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Positive debut for Belén García in Asian Le Mans Series

Belén García launched her first full-season in endurance racing with the first two rounds of the extremely competitive Asian Le Mans Series, where the young Catalan made big progress at the wheel of the Graff Racing LMP3 Ligier and battled for a podium position, before she had to settle for eighth due to a technical issue on Sunday.

Photo courtesy: Belén Garcia

Young Catalan Belén García officially made her debut in her first full endurance season, with the opening round of the Asian Le Mans Series at Dubai. García - at her third race ever in LMP3 machinery after her one-off appearances in the Micheline Le Mans Cup and Ultimate Cup at the end of 2022 - joined again French squad Graff Racing, sharing the #9 Ligier JS P320 LMP3 with Eric Trouillet and Sébastien Page.

While the series suffered during the pandemic, the Asian Le Mans Series is back to a full grid in 2023, hosting again some of the top teams and drivers of the endurance scene: among the 47 entries, 14 LMP3 will battle out for the class title. The calendar features four rounds over two consecutive weekends - two at Dubai and two at Abu Dhabi, making it even more of a challenge for teams and drivers.

After contesting two seasons in the all-female W Series championship, García is now focusing her efforts on endurance racing and is eager to collect the most experience possible in the Asian Le Mans Series ahead of the summer season.

While the winter break has been long, Belén has been busy with university – as she currently studies telematics engineering in Barcelona. “Between exams and preparation, the wait for this first race has been very long, and that this year comes earlier than usual”, she commented ahead of the opening weekend. “Getting in the car is going to be a great reward for so much previous work from Paul Ricard.”

In the South of France, García had her first race with Graff Racing – and with the same teammates. She ended up winning her first race in prototypes at only her second outing in LMP3, so expectations for the Asian Le Mans Series were high.

“I feel strong and ready to start the season”, she continued. “I have worked very hard on the physical side and I have invested many hours in the simulator, especially for the Dubai circuit, as I had no previous reference.”

“I have really enjoyed studying its peculiarities and trying to learn its tricks virtually. I want to see if reality is similar to what is hinted on the screen”, Belén explained. “In regards to Yas Marina, I was there in 2019 for the Formula Renault Eurocup Rookie Test, but the changes made to its layout mean that any previous reference is literally useless. Therefore, just like this weekend in Dubai, it will be time to start from scratch”.

Fully committed to maximize her chances in the exciting and booming world of endurance racing, García knew it would be crucial to continue her learning process of the car, the series and traffic management. With many teams and drivers from the Asian Series expected to also contest the European campaign, the two-week championship represented an invaluable opportunity to measure herself with a top-field.

“The level of the rivals has risen a lot, both in volume and quality, so it will be a good opportunity to continue learning in the world of endurance competitions” - Belén explained.

The first two 4-hour races went underway at Dubai Autodrome and Belén García, Eric Trouillet and Sébastien Page completed the opening practice sessions in tenth place. Sharing the car with two bronze-rated drivers, García would have the chance to drive the most stints in the races, but Trouillet would be in charge of qualifying the car. The French driver put the #9 LMP3 Ligier in 11th spot for both races.

Photo courtesy: Belén Garcia
Race 1

The delayed start - due to a lengthy red flag in qualifying - arrived in the late afternoon of Saturday, which kicked off the 2023 season. Trouillet took the start in the #9 Graff Racing Ligier and had a fantastic start, climbing the order up to fifth place in class.

Unfortunately, the quick progression of the trio was halted by a contact within the first 10 minutes of racing, which saw Trouillet being sent into a spin at turn 1, dropping to P12.

A Full Course Yellow at the 30 minute mark - triggered by an accident between the #37 Cool Racing LMP2 Oreca and the #77 D'Station Racing Aston Martin - launched the first round of pit stops and Trouillet moved up to eighth.

The class leading #11 WTM Racing retired with gearbox issues and Eric Trouillet pitted, handing over to Sébastien Page after a 1 hour and 10 minute stint. The Swiss driver rejoined in tenth place. Meanwhile, the #4 DKR Engineering inherited the lead, ahead of the #24 Nielsen Racing and the #55 Rinaldi Racing teams.

A second Full Course Yellow freezed the action for debris in the second hour: the #55 Rinaldi Racing moved into the class lead by not pitting under yellow - as also the #17 Cool Racing climbed the order up to third. Page, at the wheel of the #9 Graff Racing, also stayed out, and would have to pit under green later.

After a 1 hour and 5 minute stint, Page pitted from P9 in LMP3 and Belén García jumped in the driving seat of the #9 Ligier. After the round of pit stops, she found herself in P11 for her first stint in the championship. García could then gain a position when the #17 Cool Racing finally pitted.

Photo credits: Sergey Savrasov

The sun had set and the night fell over Dubai Autodrome; the sister #8 car gained the top of the class leaderboard with a strong stint by François Hériau, followed by De Sadeleer (#29 MV25 Racing) and the #4 Nielsen of Matthew Bell.

