The opening round of the 2015 GT Asia Series provided what perhaps may have been seen as a surprise result considering the depth of talent and current-specification cars that have joined for the new season, although for the historians, the result was very much a case of deja-vu..
Twelve months ago BBT Ferrari drivers Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo stormed through to take back-to-back victories on debut, a pattern they continued into the opening round of the new season, despite many teams all but writing them off after qualifying at the tail of the top ten.
Much of the pre-race hype was focused on reigning champions Clearwater Racing and star recruit James Calado, and Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons, and whilst both teams battled over the lead with Italian star Andrea Caldarelli in the early stages of race one, Liu and Rizzo focused on their pre-race strategy and worked their way through to their third consecutive Korean victory.
Typical of the opening round of any new season, there were a number of high-profile casualties, one of which was Craft-Bamboo Racing duo Darryl O’Young and Jonathan Venter who were forced into retirement on the opening lap, however they had the prefect opportunity to recover from the lost opportunity by qualifying on pole for race two.
Alongside them on the front row would be the Absolute Team Bentley entry of Keita Sawa and Adderly Fong who were forced to start race one two laps down after an incident in qualifying prior to the race which forced the team to make an unscheduled engine change.
Off the start of the second round Venter charged with Fong initially sticking to the tail of the young Australian, whilst behind them round one
winner Anthony Liu was quickly through to third and in pursuit of Fong.
Sadly the first casualty of the race was reigning champion Mok Weng Sun, the #1 Clearwater Racing Ferrari unceremoniously forced off the circuit in the race for position into turn one after the J-Fly Racing Bentley clipped Jiang Xin in the McLaren which was spun into Mok’s path ultimately doing terminal damage and forcing his retirement. Fellow 2014 podium placegetter Xin ultimately suffered a similar fate, a broken trailing arm as a result of the same incident forcing his retirement at the end of the lap.
The opening corner melee also served to drop Craft-Bamboo’s Frank Yu back down the order, forcing the Interush driver to mount a charge over the following laps to make back the lost positions. Anthony Liu too had come under fire in the run down to turn three with Thailand’s Todd Piti working his way through to second after a stunning start, relegating Fong to third in the process.
As a result of all of this Venter was gone, but his three second advantage on the opening lap was negated almost immediately with the Safety Car deployed to recover the #1 Clearwater Racing Ferrari.
After the Safety Car returned to pit lane the pole-sitter got the jump on the pack to comfortably lead into turn one, whilst behind him Anthony Liu attacked, taking both Fong and Piti under brakes to jump into second position.
From there Venter charged, putting together a string of qualifying laps in the brilliant yellow VLT Aston Martin to open up a comfortable margin ahead of his compulsory pit stop [CPS]. Behind him team-mate Frank Yu and FFF Racing Team by ACM driver Hiroshi Hamaguchi started to move their way forward, up to fourth and fifth respectively after hauling in Piti before the CPS, Hamaguchi and the Thai Ferrari driver the first to pit as soon as the compulsory pit stop window opened, whilst the top four continued on.
After their compulsory stops, Lyons came out immediately behind Hamaguchi’s co-driver Tonio Liuzzi, the former Formula 1 star holding the Irishman at bay for a lap before the Aston Martin driver dived down the inside under brakes to take the position away. Lyons was soon onto the tail of Yokomizo in the Singha Ferrari, and quickly through to fourth place.
Up front the leader hit the pits at the mid point of the race, and with no additional time penalty by virtue of their race one DNF, and with a fresh set of Michelin tyres to bolt onto the car, O’Young was soon down to Venter’s pace, the popular Hong Kong-based driver extending their lead over the closing laps.
Behind him Sawa in the Absolute Team Bentley was being hauled in by round one winner Rizzo who was punching out a sequence of laps in the low 2:07s. He was soon onto the tail of the Bentley and through for second, the Japanese driver then coming under fire from Lyons. He admitted post race that early in his session the car started to develop oversteer, something which was attributed to the boot-lid on the mighty Bentley Continental popping up and beginning to operate as an air-brake, dropping his pace by as much as a second a lap.
Lyons was on a charge, but so too Andrea Caldarelli in the FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren, the Italian punching out laps in the mid 2:06s.. the pace of the leaders in the closing stages of the race, in many cases faster than their qualifying laps!
After moving past Sawa, Lyons set his focus on the rear of the BBT Ferrari of Davide Rizzo, but despite making inroads into the void between them, Lyons’ pace suddenly dropped significantly, the team revealing post-race that he’d become stuck in gear. Despite the sudden lack of pace he battled on to finish ninth and claim more valuable championship points.
In the end though the big story of round two was the pace of the second Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin. O’Young and Venter were untouchable, ultimately dominating the race with O’Young continuing to press on at qualifying pace over the final laps to deliver a strong message to the team’s rivals for the remaining rounds of the season.
Davide Rizzo crossed the line just nine seconds back from O’Young, the team’s additional 12-second pit-stop parity penalty all but negating any challenge they would make on a fourth consecutive win, but the result stamped their domination on the South Korean circuit, the BBT team leaving the opening event with a strong points lead in the championship.
With his ‘air-brake’ still activated, Keita Sawa crossed the line in third place, the #8 Bentley team recovering from the disappointment of missing the start in race one to claim more valuable championship points, the result elevating them to second in the championship.
Across the closing laps Sawa came under increasing pressure from Yokomizo, Craig Baird and Tonio Liuzzi, the four cars separated by just 1.3-seconds at the drop of the flag. Jean-Karl Vernay crossed the line in position seven, just ahead of Fairuz Fauzy in the OD Racing Lamborghini. The former F1 test-driver charged across the final laps to complete a great debut by the Malaysian team, his team-mate Zen Low particularly impressive across the opening laps in just his maiden event in GT Asia.
Whilst the outright GT3 cars turned in another great performance, in GTM the battle between Jerry Wang in the Absolute Racing Audi R8 and Keiichi Mori and Hisashi Kunie in the Gulf Racing JP Porsche carried on all the way to the chequered flag, with all three drivers setting personal best lap times as they continued to gain valuable experience on their GT Asia Series debuts.
Ultimately the victory went to Wang, the two Japanese Porsche drivers though promising to turn the tables when the series returns to Japan for rounds two and three.