Brundle battles to LMP2 podium on WEC return

Rostrum finish caps challenging weekend in fine styleAlex Brundle marked his FIA World Endurance Championship return in last weekend’s 6 Hours of Fuji (October 10-12) with a fine third in class finish for OAK Racing.Sharing with Gustavo Yacaman and Keiko Ihara, the King’s Lynn resident was back behind the controls of the French squad’s Morgan-Judd LMP2 following an impressive TUSCC outing in their Ligier JS P2 at Petit Le Mans.Belying his limited recent running aboard the open-cockpit machine, it didn’t take long for the 24-year-old to re-adapt to his surroundings during Friday’s free practice sessions, with Brundle setting a time only 0.5sec slower than the Ligier despite a lack of fresh tyres at his disposal. The Morgan-Judd’s solid pace continued on Saturday morning, setting the Briton up for a tilt at a top-three LMP2 grid slot.Indeed, the achievement of finishing a brilliant second in the 25-minute session represented a job well done at Japan’s former grand prix circuit. However, Brundle’s satisfaction was short-lived after OAK Racing’s #35 machine was relegated to the back with the addition of a stop/go penalty to be served during the race for a technical infringement.Yacaman took the wheel for the opening stages due to the deletion of all qualifying times and had soon moved the crew up to fourth in class. This became third when the #37 SMP Racing Oreca 03R was forced to serve a three-minute stop-and-hold penalty, with the BRDC Superstar taking over from Yacaman for a double stint shortly after.Despite the superior top-end speed of the Morgan along Fuji’s one-mile straight, the relative downforce deficit ensured that tyre conservation would be of high importance to Brundle, who struggled to manage the Dunlop rubber throughout his consecutive stints.Nonetheless, he successfully dealt with the issue while also saving fuel to notch up a series of consistent lap times and maintain the pressure on OAK Racing’s main rivals before handing over to Ihara.Brundle’s relentless efforts to reduce the deficit came to fruition when Yacaman resumed driving duties for the final leg, with Sergey Zlobin’s Oreca 03R emerging from the pits in close proximity to the Colombian following a penalty. Despite contact being made the #35 machine captured third, subsequently holding the position until the chequered flag. That cemented Brundle’s well-deserved return to the rostrum, as well as a ninth-place overall finish for the trio.Indeed, as well as being delighted with his crew’s result, the Briton also took great satisfaction from seeing the Ligier JS P2 secure LMP2 honours after his involvement with OAK Racing’s closed-cockpit challenger.“To be honest, it was odd to be back in the Morgan,” admitted Brundle afterwards. “However, despite its lack of recent development compared to the Ligier, it performed strongly throughout the weekend and finishing on the podium is testament to the hard work OAK Racing has put in. Personally, it was a double success seeing the Ligier claim victory, as I’ve been heavily involved with developing it throughout the season. As frustrating as it was not to drive the JS P2 in Fuji, I’m really proud that it has continued to demonstrate its potential.“Both Gustavo [Yacaman] and Keiko [Ihara] performed superbly over the weekend. I struggled badly with tyre degradation and was forced to save a little fuel throughout my stints to make our strategy work, but our overall pace was strong, and to set the second-quickest time in qualifying and convert it into a top-three result was fantastic. It was nice to actually race in Japan after sitting out last year’s event due to the bad weather. As always, the enthusiasm of the Japanese fans was second to none.”While Brundle’s LMP2 programme has concluded for the time being, his sportscar commitments continue this weekend in the European Le Mans Series season finale at Estoril, Portugal, where he will take the wheel of ART Grand Prix’s McLaren 12C GT3.