Hi all and welcome back to the third instalment of my column for this year! I have just travelled back from the weekend’s racing at the Shanghai International Circuit, where I was competing in Round 3 of the FRD LMP3 Series with Eurasia Motorsport in the EVISU-backed car. I was very excited for this event as I had a new teammate in the shape of Hong Kong bronze graded driver Alex Au, replacing previous Silver Julio Acosta.
Preparation for the event had gone well – a lot of analysis had gone on by the team’s engineers, pouring over data, videos, feedback reports and the like. We had good confidence that we would see a step forward in performance for this event. Also, we had a simulator session with my new teammate Alex to familiarise himself with the car. He has a wealth of experience in GT cars, but had never driven a prototype car until the event itself, so it was going to be a steep learning curve throughout the weekend for him!
Getting to the race itself wasn’t all that straight forward, however, as the typhoon hit Hong Kong on the day we were due to fly. Thankfully we managed to find Alex a flight from HK to Busan, Korea at 1.55am (the last flight to get out before the storm hit!) and then he transferred onto Shanghai for his Thursday rookie test. That was the last ticket however so I had to take my scheduled flight a day later – thankfully it all worked out in the end!
His test went well and then we got down to business with Official Practice kicking off in the afternoon. Practice was a bit of a mixed bag. For example, in FP2 we led the session for the first quarter of an hour until we suffered a clutch failure. This meant that Alex didn’t get a chance to drive and we couldn’t try the new tyres but it was better to happen then than during a race at least. I was still confident we had a car good enough for the front row though.
Alex did a great job in qualifying to set his best lap of the weekend by over 2 seconds. But unfortunately he suffered some lockups and subsequent rotated tyres on the rims which meant the wheels were all out of balance and shuddering above 2nd gear, but he still managed to qualify as 2nd bronze driver on the grid which was superb. In this series, you aren’t allowed to change tyres between the two qualifying sessions so I had to drive with what I had, which was only good enough for P9 in my session too, a second off the pace. A missed opportunity, but we made up for it the next day.
Alex started the opening race of the weekend from 9th overall, but did a superb job to run closely behind the KCMG car of Pu Junjin for his stint with no mistakes, before handing over to me. It was great that for the first time this year I came out racing people around me for the top positions, and I was quickly embroiled into a battle for the podium. I believe both cars around me had been given penalties and should have moved over, but I got the move done on Ma Qinghua anyway and pulled a gap before backing off for the last couple of laps to bring the car home safely in the podium spot. I was very happy to be celebrating with Alex on his debut in the car too!
The main race on the Sunday was always going to be more challenging given I was starting the car from 9th, but the racing was a lot of fun and reminded me of my Formula Ford days back in the UK a number of years ago. The racing was very tough but fair, just how it should be. It is quite hard to follow these cars due to the wake caused by the high downforce, but somehow we managed to go side-by-side and overtake on a number of occasions which was a lot of fun.
I must say it was also a real pleasure to race Alex Tagliani- from the IndyCar Series. I went around the outside of him at the fast left hander Turn 7 on the first lap, but credit to him, a lot of drivers would have knocked me off the track and taken the place back that way, but he gave me literally just enough room, and we then went side by side again at turn 8 and I returned the favour. A very fun battle indeed.
Thankfully, I managed to get past the PTRS car of Simon Evans, Tagliani- when he spun at turn 9, and Olivier Lombard to hand the car over to Alex just before the pit window closed in 4th position. The hotter conditions of the Sunday race seemed to affect us a bit more and Alex suffered a spin on the way to an 8th place finish at the flag.
The next event is coming up quickly, with the Pan Delta race weekend on September 16/17 at the Zhuhai International Circuit. You can be sure we will be working as hard as possible to ensure the whole team is as strong as possible for the final event.