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From opening practice at Okayama, it was clear that the two scheduled 50-minute races were going to deliver some of the best racing the GT Asia Series had ever produced. There were mere hundredths of a second separating teams in qualifying, and one of the most competitive fields of local and international drivers ever assembled in the series six year history, a perfect recipe for some close and unpredictable racing.
Ultimately race one saw a survival of the fittest, with former race winner Hiroshi Hamaguchi and team-mate Tonio Liuzzi claiming victory for McLaren – the first for the new FFF Racing Team by ACM operation. Their effort was flawless, whilst around them almost everyone else struck trouble.
GTAsia_Okayama_R2_GT3_podium_BL_280615_medBentley had dominated both legs of qualifying, and the opening stanza of race one leading a 1-2 into the pits-stops, but victory eluded them.
For race two – the fourth round of the championship – the teams had the opportunity to apply what they’d learnt in race one, which promised for some more impressive door-to-door racing.
Sadly the field would be without the #1 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of reigning champion Mok Weng Sun and multiple WEC world champion Gianmaria Bruni after their car was engulfed in flames during the roll-around lap ahead of Saturday’s opening race.
They had hoped to acquire a similar Ferrari to keep the reigning title holder in the points, but despite some strong indications they’d be able to put a plan in place, things fell through at the last minute forcing the #1 team to watch from the Clearwater garage.
What they saw was another unusual race, with a false start after a technical issue with the timing bringing out the red flag on the opening lap.
In some ways that served to make up for what had been a messy start. GTM Class points leader Jerry Wang had suffered a gear selection issue on the roll-around lap, and had pulled off on the run to turn one, whilst mid-pack there had been some contact with some of the teams which saw tyres changed on the grid as the field was placed back into its original order. The delay saw the race shortened to 45-minutes, which put additional pressure on the Pro drivers who would take over after the compulsory pit stops and have a shorter run to the flag.
There were no dramas during the second start with Adderly Fong leading into turn one ahead of Venter, Anthony Liu and the impressive Richie Wee.
Wee soon came under fire from former team-mate Hamaguchi and then Craft-Bamboo’s Frank Yu, both of them making their way through.
The leading trio were quickly into the 31s, and able to break comfortably clear of the pack led by Hamaguchi, Piti and Wee.
GTAsia_Okayama_R2_GTM_Yashiro-Makino_BL_280615_medFurther back, former champion Dilantha Malagamuwa had worked his way onto the tail of Jeffrey Lee in the J-Fly Racing Bentley, the Sri Lankan driver doing everything he could to work his way past, but nine laps in, Lee put two wheels on the grass on the run into turn ten and spun. Sadly Malagamuwa was unable to avoid the Bentley, making heavy contact which ultimately forced them both into retirement.
Malagamuwa had tried to complete a lap back to pit lane, but noticed the oil warning light come on half way around, forcing him to stop on the run down to turn five, ultimately enforcing a Safety Car period two minutes ahead of the compulsory pit stop [CPS] window opening.
With teams unable to effect their CPS whilst the Safety Car was on circuit, they were forced to wait until the green flag was waved once more, which saw an immediate stream of teams in for their driver changes.
For the leading four cars though, they continued on, with Fong the last to pit, handing the car over to Sawa. The Japanese driver rejoined just ahead of Darryl O’Young in the VLT Craft-Bamboo Aston, and whilst it looked like O’Young might just be able to replicate his South Korean victory, Sawa was clearly intent on taking Bentley’s first Asian win on his home turf.
In the end he broke clear of the bright yellow VLT Aston, but it wasn’t O’Young that he was concerned about, with the second Craft-Bamboo Aston of Richard Lyons closing in quickly. Lyons was charging over the closing laps, breaching what seemed an impossible margin to close onto the tail of his team-mate. O’Young moved across, sensing that Lyons might have an opportunity to take Craft-Bamboo to victory, but whilst he got to within a car length, Sawa held on for an emotional victory.
Lyons led home a Craft-Bamboo 2-3, with O’Young under fire from a trio of rapid Ferrari 458s led by Matt Griffin. Points leaders Davide Rizzo and Anthony Liu were fifth, the Italian driver holding Carlo Van Dam at bay over the closing laps.
GTAsia_Okayama_R2_GT3_podium_BL_280615_medRound three winners Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Tonio Liuzzi were next, the FFF Racing Team not too disappointed with the result, considering they’d finished 9.5-seconds back from Sawa, but incurred a 10-second additional parity time penalty during their CPS.
Fairuz Fauzy was eighth for OD Racing, a nice recovery after a difficult weekend, narrowly ahead of Duncan Tappy, the Englishman doing a sterling job to support car owner Jacky Yeung. Andrea Caldarelli too did an outstanding job, although only those that could see the timing monitors were aware of his impressive pace, the Italian turning laps at qualifying pace through the closing laps, whilst behind him, team-mate Max Wiser was reflective about his result.
“During Jiang Xin’s stint he managed to avoid the Malagamuwa incident but clipped the rear wing which knocked it onto a strange angle, but around here it didn’t affect us much, and I’m happy to say my race pace was fractionally faster than Tonio [Liuzzi] which I’m very happy about.”
The final two cars that made the finish were the two GTM class warriors – the Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3 Cup Car of Kimihiro Yashiro and Tetsuya Makino, and round three winners Takuma Aoki and Ken Urata. The Porsche drivers crossed the line first, however they were handed double time penalties for infringements during the compulsory stop. That initially saw Aoki and Urata handed their second victory, however a stewards hearing post-race reinstated the local team as winners, small consolation for the loss of their team-mates Dylan Derdaele and Hisashi Junie in the Porsche GT3-R who were forced to retire after just 15 laps.
The championship now enjoys a three week break ahead of the fifth and sixth rounds of the season at Fuji International Speedway (Japan) on 17-19 July.
Ben Potter

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