Podium agonisingly close: P4 in Round 3 of the 2016/2017 Asian Le Mans Series
On the weekend of 6th – 8th January, it was the turn of Buriram in Thailand to host the Asian Le Mans Series. Giorgio Maggi and his Race Performance team did their utmost to carry through the impetus from Japan, where the Swiss racer together with team-mates Struan Moore and Fabian Schiller claimed the first winners’ trophy of the campaign in early December. The third weekend of the 2016/17 season in Thailand got off to a promising start: after posting the best time in the first free practice session at the Chang International Circuit, the Swiss outfit looked set for another victory. Unfortunately, technical problems and unscheduled pit stops were to dash the hopes of Maggi and his co-drivers. Nevertheless, P4 in the race keeps alive the prospects of a top place finish in the championship itself.
Giorgio, how would you sum up the race weekend at Buriram?
After winning at Fuji, we obviously realised that we were contenders for victory, so we arrived in Thailand with high expectations. We had the same race pace at Buriram as in Japan. Without the technical problems, we could at least have made it onto the podium.
You set the best time in the first free practice, so why did you only qualify in third position?
Things were still going pretty well for us at the free practice stage. I know the track from last year, and it very much suits my driving style. Struan and Fabian were also fast out there – the three of us were all driving at the same level throughout the weekend. However, our car has a slight performance disadvantage compared to the opposition. Whereas we were still able to set the pace in the first session, the performance of the car diminished over the further course of the weekend. Anyway, we had already anticipated in the run-up that we would have difficulty challenging for pole position in qualifying.
You hung on to third place in your stint. How satisfied are you with your personal performance?
I didn’t get away at the start quite as well as at Fuji, but I was at least able to consolidate third place. On the long straight, I attempted an overtaking manoeuvre on the second-placed driver. He was blocking the ideal line, and I had to try my luck on the outside. However, he misbraked and swerved slightly off the line, which meant I had to move further out to avoid a collision. Consequently, we both lost a lot of time. The race leader exploited the situation and opened up a gap on us both.
Was that the moment at which the outcome of the race was decided?
No, because a lot can happen in a four-hour race. Nevertheless, we never got close to the race leader after that point. The many fast corners at Buriram make it extremely difficult to overtake there. Because I was unable to get past the car in second place, we decided to change the tactics and save some fuel. As regards my stint, though, I am generally satisfied. I got the maximum out of the car and set consistently fast lap times.
Your team ultimately dropped back one place. What was the reason for that?
After I handed the car over to Fabian, he got stuck behind a slower GT car. When he made an attempt to get past, the opponent shut the door. Fabian had to take evasive action via the inner kerb, as a result of which he spun round. Unfortunately, that cost us a lot of time. On top of which we had to make an extra stop to change tyres. During Struan’s stint, he radioed back to the pit wall that there was something wrong with the handling of our car. The team then called him into the pits for a repair stop. As a result, we not only lost two laps on the race leader but also dropped down to fourth.
It’s not long now until the grand finale to the season in Malaysia (20th – 22nd January). How do you rate your chances of victory?
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to defend the title, but second place in the championship is still achievable. So as always, we will be going all out for the win in Malaysia. It’s a circuit that means a lot to me. No matter who you talk to, everyone knows the track in Malaysia – if only from its associations with Formula 1. A lap there is longer than most, plus the technical features and mix of fast, slow and ultra-slow corners present a host of different challenges for both driver and car. I love that sort of thing. The two long straights offer good overtaking possibilities, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t be among the favourites.