The final two rounds of the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series produced some thrilling racing at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Ultimately the Garage 59 squad just missed out on the automatic invitation to Le Mans for the top four finishers as the #88 Aston Martin Vantage finished fifth in the Championship but they enjoyed some great racing in the two, four-hour races.
The first race got off to an incredible start for the Garage 59 Vantages on Friday. Aston Martin factory driver Maxime Martin and R-Motorsport racer Marvin Kirchhöfer started in fourth and sixth places respectively but when a slow starting LMP2 car scattered the pack at the start, they pounced. When the cars came around to complete the first lap, Martin was leading, with Kirchhöfer on his tail. They ran in fast formation throughout the first stint until Kirchhöfer managed to squeeze pass Martin just before the first hour was up.
Yuki Nemoto and Valentin Hasse-Clot were up next, continuing the fast pace set in the opening stint before handing over to the team’s rapid Bronze drivers, Alexander West and Mike Benham. The cars were split when they came in for their final stops; Martin was able to jump back into the #88 Vantage while the race was under a Full Course Yellow but the race went green as the #89 Aston Martin pitted. Martin crossed the line in sixth, with Kirchhöfer in ninth place.
The final race of the shortened Asian Le Mans Series took place on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. Kirchhöfer started third in the #89 Vantage and showed again that he was in no mood to be hanging about, going three-wide into Turn One to take the lead! Martin started back on 10th place but was up to sixth by the end of Lap One and up to third when the Safety Car came out just over 10 minutes into the race.
Once the Safety Car pitted, Martin moved up to second so the two Garage 59 Vantages were again in first and second place. With a second Safety Car slowing everything down later on in the opening stint, the team elected to bring in Martin and Kirchhöfer early so West and Benham could jump in. Both Bronze drivers again ran well, staying high up the order despite challenges from pro drivers and a quick spin for Benham when he was tagged by the race-leading LMP2 car.
At the halfway mark, Hasse-Clot and Nemoto took their turns in the hot seat and once all the other GT cars had taken their next stops they were in third and fourth places. Nemoto tangled with the 27 Ferrari, which had already had contact quite a few times during the race, which pushed the Japanese driver down to sixth but he quickly recovered and continued.
With an hour to go Martin and Kirchhöfer were back behind the wheels of the Garage 59 Vantages but they had a mountain to climb. Whereas the cars ahead of them had taken two of their timed, mandatory pit stops during the long Safety Car period in the opening hour, the Vantages hadn’t. This would have been okay if there had been one more Safety Car but the gamble didn’t pay off this time and the #88 and #89 Vantages came home in ninth and 10th place.
Maxime Martin was pragmatic about the final result and enjoyed his time on track throughout all four Asian Le Mans races. He said: “We had good pace in Abu Dhabi. The car always felt good and we had no issues. We had a bit of luck with a Full Course Yellow in the first race, which helped us to finish in sixth place, then in the second race we went the wrong way with the strategy with the Safety Cars and Full Course Yellows. That’s just how it goes sometimes. The team did a great job for the full season: Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The car was always competitive and we were always the fastest Aston Martin. Alex did a really good job and Valentin was very strong too. It’s a shame we finished fifth in the championship as we don’t get the entry for Le Mans but that’s just how it is. We will learn from this and come back stronger.”
In the #89 Aston Martin, Marvin Kirchhöfer particularly enjoyed the opening stints of both races, commenting: “I was happy with how we went in the #89 Vantage. We had a good qualifying and really good opening stints in both races, which were a lot of fun for me. Yuki did an amazing job during his runs and Mike made a big step forward in Abu Dhabi after working really hard on his confidence in what is a new car for him. Overall it was a great team effort. We scored some points, had good races and we had a lot of fun. I feel for the guys in the #88 as they were so close to getting the Le Mans entry but there will be other races where we will go for it again and make it to the top.”