Algarve Pro Racing gained experience with great consistency and reliability in the opening round of the 2016 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) season. The all-new driving line-up finished 10th overall, also focusing on the team’s forthcoming first start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 18-19.
The 4 Hours of Silverstone were a series of firsts for Algarve Pro Racing. 2016 is the team’s first full season in the ELMS, with Michael Munemann welcoming two new team mates at the wheel of the #25 Ligier JS P2-Nissan. The multiple Olympic Gold Medalist Sir Chris Hoy drove an LMP2 car in a race for the first time at Silverstone, and Parth Ghorpade from India made his ELMS debut. The three drivers could rely upon a fast and proven car which had previously competed in 2015 ELMS and the Asian Le Mans Series and which once again ran flawlessly at Silverstone.
Weather conditions were difficult on Friday and Saturday for the ELMS competitors, with rain in qualifying on Saturday morning. With the 13th position in class after qualifying (26th overall), the main focus for the team was to finish the afternoon race at the best position and drive as fast and safely as possible. At 2.30 pm (local time), the race fortunately started on a dry race track.
Michael Munemann escaped the multiple collisions at the race start. He gained six positions in the first 10 laps. He reached the LMP2 top 10 on lap 14, after the first Full Course Yellow. The sky blue, red and white Ligier was 12th overall when Sir Chris Hoy took the wheel for a double stint after 53 minutes of racing. Posting consistent lap times, the Scotsman reached the overall top 10 in less than 10 laps. Unfortunately he got stuck in the gravel after running off the track at the exit of the Chapel corner. A 10-minute Full Course Yellow was necessary to retrieve the #25 Ligier. The car suffered no damage so Sir Chris Hoy could come back into the race, pitting after 1h46 of racing (lap 49). He climbed up to 11th overall before handing over to Parth Ghorpade for the final double stint, with 1h28 remaining. The driver from India was equally consistent as his team mates and reached the overall top 10 again 35 minutes before race finish after the retirement of another competitor. The Algarve Pro Racing Ligier received the chequered flag in 10th position, with 114 laps completed. This was the best encouragement for the newly-formed line-up Munemann, Hoy and Ghorpade, who also know the great potential of the Ligier when in the top positions.
Parth Ghorpade reflects on his European debut in endurance racing: « I am very happy to have made the decision to come to Europe. It really is a great experience for me to switch from single seaters to prototypes, especially in a big event like the European Le Mans Series. It is a fantastic series, with such a huge crowd, a very high level of racing and many experienced drivers, some coming from Formula 1. There is a fantastic atmosphere in the team, they work as a family but are very professional too. The free practice went really well, we learned a lot. It is a great honour to be the team mate of Sir Chris Hoy, a 6-time Olympic Gold Medalist, especially in the UK, he is the crowd’s favourite here. Michael is a nice guy too, it is great to work with him, he has the experience of the car and is of great help to me. The Ligier JS P2 is a new car to drive for me and it is fantastic. Before the race, the only thing for me was to bring it home. But once on the track it made me pushing even more, I was getting even better and better. I enjoyed every lap I drove. This is one of the reasons why I am here, I want to enjoy every race I compete in. I want to be safe and clean and fast as well. I know the Imola circuit quite well since I raced there in Formula Renault in 2013. The main thing will be to qualify better than at Silverstone since we know we have a top 5 pace in race. We just need to qualify on front and maintain our position so this is our main goal for Imola. The top 6 should be a good finish there. »
For Parth Ghorpade and his team mates Michael Munemann and Sir Chris Hoy, the next stage will be the 4 Hours of Imola, to be competed on May 13-15, once again with the double goal of gaining experience together in the ELMS and get ready for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.