asian le mans series – 12 FEBRUARY 2024

asian le mans series FINALE SEES TOP-4 FINISH IN ABU DHABI

Rounds 4 and 5 of the Asian Le Mans Series wrapped up the championship at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, with Sam de Haan scoring a top-4 finish with his Optimum Motorsport teammates. Running with the #69 McLaren, James Cottingham, Tom Gamble and Sam scored an impressive 4th place finish during the first four-hour race of the weekend, before strong pace went unrewarded as they signed off the campaign.

The team arrived in Abu Dhabi looking to bounce back from the disappointing early end to the 4 Hours of Dubai event. Initial pace looked strong, as it had during the previous week’s event, and qualifying saw Sam’s teammate James in the fight for pole position. His initial efforts put him within 0.1-seconds of the top spot, and his final run looked to be an improvement before he encountered traffic in the final sector which would put the #69 McLaren in P3 for race 1, and P6 for Sunday’s season finale.

Race 1 saw James battling from the start, and after a brief Full Course Yellow in the opening stages, he was immediately back into the fight on the restart. Several strong moves saw the #69 pit from P5, and Tom then took over with three hours to go. From here, the McLaren factory driver was quickly on the pace, regaining one position which was lost during the stops, and then making two further passes in quick succession to be amongst the podium positions. A series of quick laps closed the gap ahead, and the DK Engineering-backed McLaren moved a further step up the podium, before the leader pitted, promoting the Optimum-run entry to the race lead. The Safety Car was scrambled shortly after Sam took over for the final stint, and he was firmly in the hunt for a strong result as the final pitstop strategies played out. With consistent laptimes, he ran as high as P2, being chased by a string of GT cars, now bunched up following the caution period. Despite the pressure, Sam focused on the job in hand, defending well and keeping more experienced factory drivers behind him, but he was eventually forced wide and had to concede the position. He continued to fight, defending against the sister Optimum McLaren, but eventually crossed the line in just behind, in P4.

With rain falling ahead of the second race, the track was a very different challenge as the team lined up for the final four hours of the season. With just under 1hr 45mins remaining, James handed over to Sam just as rain began to fall once more. Sam was immediately forced to defend his position, and he continued to battle for position over the first few laps of his stint. As he approached the hotel section of the circuit, he was forced wide and off track by the championship leader, but the position was briefly handed back as the pair exited the final corner. From here, the drag race to the first corner saw Sam initially holding firm and refusing to concede, as he showed his determination to keep the fight alive.

Pitstops continued to see the overall order ebb and flow, with Sam running as high as P3, but a pedalbox issue would hamper his pace during the latter stages of his stint, before pitting for a final driver swap to Tom. The strategies across the pitlane steadily settled, and the #69 remained in the fight, but a late penalty for a track infringement would eventually drop the crew just outside the top-10, scoring a final P12 finish to sign off the Asian Le Mans Series campaign.

With 2024 season plans now confirmed across Europe, running in the BMW of Team WRT, the closing two races of the Asian Le Mans Series close a chapter on an important stage in Sam’s racing. Having campaigned the McLaren 720S GT3 across the last two seasons with Optimum Motorsport, he has scored multiple podiums and race wins, including taking victory at the 24 Hours of Spa and securing the International GT Open title last season. Focus now switches back to Europe, and the full Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS campaign, across the Sprint and Endurance calendars.

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