Two invitations to enter the 2024 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours were handed out Sunday after a thrilling climax to the 2023/2024 Asian Le Mans Series season in Abu Dhabi.
For Portuguese-flagged, British-run team Algarve Pro Racing, it was a historic weekend with the team’s No. 4 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA, driven by former IMSA GTP driver Colin Braun, Peugeot Sport Hypercar reserve driver Malthe Jakobsen and George Kurtz, sealing the LMP2 titles in dramatic fashion. A bold strategy call led to a surprise victory in race one on Saturday before a seventh-place finish in Sunday evening’s finale finished the job.
As a result, the team has been awarded an invitation to enter the Le Mans 24 Hours in the LMP2 class, adding to its invite earned through winning the 2023 European Le Mans Series LMP2 Championship last year.
Notably, Kurtz has a personal invitation of his own to race at Le Mans after winning IMSA’s Jim Trueman award in 2023, also with Crowdstrike APR.
Elsewhere, Lithuanian Porsche customer team Pure Rxcing’s fairytale 12 months continued when its 911 GT3 R 992 of Alex Malykhin, Klaus Bachler and Joel Sturm took the hotly-contested GT title. This invitation to enter the 24 Hours adds to its invite earned by winning the World Challenge Europe Bronze Cup title and its full-season WEC entry with Manthey in LMGT3 which grants a space on the grid automatically. This means the team could have as many as three cars on the entry for its debut at the event.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Manthey-supported team will utilize its Asian Le Mans invite at La Sarthe. Primarily, the allure of competing in the Asian Le Mans Series was, according to team owner Edgar Kochanovskij, “to practice, stay in shape and work with Manthey” over the winter.
“The philosophy of the team is to pure, true racing,” Kochanovskij said when asked by RACER what its plans were should it win another invitation.
“If I can find a driver lineup that I am happy to put my name on, then yes [we would use the invitation], but I don’t think it will [be very easy] to find talented, passionate, hard-working and motivated Bronze drivers to fill the entry.”
Swiss team COOL Racing sealed the LMP3 title in the final race, but there is no invitation for the LMP3 class title winner this season. Instead, the team will receive priority when entering the 2024 Le Mans Cup Road To Le Mans support races held during the Le Mans race week for LMP3 and GT3 cars.
The two invitations handed out Sunday add to the nine already awarded before the start of the Asian Le Mans Series season last December. (All entries are subject to final decisions from the ACO Selection Committee.)
This year’s Asian Le Mans Series season had a grid maxed out at 42 cars, plus the return to Sepang for the first time since the pandemic proved to be a hit with the teams, and the title battles in all three classes went down to the wire.
Before the series decamped at the Yas Marina circuit, the Jordanian-flagged, TF Sport-run 99 Racing ORECA LMP2 squad, which featured former F1 driver Nikita Mazepin in its driver line-up, looked firmly in control.
Mazepin, along with Ahmad Al Harthy and WTRAndretti GTP driver Louis Deletraz won two of the three races at Sepang and Dubai heading into the final meeting. They held a 20-point lead in the standings.
The team’s title hopes fell to pieces this weekend after a smorgasbord of misfortune and drama handed Crowdstrike Racing a lifeline, which it grasped with both hands.
In race one, after starting on pole with a changed driver lineup due to an illness for Mazepin, Al Harthy was turned into a spin on lap one, dropping him to dead last. The car then retired in the third hour after a bizarre incident under safety car conditions.
Al Harthy rear-ended the GT title-winning Pure Rxcing Porsche while both cars were avoiding a car in the queue that suddenly braked hard. He was, somewhat controversially, penalized for his role in the incident. The damage to the No. 99, meanwhile, was severe — the car needing a full rebuild around a new tub from AF Corse overnight ahead of Sunday’s four-hour race.
The efforts of the mechanics would be in vain as the car struggled for pace with a shifting issue throughout the race, lost time due to an emergency service stop under the safety car and was forced to serve a stop-go penalty for the race one incident. Ultimately, they came home only 11th overall, handing the title to Crowdstrike Racing by APR.