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The GT Asia Series arrives at the Okayama International Circuit in Japan this weekend (26-28 June), for the second event on the 2015 calendar, returning to a venue that for many will be a welcome addition to the 11-round season.
The region’s most successful GT category has only been to Okayama once before – back in June 2013 – and in perhaps ominous news for their rivals, that weekend was dominated by one of the series’ most experienced teams, the Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin of Frank Yu.
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Ominous, because not only did they win both 40-minute races two years ago, but they were also one of the leading teams throughout the opening round of the 2015 season last month in South Korea, qualifying on pole for both races before taking a comfortable victory in race two.
The #88 Interush Craft Bamboo Aston will also see the return of Richard Lyons to the Okayama circuit, the Ulsterman one of the most competitive drivers in the series, and a regular in the GT300 class of SuperGT, standing on the podium when the popular Japanese category was at the Okayama venue back in April.
At that event another of the GT Asia Series regulars was competing, and he won the outright GT300 class at Okayama for the second time; FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren pilot, Andrea Caldarelli.
Caldarelli showed just how competitive he is in GT3 machinery, leading the opening round in South Korea against the pace of the naturally aspirated Aston Martins and Ferraris. The FFF team have been working hard between rounds with Fu Song Yang gaining valuable testing miles in Europe, whilst Caldarelli was in Thailand contesting round three of SuperGT.
With testing limited for many of the teams due to cars being transported from country-to-country between rounds, Thursday’s two unofficial practice sessions will provide valuable additional laps ahead of the two scheduled 50-minute races.
GTAsia_SKorea_Sawa_Lyons_BL_170515_medCraft-Bamboo Racing will no doubt start favourites, but over the last two seasons we’ve seen the Ferrari’s pace all but match that of the British built V12 Vantage, and the two leading Ferrari teams of points leaders BBT Racing and reigning champions Clearwater Racing too will be looking for victory.
In South Korea three-time champion Mok Weng Sun was joined by Ferrari World Endurance Championship favourite James Calado, the Englishman setting an impressive pace through qualifying and the opening race. Sadly the team never had the chance to battle for the race two win, after Mok was eliminated by contact mid-pack on the run into turn one. This weekend though he’ll be joined by another of Ferrari’s WEC stars – former F1 driver, three-time Le Mans (GT2/GTE) winner and four-time WEC champion (LMGTE Pro), Gianmaria Bruni.
Bruni is no stranger to Clearwater having won the Sepang 12-Hour with Mok last year, and like Calado, he is intimately associated with the Ferrari 458. He’s also race-ready, having just competed at Le Mans, as did fellow Clearwater Racing returnee, Matt Griffin.
Griffin will once more join 2014 ‘rookie-of’-the-year’ Richard Wee, the combination which won round 12 of the 2014 championship in Shanghai.
The list of European stars doesn’t end there, with South Korean front-runner Duncan Tappy back alongside reigning GT Asia GTM Class champion Jacky Yeung in the JV Global Bentley Continental, former F1-star Tonio Liuzzi rejoining local hero Hiroshi Hamaguchi in the McLaren, Asian-based Carlo Van Dam joining Todd Piti in the TP12 Racing Ferrari 458, and Belgian GT star Dylan Derdaele will join Hisashi Kunie in the Gulf Racing Japan Porsche GT3-R that he took to second in the 2014 Belgian Racing Car Championship.
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Whilst Europe is well represented, so too is Japan. Leading the charge will be local hero Keita Sawa, the Japanese driver won four races alongside Clearwater Racing’s Mok Weng Sun last year, and this year heads a three-car Absolute Racing Bentley Continental team sharing driving duties with Lotus F1 development driver Adderly Fong. The pair had a mixed start to the season in South Korea after Fong suffered an accident in qualifying, but they recovered in race two to make the podium.
Hiroshi Hamaguchi will be another fan favourite, the local driver has been on the Okayama podium in a McLaren previously, and with Italy’s Tonio Liuzzi – a veteran of 80 Formula One starts – alongside, the pair will be amongst those vying for the podium.
With so many highly-rated drivers competing in Okayama, the thing to watch out for will be consistency between the two driver pairings. Each race will feature a compulsory mid-race pit-stop, where every team must stop for a minimum allocated time, so consistency in race pace will be the key. Arguably the most consistent teams in the field, are the two teams that experienced victory in South Korea, BBT Racing’s Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo, and Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Darryl O’Young and Jonathan Venter.
Whilst the outright GT3 class will present an entertaining and unpredictable result, the GTM Class will also provide plenty of interest, with Japanese drivers likely to feature strongly at the front. Arguably the most popular of those will be former 500cc Grand Prix motorcycle star Takuma Aoki, and Dilango Racing co-driver, Ken Urata. The duo won a number of races in 2014, but were forced to miss the opening round in South Korea. That opened the door for new GTM competitor Jerry Wang who took victory in both races in his Absolute Racing Audi R8, from the Gulf Racing Japan team who will enjoy the opportunity to compete on their home ground.
The event will get underway on Thursday, 25 June with two one-hour unofficial practice sessions, before official practice begins on Friday, with two 50-minute races scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. All event details will be updated regularly on the GT Asia Series Facebook page; www.facebook.com/GTAsiaSeries
Both races will be available to view shortly after they are over, keep an eye on www.facebook.com/GTAsiaSeries for details.
WHO’S COMPETING IN OKAYAMA?
GT3 CLASS
1. Mok Weng Sun/Gianmaria Bruni (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
5. Fu Song Yang/Andrea Caldarelli (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3)
7. Jeffrey Lee/Jean-Karl Vernay (Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
8. Adderly Fong/Keita Sawa (Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
9. Jiang Xin/Max Wiser (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3)
11. Piti Bhirom Bhakdi/Carlo Van Dam (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
12. Richard Wee/Matt Griffin (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
22. Hisashi Kunie/Dylan Derdaele (Gulf Racing JP Porsche 997 GT3-R)
24. Dilantha Malagamuwa/Kota Sasaki (Dilango Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3)
37. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (BBT Team Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
55. Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Tonio Liuzzi (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3)
77. Jacky Yeung/Duncan Tappy (Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
86. Zen Low/Fairuz Fauzy (OD Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3)
88. Frank Yu/Richard Lyons (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
99. Darryl O’Young/Jonathan Venter (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
GTM CLASS
20. Tetsuya Makino/Yuu Nakamura (Gulf Racing JP Porsche 991 GT3 Cup)
23. Jerry Wang (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)
34. Takuma Aoki/Ken Urata (Dilango Racing Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 GT3)
69. James Cai/Kenneth Cheng (Ferrari 458 Challenge)
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