A battle-scarred Eurasia Motorsport team soldiered on to finish seventh in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Imola on the history-rich Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, damage hampering its charge towards a desired top-five result (16-17 May).
Climactic conditions were typically changeable for the ELMS’s third annual visit to Imola in Northern Italy, rain lashing the San Marino region on Friday, damp and overcast conditions dominating on Saturday and brilliant sunshine blazing down on the beautiful and evocative circuit for Sunday’s four-hour enduro.
Imola is famed for its narrow and technical 4.9km, anti-clockwise configuration, which encompasses ten right-hand and five left-hand turns, plenty of gradient changes and high kerbing.
However, the Eurasia pairing of Nick de Bruijn and Kevin Pu Jun Jin were unfazed and put in a strong showing in settled conditions to qualify fifth – one position higher than at the Silverstone’s season-opener – and give the Asia-based team a very real shot at hitting its targets for the weekend.
The blue skies held out for the duration of the 4 Hours of Imola and a slightly delayed start due to a stricken prototype machine resulted in an extra formation lap, allowing drivers more time to generate brake and tyre temperature.
This went some way to tempering the drama that is typical of the initial run to Tamburello and de Bruijn, who took the Eurasia Motorsport ORECA 03R Nissan off the line, lost track position to Ivan Bellarosa in the Ibanez Racing entry as the field jostled cleanly at the chicane.
The battle for fifth place raged on and de Bruijn could be found tucked under the #45 machine’s rear wing for several laps as Oswaldo Negri Junior in the Krohn Racing Ligier became a factor.
A hard-charging Pierre Thiriet carved his way through the pack and quickly demoted de Bruijn to seventh, leaving Eurasia Motorsport to focus on an entertaining fight with the Ibanez Racing and Krohn Racing teams during the first hour, which was punctuated by a Safety Car deployment.
Sadly, two careless passing attempts by Negri resulted in contact, leaving Eurasia Motorsport with debilitating rear-end damage and handling issues.
De Bruijn remained in the driving seat through the first stop, during which he was impeded by an LMP3 runner, and atoned for the time loss with some skilled driving before handing the reins to mainland Chinese driver, Pu Jun Jin, on his second visit to the pits.
An ill-timed Safety Car intervention caused Eurasia Motorsport to lose a lap to the LMP2 leaders, but Pu Jun Jin drove well as strategies continued unfolding and positions were traded with the Ibanez, Pegasus and Krohn Racing cars during the middle phase of the race.
De Bruijn returned to the fray and it appeared there would be a grandstand finish, with the Krohn, Eurasia, Ibanez and SMP Racing teams all running in close quarters after the final round of stops.
Eurasia Motorsport took the decision to triple-stint and subsequently slipped past the rival Ibanez squad to run sixth on the road deep into the fourth and final hour of the race, but its handling deficit meant there was little that could be done to fend off a late attack from the opposition, de Bruijn taking the finish in seventh.
Eurasia Motorsport Team Principal, Mark Goddard, said: “Both Nick (de Bruijn) and Kevin (Pu Jun Jin) drove well and, under the circumstances, seventh position is a very reasonable result. The damage we sustained early on in the race was considerable and it’s a miracle we made it to the finish at all. To qualify fifth was a good result and it was a shame we were compromised after the contact but we felt we would lose too much time repairing the car and decided to soldier on.”