LeSports by Eurasia Motorsport achieved its objective of finishing in a points-paying position in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Imola; fifth position was well received by all concerned at the end of a dramatic and rain-affected race.
In FP1 on Friday (13 May), French Pro Tristan Gommendy was sent out early to get an impression of the #33 ORECA 05 Nissan’s configuration and set a benchmark for Nick de Bruijn and Kevin Pu Jun Jin to match.
Reports of understeer through the slow-to-medium speed corners in Imola’s second sector prompted setup changes that ultimately propelled Eurasia to the top of the FP1 leaderboard and enabled Pu Jun Jin and de Bruijn to lap competitively on different fuel loads.
Sadly, a last-minute glory run by the #23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier demoted Eurasia Motorsport to second in the final throes of the 90-minute session, but free practice suggested the Asian team had enough raw speed to exceed its own expectations and move forwards from sixth on the grid in Sunday’s four-hour enduro.
The ELMS 4 Hours of Imola itself commenced under gloriously sunny skies on Sunday (15 May) afternoon and Gommendy had the unenviable task of threading the #33 ORECA around Imola’s unforgivingly narrow and undulating confines during the typically fraught opening lap.
Well aware of the perils, everybody at Eurasia Motorsport held their breath as the race went green, but the Frenchman behind the wheel showed his class and exited the Tamburello chicane in sixth, before picking off the #38 G-Drive Racing entry for P5.
There was absolutely nothing to choose between Björn Wirdheim in fourth and Gommendy in fifth, but that Gommendy was ‘elastic through traffic’, quickly recouping time lost while negotiating backmarkers, suggested he was frustrated behind the bright green Krohn Racing machine.
The Frenchman clung onto Krohn’s coattails until the end of his stint at the 45-minute mark and it was then up to mainland China’s Pu Jun Jin and Dutch racer de Bruijn to pick up the baton and continue their Pro teammate’s good work.
A solid drive by Pu Jun Jin and slick driver-changes saw Eurasia Motorsport remain in the thick of the fight for sixth, and de Bruijn continued to make progress, even while fuel-saving, before taking on fresh Dunlops and being instructed to “push like hell”.
Never one to ignore an order, de Bruijn duly responded by lapping quicker than the three cars ahead of him while fending off the fast-approaching Krohn car of Olivier Pla, although all eyes were on the ever-darkening skies by now.
Heavy rain struck the Italian circuit and a wet race was declared entering the fourth and final hour, but it was dry in the pit lane and Eurasia committed to slicks until severe aquaplaning prompted a change of strategy and a switch to full wets during a full-course yellow that went to the chequered flag.
De Bruijn, who brought the #33 Eurasia Motorsport-prepared ORECA home in a creditable fifth position, reflected on the result by saying: “Fifth place is pretty good – it could have been a little better, but it could have also been a little worse, so we have to be happy with it. It’s nice to get points on the board after the disappointment of Silverstone and ahead of Eurasia Motorsport’s debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Our speed was very good, but there are a few places where we need to improve.”
Pu Jun Jin added: “The result is ok, but the last hour or so was skewed by the rain and I think we had a chance of a better finish. We have a good opportunity in the next round of the European Le Mans Series at the Red Bull Ring, but the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the main focus now and I feel ready for that. We’re lacking mileage with the ORECA 05, but I’ve done a lot of preparation and anything can happen in a 24-hour race.”
Gommendy said: “We have to be happy because it’s our first finish and Eurasia Motorsport, Kevin (Pu Jun Jin) and Nick (de Bruijn) all did a great job. The pace was there and I believe we could have fought well at the front, but I was held back during my stint in a big fight with Krohn Racing. It was a little frustrating to be unable to reach the car’s potential and we have a lot of things to think about and improve before Le Mans.”
LeSports by Eurasia Motorsport Team Principal, Mark Goddard, said: “I think fifth is probably where we deserved to be, but the potential is there and that just needs to be unlocked. The lack of pre-season mileage put us on the back foot, so this lays good foundations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This is the first time we’ve finished on the lead lap and that’s a massive step, which demonstrates that we can get a podium. We’re happy!”