2016 European Le Mans Series - Round 3/6 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring - Race Report
Resuming the 2016 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) season after the team’s successful debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Algarve Pro scored its best ELMS result to date at the 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring (Austria), finishing 5th overall with a new driving line-up.
After the 6-time Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Chris Hoy fulfilled his dream of racing – and actually finishing – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Algarve Pro welcomed a new driver at the Red Bull Ring. A former ELMS race winner (in 2014), Jonathan Hirschi from Switzerland joined Michael Munemann and Andrea Pizzitola at the wheel of the #25 sky blue and white Ligier JS P2-Nissan. On the short, fast and hilly layout of the Red Bull Ring, Algarve Pro rapidly found the right pace in the overall top 10 in free practice, and even snuck into the overall top 5 in FP2. This good shape was confirmed in qualifying, with the 7th time overall on row 4.
The 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring started under cloudy sky. Michael Munemann was at the wheel of the #25 Ligier and he completed a consistent first stint in the LMP2 top 10, safely bringing the car in the the pits on lap 29 after 42 minutes of trouble-free racing to hand over to Jonathan Hirschi.
During his double stint, the Swiss was one of the fastest LMP2 drivers on the track, and only needed 11 laps to get back into the overall top 10, climbing up to P6. The first 6-minute Full Course Yellow was the opportunity to get back into the pits after 1h47 of racing. It was time for Andrea Pizzitola to take the wheel of the #25 Ligier. On the halfway mark, the young Frenchman was 8th overall and the car completed 79 laps.
Pizzitola drove a triple stint until the chequered flag. During his second stint, he even was one of the four fastest LMP2 drivers on the track and made his way to the overall top 5. Pizzitola’s pace combined to some technical incidents for the leading cars brought him to P4 right before his last pit stop after 3h16 of racing. The #26 Ligier suffered two drive-through penalties in the last 30 minutes, but a highly motivated Pizzitola regained P5 in the final lap.
Jonathan Hirschi: "Considering the current level of the ELMS, it is a great feeling to be back in the top 5 after a 2-year break in prototype racing. For me the car still has a great margin of improvement, so I think that we will be fine at the Paul Ricard next month. Michael posted his best lap times ever at the Red Bull Ring, and Andrea and myself are motivating each other so the team can make even quicker progress. So this was a very positive weekend."
Andrea Pizzitola: "I am very satisfied with this result. I think I could do even better in qualifying, but the car's pace was really good in race. Michael perfectly managed the race start and brought the car to the first pit stop without any incident, and Jonathan completed a brilliant double stint. We also managed to gain positions through the whole race, but I made two mistakes when I started the engine when refuelling, and crossed the white line when entering the pit lane for my first penalty. I pushed to the max to catch up and I made it. I am very pleased with P5. Next time we will put all things together and make no mistake, so we can hope for an even better result."
Stewart Cox, the final word from a very happy team owner: "This is a fantastic weekend. When the weather became cooler we switched from medium tyres in testing to soft tyres here, which actually improved the way the car works. Michael preferred the medium tyres and lost a lap with the soft tyres during his stint, but he pushed very hard and gave everything he could. When Jonathan jumped in he was immediately quick. He did a fantastic job and made his way in the traffic, putting really good lap times. When we knew the soft tyres could make three stints, we made a quick change in the first Full Course Yellow by putting Andrea in. He posted super lap times during his triple stint. In the end of the race Andrea crossed the white line in his first drive-through so we had a second drive-through penalty, but he did remarkably in the last lap and regained P5. I can't thank the team enough, this is our best result to date and we are very pleased. Jonathan will compete with us for the remainder of the 2016 season, and we also announced that we would be in LMP2 once again next year is really good for the team, we really mean business in the European Le Mans Series. I am really proud of the team and we are looking forward to the Paul Ricard race.
After Austria's Styrian Alps, the Algarve Pro team and the European Le Mans Series grid will reach the South of France for the 4 Hours of Le Castellet, to be competed on August 26-28.