P3 for Garage 59 and big improvements for all AMR's in Asian Le Mans finale in Dubai

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Another exciting multi-class race from the Dubai Autodrome was seen again today as the Asian Le Mans Series held its second four-hour round of their somewhat now compressed 2021 season.

Less than twenty-four hours after their opening round of the season yesterday, a race that turned out to a be a hard-fought affair back at the racetrack for some, the thirty-six LMP2, LMP3 and GT3 full season entries were refettled, repaired and restocked ahead of todays action. 

With starting positions again taken from each car’s performances in Fridays double Qualifying sessions, that meant that the #88 Garage 59 AMR Vantage GT3 of Maxime Martin would start highest of the five AMR runners in P4, John Hartshorne in P7 after Charlie Eastwood’s faster Qualifying efforts were scrubbed for track limits, the #97 of Ahmad Al Harty close behind in P7, Marvin Kirchhofer this time starting the #89 Garage 59 car from P10 and Satoshi Hoshino again starting the #77 D’Station car form P14.

Having had no chance of catching those ‘flying’ Porsche 911 GT3 R’s in yesterday’s race, efforts had been made to redress the balance in performance with the addition of an extra 20kg of weight for the three Porsches entered in the Series but only time would tell if that was enough to level the ‘playing field’.

Another dry, warm but this time windy day saw the grid take to a somewhat slippery track in the opening stages as sand on track, low tyre temperatures and pressures added for some exciting opening laps. Early passes from the Pro drivers aboard the two Garage 59 cars saw them lift up to P2 for Martin and P7 for Kirchhofer after just one lap but again the #88 car would be baulked behind the still faster GPX Porsche.

Team Owner Satoshi Hoshino again started for the Japanese team and he was destined for a much better race stint today than yesterday as changes in car set-up worked to his strengths as he progressed from his P14 starting position to as high as P9 before most cars in class pitted for their first scheduled stop.

Two early FCY’s were called for stranded LMP cars on track and as usual, that saw cars from across all classes split their race strategies all in search of that edge to outwit their opponents and whilst the two Garage 59 cars remained out for the first caution, both pitted during the second as Martin and Kirchhofer handed over to Valentin Hasse-Clot and Yuki Nemoto respectively. The three other Aston’s couldn’t yet make that call as their Am drivers aboard need just a little more track time to see out their minimum requirements.

During the early laps of the race, the #97 Oman Racing car of Al Harthy had tagged the rear of yesterday’s race winning #99 Porsche, leaving him with a rear puncture but also an inevitable Drive through Penalty for the Omani right at the end of his stint almost an hour later. Having served his penalty for that, the #97 would pit to allow Tom Canning to have his next chance within the Series.

In the #95 TF Sport entered car, Hartshorne kept plugging away at his steep learning curve as he combatted the perils of the race start again before finding improvements and rhythm before he eventually handed over to his No.2 Ollie Hancock. Hoshino would follow them in having ran as high as P3 during the pit stop cycle.

2020 AMR Drivers Academy winner Hasse-Clot was on another charge having come out on track in P5 to get back to where Martin had left off behind the still leading Porsche in P2. Great middle stints from Canning, Hasse-Clot and Tom Gamble (now in the #77 D’Station) would see track position first consolidated before then improved upon. The later inter-marque battles between the Oman Racing, D’Station and TF Sport cars was great to watch although there may have been a few worries from those on pit wall – but all proved good!

The pace of the GPX Porsche continued to be superior to that of those chasing them, their own driver line up was mightily strong and there continued to be little that either Garage 59 car could do about it despite running first in class for much of the first half of the race after the Porsche pitted early under the first yellow.

Alex West was next out in the #88 car and he had the ability to manage his cars P5 running position for much of his hour stint having only relinquished P4 to Kirchhofer who was obviously quicker in his #89 car. Unfortunately for the #89 car, their closing in on the #40 GPX Porsche would be in vain as Mike Benham (Am) was still due in the Aston for his 55 minutes whereas the Porsche had their Pro still to come – an imbalance in ability that no ballast could ever equalise!!

Coming into the final hour of the race and with many cars were now getting the black/white flag final warning for track limits, the #77 car with Fujii again behind the wheel also got called back into pit lane (similar to yesterday) for a 1 second stop/hold for a mis-timed stop earlier.

Jonny Adam in the #97, Eastwood in the #95 and Tomonobu Fujii in the #77 were all running in the top six for a time but all owed a final stop to get them to the end so for them, the final hour became a battle for a respectable finishing position for them to take into next week’s two rounds at Yas Marina if they were to have any chance of title winning success there.

Martin was back in the #88 car to the end and the AMR factory driver had got himself back up to P3 overall in class whilst Benham would find himself getting ‘mugged’ of all his single digit running order positions to the end to see his second race end finish in P10 but that was still an improvement from yesterday.

Adam would again bring home the #97 car for their second P7 finish of the weekend whilst Fujii would eventually lose out on the D’Station/TF Sport battle to finish P13 again for the Japanese squad and P11 respectably. 

All in all and whilst the Porsche retained it’s overall performance over the rest of the GT field, todays second race of the weekend proved itself to be a much stronger one for the AMR runners. A change in strategy for some as well as learning from mistakes of yesterday saw improved results for both Garage 59 cars, stable performances for the Oman Racing and D’Station Racing crews although the #95 TF Sport car did have a nett loss of one place over yesterday’s performances.

The teams now pack up and move onto the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi for next weekend’s double header that will see the winners of the automatic Le Mans 24hr Invitation winners crowned. 

Photo credits - ALMS / AMR / Teams

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