Le Mans invites awarded as G-Drive wins Asian Le Mans title
G-Drive has secured an automatic invite for the Le Mans 24 Hours by clinching the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series title, as JOTA swept the Abu Dhabi double header.
The #26 G-Drive Aurus-branded Oreca crew of Ferdinand Habsburg, Rene Binder and Yifei Ye won the opening two races of the series in Dubai last weekend to put themselves 18 points clear of the rest of the field.
And while JOTA duo Sean Gelael and Tom Blomqvist did their best to deny their G-Drive rivals the title with a double win in Abu Dhabi, a second and fourth place was enough for Habsburg, Binder and Ye to capture the crown by four points.
The Oreca of Blomqvist and Gelael was sent to the back of the LMP2 grid in Race 1 after the British driver failed to complete any laps in either practice or qualifying - a result of the team prioritising Gelael after Blomqvist crashed the car in pre-event testing.
But Blomqvist, who replaced Stoffel Vandoorne alongside Gelael for Abu Dhabi and hence had very limited running in the car, was immediately on the move when the race began, working his way up to second before handing over the car to his Indonesian teammate.
Gelael drove brilliantly from there on, capitalising on a well timed VSC period to make a pitstop and take a lead he would maintain till the end of the race.
The #26 G-Drive crew was classified a lap down in second - not helped by a late off-track excursion of Ye and a five-second time penalty added to their pitstop.
The polesitting sister G-Drive car of John Falb, Franco Colapinto and Rui Andrade rounded off the podium spots, having lost their lead early on in the race.
Binder started Race 2 from pole position but was caught out by an early safety car, allowing Gelael to take advantage of the situation to snatch the lead.
Gelael traded places with the #25 G-Drive Aurus of Colapinto several times in a race that saw the lead change 13 times before handing over the car to Blomqvist.
While Gelael was the star of Race 1, it was his Blomqvist who played the bigger role in JOTA's victory this time, overturning a 20-second deficit to grab the top spot on lap 76.
The G-Drive entry bounced back strongly in the final stint after serving a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane, but Gelael - now back in the JOTA car - was able to withstand late pressure from Colapinto to take the chequered by just 0.422s.
Habsburg, Binder and Ye had an underwhelming run to fourth behind the #5 Phoenix Racing Oreca of Simon Trummer, Kelvin van der Linde and Matthias Kaiser, but the result was enough to help the Algarve Pro-run G-Drive team win a second Asian Le Mans title in as many years.
Elsewhere, United Autosports took the LMP3 class crown after Rory Penttinen, Wayne Boyd and Manuel Maldonado - cousin of Formula 1 race winner Pastor Maldonado - took three wins in four races in the team’s #23 Ligier JS P320.
A total of four Le Mans invites were handed out for GT3 runners thanks to an expanded entry list that saw 19 crews take part in the class in Abu Dhabi.
The championship-winning Precote Herberth Porsche team, GPX Racing Porsche, Rinaldi Ferrari and Optimum McLaren squads have all provisionally been granted invites for the French endurance classic for finishing in the top four in the GT class.
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