CrowdStrike Racing by APR came out on top in a chaotic first Asian Le Mans Series race at Abu Dhabi to take the points lead ahead of Sunday’s title-decider.
The No. 4 Oreca 07 Gibson shared by George Kurtz, Colin Braun, Malthe Jakobsen came out on top in a four-hour race that involved multiple incidents, safety car periods and a red flag to take a three-point advantage in the LMP2 standings ahead of the pole-winning 99 Racing crew, which failed to finish.
That followed an incident behind the safety car involving Ahmad Al Harthy and the Pure Rxcing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Alex Malykhin, the points-leading car in the GT category, at Turn 1.
Al Harthy had started the race from pole, but he was tipped into a spin by Salih Yoluc’s No. 90 TF Sport Oreca on the opening lap and was then awarded a drive-through penalty for rejoining the track in an unsafe fashion.
The Omani driver then dropped off the lead lap with a very slow lap at the end of his stint, and remained a lap down when the safety car was called early in the second hour in response to the Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II stopping on track.
Leading the race at this stage was the No. 22 Proton Competition car of Giorgio Roda, helped by Yoluc being penalised for the first-lap contact, but Roda dropped back when he was forced to make an emergency stop for fuel behind what became an extended safety car period following the clash between Al Harthy and Malykhin.
That put the TF Sport car back to the head of the field as Yoluc handed over to Michael Dinan, but on the restart Dinan was quickly passed by the No. 83 AF Corse car of Alessio Rovera, who went on to stretch a lead of more than 10 seconds.
But that gap was wiped when the safety car was deployed for a second time with a little over an hour to run following a crash for the GR Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 of Riccardo Pera along the back straight following contact with Ben Tuck’s TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
Damage to the barriers meant the race was red-flagged for around 35 minutes, with Rovera taking the restart in the lead ahead of a resurgent Proton car, now in the hands of Rene Binder.
However, neither team banked on being jumped by CrowdStrike, which had brought in Braun to change over to Jakobsen before the safety car and red flag, clearing both mandatory 1:40 stops before the temporary stoppage.
By contrast, Rovera and Binder both had to pit within a few laps of the final restart to hand over to Matthieu Vaxiviere and Julien Andlauer respectively.
CrowdStrike was able to gain a further advantage as Jakobsen, the final car on the lead lap, took emergency service under the safety car, thereby shortening his final fuel stop under green flag without sacrificing track position.
The result was that Jakobsen had a 4.8-second advantage over Vaxiviere once the latter left the pits, a gap that the Danish driver was able to maintain to the checkered flag to pull off what had been an unlikely win.
With the Proton car having to serve its second 1:40 stop at the finish and dropping down the order, the battle for third turned into a three-way dice between Jean Baptiste Simmenauer in the No. 30 Duqueine car, Charlie Eastwood’s TF entry and Laurents Hoerr in the No. 3 DKR Engineering car.
Simmenauer put up a brave defence but was ultimately passed in quick succession by both Eastwood and Hoerr, but it was Hoerr that finally came out on top to bag the final spot on the podium for himself, Tom Dillmann and Alexander Mattschull.
Ahead of Sunday’s title-deciding race, CrowdStrike leads on 73 points ahead of 99 Racing on 70, with AF Corse and DKR both fringe contenders on 52 and 50 points respectively.
CD Sport, Triple Eight Land Class Victories
In LMP3, CD Sport trio Fabien Lavergne, Nick Adcock and Michael Jensen took top honors in their No. 2 Ligier JS P320 Nissan, helped significantly by pitting shortly before the second safety car and red flag.
Cool Racing trio James Winslow, Alexander Bukhantsov and Manuel Espirito Santo had to be content with second place, having led for much of the race prior to that, while third went to the High Class Racing car piloted by Anders Fjordbach, Seth Lucas and Audunn Gudmundsson.
CD Sport therefore sits level on points with Cool Racing into Sunday’s finale.
Taking GT victory was the No. 88 Triple Eight JMR Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo of Prince Jefri Ibrahim, Luca Stolz and Jordan Love.
The Australian team managed to gain an edge by putting Stolz in the car before the first safety car period, which allowed the German driver to move his way forward upon the restart while most of the other cars still had their Bronze-rated drivers at the wheel.
Helped by the pole-winning No. 7 Almanar Racing by GetSpeed Mercedes of Anthony Liu getting penalised for tipping the Pure Rxcing Porsche into a spin, Stolz was able to work his way up from fifth to take the lead in short order.
Second place went to the No. 19 Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2 thanks to a late charge from Marco Mapelli at the final restart, while Optimum Motorsport’s pair of McLaren 720S GT3 Evos took third and fourth places, with Ollie Millroy passing Sam de Haan to give the No. 27 the final podium place.
Despite failing to finish, Pure Rxcing continues to lead the standings ahead of Sunday’s final race, with Triple Eight JMR now its nearest challenger, nine points back.
Results: 4 Hours of Abu Dhabi