LeSports by Eurasia Motorsport and its drivers, Kevin Pu Jun Jin, Nick de Bruijn and Tristan Gommendy, raced sublimely to fifth position in LMP2 and ninth overall on its debut in the 24 Heures du Mans endurance classic (18-19 June).
The result and the way it was achieved cements Eurasia Motorsport’s status as a world-class squad and affirms the theory that a team borne out of the burgeoning Asian motorsport scene can compete equally at an international level, in the most prestigious and historic of races.
The all-Asian team went as high as fourth in LMP2 in rain-affected qualifying practice sessions (Wednesday 15 June), but it was evident that it was capable of going considerably faster with a clear, unobstructed lap on fresh tyres and low fuel.
Unfortunately, its preparations stalled when Pu Jun Jin ran wide onto the marbles and collided with the barriers at the Forest Esses during the final part of qualifying practice.
The Chinese racer emerged from the wreckage with only bruising to his right foot, but he would be forced to take some respite from the cockpit until declared fit by on-site medics.
However, the impact caused significant damage to the #33 ORECA’s front and rear bodywork, flooring, uprights, suspension and driveshaft, although the LeSports by Eurasia crew was pleased to discover that the car’s gearbox and engine had been perfectly preserved.
A calm, yet concerted push to repair and rebuild the ORECA was undertaken overnight and into Thursday afternoon and Gommendy and de Bruijn were initially left to complete installation laps and shake the car down on Thursday (16 June), before getting the programme back on track.
LeSports by Eurasia craved consistent dry weather to allow it to mount a challenge for class pole, but the rain returned with a vengeance and thwarted any attempts to improve on 20th overall and 11th on the LMP2 starting grid.
Mercifully, Pu Jun Jin was cleared to compete following a full health check at the Circuit de la Sarthe Medical Centre and, despite being in considerable pain during Saturday’s morning warm-up, the Chinese gentleman driver showed the ‘Le Mans spirit’ by choosing to race on.
Raceday, and a torrential downpour struck France’s Loire Valley minutes before the start of the 84th 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the rapidly deteriorating conditions necessitated a Safety Car start.
The 60-strong field circulated behind the course car for almost an hour while officials waited for the rain to abate and Gommendy picked up positions as rivals pitted, until he himself was summoned into the pits to rectify a gearbox sensor issue just as the race went green.
Two laps were lost while the problem was diagnosed and cured, but Gommendy drove a remarkable double-stint in drying conditions, often setting the pace in LMP2, to climb back into 22nd overall before handing the reins to Pu Jun Jin during the first driver-change.
The Chinese driver impressed during a solid first race stint at Le Mans, quickly hitting his target lap time of 3m45s and maintaining track position, and de Bruijn continued his teammates’ good work by racing to 19th overall and 11th in the ultra-competitive LMP2 classification,
A second, fleeting appearance by Pu Jun Jin was followed by quadruple stints for Gommendy and de Bruijn during the hours of darkness and, while a penalty for speeding in a slow zone was an inconvenient delay, dawn broke to reveal that Eurasia Motorsport had breached the top five in class.
Supreme driving by all three LeSports by Eurasia Motorsport drivers during a problem-free run to the chequered flag that was primarily about managing fuel usage, tyre and brake-wear ensured the team remained fifth in LMP2 and ninth overall in front of 263,500 adoring trackside spectators.
Pu Jun Jin had the honour of taking the venerable #33 ORECA 05 Nissan to the chequered flag and there were jubilant scenes on the pit wall and in the garage as he crossed the line.
“I’ve had images of what crossing the line in the 24 Hours of Le Mans would be like since my days in Karting and all the way through my career, but I never really thought I would have this opportunity to race here,” said an overwhelmed Pu Jun Jin. “When you’re young in China, you see the race and how fast the cars are, but it doesn’t feel accessible. I brought my friends and LeSports along on the road to Le Mans so they can experience this, and I hope to make progress to create more awareness among Chinese drivers, fans and the general public.
“Because of this, it was amazing to cross the line and see the marshal waving the chequered flag. It shocked me and I wanted to cry, because LeSports by Eurasia Motorsport have worked so hard and ensured nothing went wrong with the car. We went through so much difficult, especially with my practice crash, and it was an honour to take the car to the finish. I have a lot of respect for the competition and to finish fifth in LMP2 is special.”
De Bruijn added: “This is our best result; finishing fifth in an LMP2 field that’s so competitive at Le Mans is like a victory. I went into this with no expectations and I’m delighted with the way everybody has performed. Kevin (Pu Jun Jin) injured his foot, but pushed through, and Tristan (Gommendy) can always be relied on to do a great job.”
Gommendy said: “It’s a big day for everybody at LeSports by Eurasia Motorsport. For many it’s their first experience of Le Mans and I don’t think the team realises how much they’ve achieved just by finishing the race. To finish in the top five on this level is tough and it’s a great day that we must enjoy.”
LeSports by Eurasia Motorsport Team Principal, Mark Goddard, said: “This is a reflection of where Asian motorsport is at the moment, because we are an Asian-based team and we’ve come to what is widely recognised as the world’s biggest motor race and finished fifth in class and tenth overall. It has been a hard week for everybody and we’ve been very impressed by Kevin Pu Jun Jin’s pace, the step Nick de Bruijn has taken and Tristan Gommendy confirmed how quick he is. This is a massive achievement and there are no words to describe how it feels.”