sessions this morning for each of todays and Saturday’s races.

There had also been more beneficial news for them in the form of an additional 15kg of ballast being added to the three Porsche 911 GT3 cars after two dominating performances by them in Dubai that left the GPX and Herberth Porsche teams at the top of the leader board going to Yas Marina.

Garage 59 continued with their Pro drivers Maxime Martin and Marvin Kirchhofer each Qualifying and starting their #88 and #89 cars again and were the front runners of the AMR five on this afternoon’s grid in P4 and P7 respectively. Jonny Adam in #97 Oman Racing car qualified his car in P9 whilst the D’Station Racing boss Satoshi Hoshino would start from P13 in his #77 car with Ollie Hancock starting the #95 TF Sport car from P15.

A busy looking start saw the GT pack more than four wide over the start line but thankfully the #88 and #89 cars come out in front in class as the race was immediately placed under Safety Car procedures as an LMP3 faulted on the pit straight. Another short period of Green running before another Safety Car for another failed LMP3 car on track interrupted the flow of the race and wasted valuable minutes of both Martin’s and Kirchhofer’s time aboard their cars but by the end of the first 30 minutes, AMR were running 1-2-3 after the #97 picked up the tail of the leaders.

Importantly for the Astons, the two Championship leading Porsche’s were still back in P4 and P5 at this stage but with only their Silver’s aboard, they would start to fall back further as the race eventually began to flow.

After a great stint in Sunday’s second round, Hoshino aboard his #77 car would get frustratingly for him stuck behind a LMP3 car as he saw out his mandatory 55 minutes behind the wheel. The #95 TF Sport car had swapped their starting driver from their Bronze of John Hartshorne to their Silver of Hancock but he too would struggle to make to much indent from his original starting position in what was still only their third race in two week aboard an AMR Vantage GT3.

Going into the second hour and the Garage 59 cars would retain the top two places (albeit swapped around in running order) by the time the first stops had worked themselves out as Yuki Nemoto had stepped in the #89 from Kirchhofer and Valentin Hasse-Clot got down to business in the #88. By the time that Adam had swapped over to Ahmad Al Harthy in the #97 car, the running order had returned to P1 for Nemoto, P2 for Hasse-Clot, P4 for Al Harthy, P15 for Tomonobu Fujii now in the #77 car and P18 for Hartshorne.

Just after the halfway mark and both Garage 59 cars now had their bronze drivers of Alex West in the #88 and Mike Benham in the #89 for their minimum driver time to defend what was then an 18 second lead over the still threatening Porsche’s behind.

Coming towards the final hour of the race, the #97 Oman Racing car of Al Harthy again pitted from his assumed lead of the race as he handed the car over to Tom Canning for the final race to the flag. Hoping to beat their brace of P7 finishes in Dubai, the Oman crew really needed a decent finish and based upon their performances so far – that looked highly possible!

That was however until the rear of the #27 Kessel Racing Ferrari suddenly met the front of the #97 Aston at the blind entry of turn 7. With the exact circumstances of the incident unclear, the result was terminal radiator damage to the #97 and that would force Canning to quickly park the now battered blue and white car in a place of safety as to prevent any further damage to the engine through overheating. Their race was now over with just fifty minutes remaining.

Such were the sequence of events at that stage of the race that the resulting Full Course Yellow had #40 and #99 Porsche’s now at the front of the order for the first time in the race with there also being little evidence of their 35kg of additional ballast having any long-term effect on their overall performances such was the depth of ability within those cars.

Martin was in P6, Tom Gamble had come out of almost nowhere aboard the #77 car to hold and push the AMR factory driver from P7 and with Kirchhofer down in P10 with only 30 minutes remaining – despite them all still posting personal bests there was nothing that any of them could do to stop the Porsche’s taking the top two steps again this time around.

Eventually finishing P6, P7 and P9 respectively for those above and in P16 for the #95 car, that leaves Sundays final race of the ALMS season as an effective ‘winner takes all’ race to decide the top four GT’s that will be presented with their Le Mans 24hr automatic invitation but with two already going to Porsche teams – that leaves about the next seven cars all squabbling over what’s left.

Photo credits - AMR / Teams / ALMS
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