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Asian Le Mans Series

PALMER: Sepang Debrief

Andrew Palmer files his first Sportscar365 column of the year following Sepang…

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Another year and another column for Sportscar365. However, a few things have changed since I last wrote a column after the final round of the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series.

During the off-season I was fortunate to become involved with one of the most storied brands in motorsport: Bentley. This season I will be competing in the Pirelli World Challenge with Bentley Team Absolute in the British marque’s Continental GT3.

So, logically, the best way to prepare for the upcoming season is to fly 20 hours around the world to Malaysia to compete in the final round of the Asian Le Mans Series.

What many World Challenge fans may not realize is that Bentley Team Absolute is headquartered in Shanghai and has a satellite facility at the Sepang F1 track in Malaysia. Hence, this was a perfect opportunity for me to get to know my new teammate, Adderly Fong, and the entire team in a competitive situation.

This weekend marked a lot of firsts. It was my first time driving the Bentley, my first time in Malaysia, and first time at the Sepang Circuit.

However, probably the most notable first was that this was the first ACO event Bentley would participate in since campaigning at Le Mans in the Speed 8 [in 2003].

My trip began early Monday morning with long travel day to Kuala Lumpur connecting through Tokyo. Having recently graduated from Pomona College, I now have time to come in a day early and acclimate, as well as see some of the places I travel to in order to race.

Up until this point in my career I always flew in as late as possible and left just after the race. I have lived in hotel rooms and racetracks, but have seldom been able to take in the sites of some of the fantastic locations.

We didn’t have our first practice until Friday evening, so the bulk of our time spent was familiarizing me with the car and studying past data and onboard video to come up to speed as quickly as possible.

I made sure to remind myself thousands of times that the “proper” side to sit on in a car was the right. All of the British engineers reinforced this sentiment that nearly the rest of the entire world had got the driving position wrong.

I am proud to say that not once did I walk to the left side to try and get in!

First practice was on a classic afternoon wet track after a quick monsoon rain passed through. By the time I was in the car there was an emerging dry line.

My first experience in the car was fantastic. It was certainly different than the other GT3 cars I have driven, but it did everything I wanted it to do.

Saturday had two more free practices and qualifying. I was given the bulk of the practices to continue to learn the car. Going in to qualifying we felt quite confident we had a quick car.

After a back and forth on the time sheet, Adderly ended up qualifying the car second just .01 seconds behind Audi factory driver Christopher Mies.

Because we were running only two drivers in the 3-hour race, it meant I would be doing the first and last stint, while Adderly did the middle.

It’s virtually impossible to double stint drivers given the ambient temperatures of 35+ degrees Celsius and near 100 percent humidity. In fact, a former teammate of mine who last drove here missed his podium presentation as a result of needing immediate IV treatment.

I started off pole in the GT class behind four LMP2 cars. Timing a start with a turbo car was a new skill, however, I took to it well and managed to pass on the outside to take the lead.

Over the course of the stint I opened about a seven-second gap to second. We pitted in the lead and knew we had the pace to win the race.

However, a friend of mine once said, “motorsport is 99 percent frustration and 1 percent satisfaction. But it’s the best drug there is so we keep doing it.”

During the pit stop we had a small problem with refueling and before I knew it I felt like I was going to be cooked medium rare while strapping in Adderly. This freak mishap put us 4 laps down.

Adderly still drove a tremendous stint and I got back in to finish and also felt great.

It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t bring home the win for Bentley in their first ACO event in over a decade. However, that was not the purpose of this race. This race was used to start to gel with the team and learn the car.

We accomplished those goals and I feel ready for the remainder of the 2016 season.

I’m still learning British culture, but I think I can say I am quite “chuffed” about the how we competed and looking forward to the rest of the year with Bentley and Absolute Racing

Cheerio!

Andrew Palmer (@APalmerRacing) is a Rolex 24 at Daytona, Twelve Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans class winner, driving for Bentley Team Absolute in Pirelli World Challenge.

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