Inclement weather made the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Estoril a fascinating and unpredictable affair, but Eurasia Motorsport faced the challenges head on and concluded a learning year in the top six of the championship (17-18 October).
First practice was a complete washout, gale force winds and heavy rain battering the Portuguese circuit and scattering tree branches and debris across the track. The heavy rain eased off, but squally winds and further downpours resulted in off-track excursions for several cars and the original 90-minutes was cut by a third to just over an hour.
Teams up and down the pit lane were subsequently behind schedule for the remainder of the weekend and it was a real blow for Eurasia Motorsport and its drivers, who needed as much track time as possible to get acquainted with the classic Estoril circuit prior to the main event on Sunday.
Mercifully, the inclement weather subsided and rain clouds were replaced by sunny skies as the lights turned green at the start of FP2.
Eurasia Motorsport ran a condensed programme and placed its drivers on a relatively short rotation to give Nick de Bruijn and Kevin Pu Jun Jin equal opportunity in the cockpit and, utilising fresh tyres, the team set the pace for a time.
Heavy overnight rain saturated the region once again and Sunday morning’s qualifying was held on a wet but drying track. The ELM’s GT contingent swept some of the standing water away and a racing line was visible by the time the LMP2 and LMP3 cars emerged from the pits, and there was a mix of tyre strategies as some teams opted for full wets and others, including Eurasia, went for intermediates.
De Bruijn took a tentative approach to the session but gradually found his feet and maxed out on a 1m45.997s to qualify seventh for the 4 Hours of Estoril, having been prevented from improving further and achieving a projected fifth place by yellow flags.
However, the potential was clear to see on raceday. De Bruijn skilfully picked his way through a chaotic first lap and held his own in third position before being heavily compromised by a lapped LMP2 rival and losing track position prior to the first driver-change.
Pu Jun Jin picked up the baton well by lapping quickly and consistently, but rain clouds loomed overhead and it wasn’t long before a pair of short, sharp downpours interrupted the mainland Chinese driver’s stint.
There was a hive of activity in the pits as teams sought the correct tyre for the prevailing conditions and Eurasia’s decision to switch to intermediates proved to be the correct course on the ever-evolving track surface.
Full-course cautions accompanied both showers and Eurasia took the opportunity to carry out a second driver-change.
Pit-to-car radio issues intervened during de Bruijn’s next stint and the resourceful Asian squad turned to more primitive methods of communication, such as pit boards and light signals to notify its driver of strategic decisions, although the methods weren’t fool-proof and de Bruijn caught the team unawares when he unexpectedly pitted for fuel and slick tyres.
After a slightly delayed stop, the Dutch racer completed a gruelling double stint with 35 minutes to go, to give Pu Jun Jin the honour of bringing the #33 ORECA 03R Nissan home and round-off a positive learning year in the ELMS with a hard-earned sixth place result.
“I learned a lot this year and today we ended the season with a nice and consistent result,” said Pu Jun Jin. “The weather changed so quickly and made the race a bit chaotic, messing up strategies and making driving very tricky. I missed wet practice, so I didn’t know what to expect when rain began to fall in the race – I didn’t feel comfortable. This was a learning year and preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I think I gained a lot of knowledge and experience and today’s race provided a bit of everything that you usually see at Le Mans.”
De Bruijn added: “This season in the European Le Mans Series has been a positive learning experience. We finished sixth in the championship and that’s good for a first attempt. Today, we had a fantastic start to the race, but there were a few ups and downs due to changeable weather conditions and my last stint was particularly difficult without any radio communication. However, we still finished sixth and with a clean car, so I’m happy with that.”
Eurasia Motorsport Team Principal, Mark Goddard, concluded: “We showed the performance in the car and the drivers, Nick (de Bruijn) and Kevin (Pu Jun Jin), who both did a brilliant job. All’s well that ends well; surviving without any car issues is an achievement in itself. Our maiden season in the ELMS was about learning and we’ve all done that, so we can call it a success.”