Algarve Pro doubles down with second LMP2 entry for Asian Le Mans title defence
Algarve Pro Racing is doubling down, bolstering its Asian Le Mans Series title defence with a second LMP2 entry for Rene Binder, Ye Yifei and Ferdinand Habsburg.
The Portugal-based team will begin the 2021 season as a two-time Asian Le Mans Champion and a Gentleman’s Trophy winner, with the aim of securing a third title and a coveted automatic entry to the 89th 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Heading the charge as the most experienced LMP2 driver is Binder. After winning the last race of World Series Formula V8, contesting the American Indycar Series and testing with Renault Sport F1, the Austrian established himself as a regular points finisher during a solid maiden season in the 2019 European Le Mans Series and went on to record an eighth-place result on his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Keen to return to Le Mans in 2021, Binder is now looking to the Asian Le Mans Series with unambiguous intentions, saying: "I am thankful for the opportunity to join Algarve Pro Racing, and I’m excited about competing in the Asian Le Mans Series for the first time.
"To be able to work with one of the best teams and one of the best engineers in LMP2 is very special for me and I can't wait for testing to begin on the Yas Marina Circuit in early February. The overall winner of the Asian Le Mans Series will receive an invitation to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so our goal is to win the championship."
Like many young racing drivers, Yifei earned his stripes in karting before stepping onto the bottom rung of the junior single-seater ladder in Formula 4.
The Chinese racer dovetailed Italian and French F4 campaigns, notably winning the latter in 2016 with 14 wins and 15 podiums, and he has since finished third in the 2018 Eurocup Formula Renault standings and runner-up in the 2019 F3 Asian Winter Series.
Yifei, who in 2019 was chosen as a Renault Sport Academy Driver, comes to Algarve Pro Racing as the current Euroformula Open Champion, following a dominant year that yielded 11 victories.
The 20-year-old from Shaanxi has also turned his hand to eSports but, having competed alongside professional sim racers from Williams eSports in high-profile events like the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans, is now getting set for his first real-world experience of endurance sportscar racing.
“I’m really excited for the challenge that lies ahead,” said Yifei. “I have quite a lot of single-seater experience and success, but the Asian Le Mans Series will provide a few new elements that I will have to get a handle on in order to be competitive. LMP2 cars are bigger and heavier than the junior open-wheelers I’m used to and the multi-class racing structure places far more emphasis on tyre and traffic management, so there will be a lot to learn.
“I’m hopeful I will adapt quickly and be in a position to achieve our goal of winning the championship, repeating Algarve Pro Racing’s 2019-20 success. I have very good teammates and we will have plenty of time in testing to prepare, getting pit stops and driver-changes right before taking on a large and competitive field in the first race.”
Habsburg, meanwhile, began his career by notching up karting titles on home soil in Austria and in Hungary before producing podiums during a successful debut season in Formula Renault in 2014.
The Vienna-domiciled driver ended 2016 as Euroformula Open Vice-Champion, taking two race wins, 12 podiums and four pole positions along the way, before entering the Toyota Racing Series, FIA F3 European Championship and the infamous Macau Grand Prix, where a heroic race through the pack saw him receive glowing praise, despite losing the win at the final corner.
The 2018 season began with a fifth-place result on his LMP2 debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but a switch to DTM followed, and he has since racked up a pole position, podium and a new lap record at the Nurburgring with Audi Sport Team WRT.
However, the 23-year-old is now looking forward to competing outside of Europe once again, saying: “I’ve always loved racing outside of Europe a lot, just because you always learn something new about a different culture or racing culture. Going with Algarve Pro Racing to the Middle East to race in the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series will be a new adventure, and it’s something I am super excited about.”