Algarve Pro claims victory at 4 Hours of Fuji
By winning the the 4 Hours of Fuji (JP), the second round of the Asian Le Mans Series 2018/19, the Portuguese Algarve Pro team was back to its expected form after the disappointment of retiring at the previous round at Zhuhai. The victory has ensured the team is still a serious contender in the Championship and in the race for the ever so valuable 2019 Le Mans 24 hours invitation.
Having qualified in second place in LMP2, the Algarve Pro Judd HK V8 was in the fight for victory right from the start of the race with Newey seizing the initiative from United Autosports’ Phil Hanson under braking for Turn 1. Newey set quick sector times to extend his lead over second-placed Hanson to 5.3s during the first 30 minutes, despite having to lap the Asian Le Mans Series’ GT contingent.
However, the pace slowed dramatically as rain began to fall at Fuji International Speedway; Newey nursed the #24 Ligier back to the pits for fuel and wet tyres, following a tentative in-lap that featured a spin at Turn 1 and a wayward moment at Turn 10. He remained aboard the #24, but his call to pit one lap later than his nearest rivals cost the team time and meant he re-entered the race alongside United Autosports’ Hanson, who snatched the initiative at Turn 1.
The deficit to the race leader grew to 16 seconds during the second hour, however, Newey made significant gains on race leader Hanson as the rain abated, more than halving the gap as the race reached mid-distance, when French racer Pizzitola took control of the #24 Ligier. Pizzitola was soon a full second faster than Hanson, but an inspired and timely decision to switch to slick tyres enabled the team to overturn United Autosports’ advantage and assume a healthy 20-second lead.
French racer Pizzitola maintained a 20-second lead entering the fourth and final hour and only briefly relinquished the initiative as the final round of fuel and tyres stops played out. Algarve Pro Racing returned to the head of the field when United Autosports carried out the last of its scheduled pit stops, but a late Safety Car negated the Portuguese team’s advantage and the race would be decided during a tense 28-minute sprint to the finish.
At the resumption of racing, Pizzitola kept a cool head, retaining first position and edging out a comfortable 16-second lead over ex-Formula 1 driver Paul di Resta to secure 25 invaluable points for the 4 Hours of Fuji victory.
Harrison Newey (#24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier Judd JSP2): “My stint was up and down, because the pace was unbelievable on the slicks and I pulled out a big gap, but I made a late call to box for wet tyres and lost the lead. I regained a lot of the lost ground during the second half of my stint before handing over to Andrea (Pizzitola), who not only did a super job to keep an ex-Formula 1 driver behind, but pull 16 seconds on him. I’m really looking forward to the second half of the Asian Le Mans season. Buriram is a track I know from last year, when I raced well to second position. I hope to come back and win the race, especially as Ate (Dirk de Jong) will be re-joining us. We’re looking forward to having him back.”
Andrea Pizzitola (#24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier Judd JSP2): “I feel really good. The car was great in dry conditions so for me it was purely about not making any mistakes on a day when it was all too easy to lose a lot of time by running deep on the brakes or spinning. I pushed really hard and it worked, so I’m delighted.”
Congratulations to Panis Barthez Competition for their 4th place finish and to the sister Algarve Pro racing car #25 for their 9th place finish.
The 2018-19 Asian Le Mans Series resumes in the New Year at Thailand’s ultra-modern Chang International Circuit (10-12 January).