García got into the rhythm, set the fastest time of her team and, at one point, was among the fastest drivers in LMP3. She completed a stop for fuel at 1 hour and 12 minutes to go during the third caution, deployed when the #72 HubAuto Mercedes GT3 hit trouble.

The #4 Nielsen Racing took the lead by staying out, but was then forced to retire for a technical issue during its stop under green at the 3 hour mark.

At the restart, Belén continued her strong run and set a new personal best in 1:56.3, moving up to eighth.

With Xavier Lloveras behind the wheel, the #8 Graff Racing remained in the class lead in the final 30 minutes of racing. A splash and dash pit stop with 10 minutes left on the clock, though, handed the lead to the #29 MV2S Racing in the final minutes, when several teams were forced to refuel. De Sadeleer bagged the win, less than 4 seconds ahead of the #8 Graff Racing of Rossello/Lloveras/Heriau and #1 CD Racing of Jensen/Adcock/Eriksen.

Belén García completed a one hour and 50 minute triple stint, setting her team's fastest lap by over a second, and ultimately crossing the line in eighth place at her Asian Le Mans Series debut, despite the team's being unlucky on the yellow timing in the opening hours.

But the compressed schedule meant that they already had a chance for redemption one day later, on Sunday.

Photo credits: Jules Benichou / Twenty-One Creation
Race 2

Graff Racing revised the #9 crew's strategy for Sunday's race: while Eric Trouillet was again behind the wheel for the start and the opening stint, Belén García took the helm of the LMP3 Ligier in the second and fourth stints, for a total driving time of 2 hours.

The French bronze-driver had another very quick start and moved up to fifth place from eleventh on the grid, as the #11 WTM by Rinaldi entry of Torsten Kratz took the early lead of the race, followed by DKR Engineering's Tom van Rompuy. This time, Trouillet kept position and was closing in on the cars ahead - the battling #2 CD Sport and #53 InterEuropol cars. Trouillet managed to snatch fourth place after 30 minutes of racing.

Just before the first pit stop cycle for the LMP3 class, the race leading #11 WTM Racing dropped out of contention for a technical issue. At the first stop, Eric Trouillet handed over to Belén García after a brilliant first stint and the Catalan took over from fourth, with good chances to fight for the podium.

As the night was approaching, García made big steps forward and hit consistent lap times, managing multi-class traffic - a new skill for a single seater driver - and gaining on the car ahead. The #9 Graff Racing Ligier moved into third place and, with two hours and 17 minutes left on the clock, Belén García overtook race 1 winner De Sadeleer for second place as well.

She would slot back into third on lap 54, when the sister #8 car of Xavier Lloveras recovered to second.

Half-way through the race, the first Full Course Yellow triggered another round of pit stops: Sébastien Page hopped in the #9 Ligier under caution. The #3 DKR Engineering team led both in LMP2 and in LMP3, followed by the #29 MV2S Racing and the #8 Graff Racing of Lloveras. Page held fourth in class.

A badly-timed Safety Car was deployed when the #65 Aston Martin crashed heavily at Turn 12. While under caution, the #9 Graff Racing driven by Page hit technical troubles and switched off at Turn 1. It would restart again, but a subsequent pit stop sent the #9 team one lap down. Belén García was ready to get back in the car for the final hour of racing - having unfortunately dropped out of contention for a podium finish.

García resumed the race in P12 and, from there, she pushed as hard as she could to recover positions once the race went back to green with 53 minutes to go.

In her final stint, Belén gained four positions and moved back up to eighth place - where she eventually finished, repeating the result from Saturday's race.

Photo credits: Sergey Savrasov

Tom van Rompuy and Valentino Catalano sealed the LMP3 class victory, ahead of Fabrice Rossello /Xavier Lloveras /François Hériau, again on the podium in the #8 Graff Racing.

"I am very happy with my progress and my pace, because there is a high level this year in this championship and I think I can do very well in this category." - Belén commented after the weekend. The young driver was back on track after November, quickly re-adapted to the new car and showed big progress in each session, as she becomes more and more comfortable with long stints in the darkness and traffic from different classes.

“After the break between the last race and this weekend, I had to adapt to the car again, which was not easy, also, on a complicated circuit like the one in Dubai, but we worked in the right direction and we improved step by step" - she explained.

"Racing with so much track traffic was something very new for me. Overall it was a great opportunity to gain experience, and I am very happy with my ryhthm."

While a podium could have been on the cards, the two eighth places still represent a very solid debut and, importantly, a big learning opportunity for all the challenges of endurance racing.

“We could have joined the other Graff Racing car, which was second, on the podium, but it was not possible. The best thing is that we have made progress throughout the weekend, so I hope that in the next race we will have more success”, she concluded.

With no time to rest, the Asian Le Mans Series will return to the track in a week's time at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, for the third and fourth round of the championship.

Practice will start on Friday, while the four-hour races will go green on Saturday at 15:00 local and Sunday at 16:00 local time.

Photo credits: Sergey Savrasov



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