A rain-sodden, red flagged round one didn’t dampen all hope of a points-scoring weekend as car #69 bounced back in round two with a top-five finish.
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia, played host to rounds one and two of the 2023/24 Asian Le Mans Series, and with a number of hours of practice under their belts across the Thursday and Friday, it was time for qualifying.
The grid for both race one and race two were set by just one qualifying session from the weekend – each driver’s fastest time set the starting order for Saturday’s race, with the second fastest determining grid positions for Sunday’s four-hour enduro. Side-by-side in the garage and side-by-side for race one for Optimum’s pair of McLaren’s, lining up tenth (#27) and eleventh (#69) for round one after a challenging 15-minute qualifying session hindered by two red flags which saw many teams struggle to set two fast laps.
For Radcliffe (car #27) and Cottingham (car #69), qualifying duties also meant they’d each be taking on the race start, and as the action got underway on Saturday afternoon, the Optimum pair got away cleanly, avoiding all opening lap drama, with the latter passing Radcliffe to move up to tenth.
A short Full Course Yellow period just 25 minutes into the race neutralised the field whilst debris was recovered at turn one following contact between a GT and prototype. Cottingham sprang clear of the Saintéloc Audi as racing was resumed, as well as Leung in the BMW.
As each of the drivers neared the end of their double stint, car #69 spun on track following contact by the Triple Eight Mercedes-AMG, seeing the McLaren fall down the orders to thirteenth. The midway point brought cars in for their second pitstop, this time not just for fuel and tyres, but also the first driver changes of the race.
No sooner had the first Safety Car of the race been deployed as the overall race leader required external assistance after heading into the gravel, reports of lightning over the radio came in.
Sixty minutes left on the clock and both cars opted for opposite strategies as the final mandatory stop approached. #69 gambled with Gamble out on slicks, whilst #27 boxed laps later for wets. The once blue skies turned grey and the rain fell fast, with those on wets clocking faster lap times than those on slicks, seeing #69 box with twenty minutes to spare for wet tyres.
The heavy rain saw a premature end to race one as the red flag was waved with just ten minutes on the clock with #69 finishing P13, and #27 behind in P17.
Race two, similar to race one also saw wheel-to-wheel action, this time it was the yellow and green McLaren versus the yellow and white Pure Racing Porsche – who’d later go on to claim class honours.
As the race progressed, as did the action on track. The #21 Ferrari limped around the track with a puncture following contact with the #66 Audi, and with the threat of a potential Safety Car, both Optimum McLarens boxed before the pit lane closed.
With fresh rubber and over two hours left on the clock, Cottingham sat eighth as the Safety Car boxed and racing resumed. Once again, the Optimum pair ran side-by-side for most of the race, sitting third (#69) and fourth (#27) before pitting at the midway stage.
With no threat of another heavy downpour, both car crews cycled through their pitstop routines and driver changes as the clock counted down and the chequered flag loomed.
The final laps of the weekend’s action saw a tight battle for fourth between Gamble in the Optimum #69 McLaren, AlManar Racing’s Mercedes-AMG, Triple Eight’s Mercedes-AMG, and Herberth’s Porsche, constantly changing track position between the four GT’s.
#27 crossed the line to claim third in class and a podium finish, Gamble brought #69 home in fifth which sees the all-Edge line up sit eighth in the series’ GT standings with three, four-hour races to go until a champion is crowned.
The Asian Le Mans Series now heads to the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai Autodrome will play host to a sole four-hour contest on 4 February 2024, before heading to Yas Marina Circuit for the season finale double header on 10 - 11 February.