Algarve Pro Racing boss Stewart Cox is thrilled with his team’s championship-winning performance in the Asian Le Mans Series, having overcome several difficulties as the only LMP2 team running gentleman drivers.
The team’s pair of Ligier JS P2s finished first and third in the Asian LMS final standings, securing an entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the Anglo-Portuguese squad.
However, with his competition running lineups entirely made up of young professional drivers, Cox was particularly pleased to still be on the pace despite having gentleman drivers in the cars.
“It started off quite difficult because we had Michael Munemann driving in the car, which made it effectively a gentleman driver up against the competition, which had both of their cars filled with young professionals,” Cox told Sportscar365.
“You had the World Champion (Gustavo Menezes) in the Jackie Chan [DC Racing] car, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent, who’s bloody quick as well, up against a gentleman driver.
“In the first race we had [Andrea] Pizzitola and [Nicky] Catsburg, but that was a bit of a disaster because we went virtually a lap down in the first stint with Michael.
“Catching them up, Nicky was catching up Race Performance but they weren’t in any hurry to let him past, and in all fairness, blocking quite heavily.
“When Nicky did make his lunge, he tapped the back of them and they both went off. That curtailed that car going any quicker.”
With the inherent disadvantage of running a Bronze-rated gentleman driver, Cox admits that they weren’t the favorites to win the championship, and that the first-corner collision between the Race Performance and DC Racing cars at Sepang aided the No. 25 Algarve Pro Ligier-Nissan tremendously.
“We were running a 48-year-old gentleman driver, so you can’t really do any better than being three or four seconds off,” he said.
“If you compare Michael to any other Bronze driver, if you compare him to Tracy Krohn, or to Henrik [Hedman] in the DragonSpeed car, he’s actually as quick, if not quicker. When you’ve got that guy picking up 80 percent of the tab to make the car go round, that’s what you’re dealt.
“Winning races is easy, you just need a ton of money. The fact is that we got the win not by having a ton of money, but we lucked in royally because in the last race, it was very difficult for us to win, it’s just that Ho-Pin and Struan Moore had a bit of a coming together, and for that reason, Eurasia weren’t able to finish.
“We got the win because we had a more reliable car and we made it to the finish.”
He also explained that the No. 24 Judd-engined Ligier struggled with the heat in the final two rounds, creating a difficulty for Algarve Pro that the other teams, running open-top Oreca 03Rs, didn’t have to deal with.
“If you look at what happened in the last race, you’ve got three drivers in the Judd car and their combined age was 151,” he said. “They were at one point leading and challenging right up until the end of the race.
“The only reason why they didn’t finish second was because the heat in the coupe cars in Sepang, and also in Buriram, is so hot that two of the drivers couldn’t manage to do the full stint.
“We ended up losing second place through having to do one splash at the end of the race for what was seven laps of fuel, which was a real shame because it would have been fantastic for those guys to finish second on the podium, because in all seriousness, those are the guys who make the wheels turn on the cars.”
Looking ahead to the remainder of 2017, the team will return to the European Le Mans Series with a new Ligier JS P217 Gibson which it will also run at Le Mans, with a to-be-confirmed driver lineup.
In addition, a two-car return to the Asian LMS is planned for the winter, again with the now previous-generation Ligier JS P2s.
“We’ve got all of our drivers confirmed for ELMS, and we’re talking to several drivers for Le Mans,” Cox said.
“In Asia, we’re looking to do a similar thing again, running two cars, and we’re currently talking to the drivers about that.”