JOTA’s Tom Blomqvist and Sean Gelael put on a commanding second-half performance to win the penultimate race of the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series at Yas Marina Circuit.
The drivers of the No. 28 Oreca 07 Gibson broke free from their car’s battle with the No. 26 G-Drive Racing entry in the first two hours to earn JOTA’s first win of the campaign.
Gelael took the checkered flag two minutes and five seconds clear of Yifei Ye in the No. 26 G-Drive Oreca-based Aurus 01 Gibson that the Chinese driver shared with Ferdinand Habsburg and Rene Binder.
It came after Blomqvist was sent to the back of the LMP2 grid for not completing any laps during Free Practice or qualifying. An accident for the British driver in pre-event testing led to JOTA prioritizing Gelael’s seat time in its rebuilt car during the build-up.
Ye, Habsburg and Binder maintained their points lead following their double victory in last weekend’s Dubai season-opener, but Gelael – who teamed up with Stoffel Vandoorne for rounds one and two – moved up to second in the standings with this latest win.
Gelael completed most of JOTA’s stints, with ex-BMW factory driver Blomqvist taking the wheel for the starting leg of his first LMP2 appearance in five years.
After starting sixth, Blomqvist quickly worked his way through the LMP2 field in the initial hour as Binder stormed into the lead at Turn 1.
A couple of safety car periods for stranded United Autosports LMP3 cars kept the LMP2 runners close, while Blomqvist had climbed to second by the end of the first stint.
A quick in-lap from the JOTA driver helped the FIA World Endurance Championship team to send Gelael out ahead of Binder despite a driver swap, although G-Drive’s No. 26 car returned to the lead when Binder smartly out-braked Gelael into Turn 11.
The defining strategic moment of the race then occurred midway through the second hour when a Full Course Yellow period was initialized due to on-track debris.
The FCY occurred at the perfect time for JOTA, which brought Gelael into the pits on-schedule during the slow period after both G-Drive cars had come in a few minutes earlier.
Gelael’s ability to pit whilst his nearest rivals were circulating at a reduced pace vaulted the Indonesian from second place into a 50-second lead over Habsburg.
The JOTA car remained ahead from that point onwards, with Gelael controlling the race despite Habsburg taking almost half a minute out of the gap over the next hour.
An off-track moment for Ye followed by a time penalty served at G-Drive’s final pit stop added further security to JOTA’s victorious run.
Rui Andrade, Franco Colapinto and John Falb completed the podium in the No. 25 G-Drive Aurus, which started from pole.
Falb dropped to fourth in the early exchanges before Colapinto brought their car back into the top-three with a move on Phoenix Racing’s Matthias Kaiser in hour two.
Kaiser, Simon Trummer and Audi GT3 ace Kelvin van der Linde ended up fourth ahead of Racing Team India’s Narain Karthikeyan, Arjun Maini and Naveen Rao.
In LMP3, Colin Noble successfully held off his Nielsen Racing teammate Matt Bell in the closing stages to take victory in the No. 9 Ligier JS P320 Nissan.
Noble, who shared driving duties with Tony Wells, finished just half a second ahead of Bell in a dramatic final-stint battle.
RLR MSport led most of the race but its Ligier fell back to fourth after serving a stop-go penalty for its role in a collision with the No. 34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3.
United Autosports’ No. 3 Ligier finished third, although the team’s double Dubai-winning No. 23 machine retired in the first hour due to a suspected alternator failure.
GPX Porsche Wins Eventful GT Race
Julien Andlauer, Axcil Jefferies and Alain Ferte chalked up GPX Racing’s second consecutive GT class win after a dramatic contest that was impacted by caution periods.
GPX led home a Porsche one-two from the No. 99 Herberth Motorsport entry of Robert Renauer, Alfred Renauer and Ralf Bohn, despite a weight increase for the 911 GT3 Rs.
Garage 59 dominated most of the opening half with its two Aston Martin Vantage GT3s, before momentum swung the way of the cars that pitted during the second-hour FCY.
A handful of teams including Oman Racing with TF Sport, HubAuto Racing and Rinaldi Racing opted to cut their second stints short by pitting during the intervention, which provisionally timed their third and final stops for the top of the fourth hour.
This looked set to be an advantageous move, with the main pack on course to need a round of stops during the final hour.
TF Sport in particular was looking strong until the British team’s race came undone when Tom Canning had contact with Ferrari driver Tim Kohmann at the hairpin with 52 minutes remaining.
A further twist came during the FCY period stemming from that collision, as the main pack pitted while the off-strategy entries were running at a slower pace.
After the final stops, Andlauer emerged with a 10-second lead over Robert Renauer that would set the tone for the run to the line.
Formula Racing Ferrari drivers Nicklas Nielsen, Johnny Laursen and Alessio Rovera completed the top-three, as Garage 59’s top Aston finished sixth behind Rinaldi and HubAuto.
RESULTS: 4H Abu Dhabi Race 1 (provisional)