Unpredictable and outstanding racing right through the field have been hallmarks of the 2016 GT Asia Series season to date, and round eight at Fuji International Speedway proved to be no different, delivering the sixth different winning combination of the year, after Italians Andrea Amici and Edoardo Liberati took the FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini Huracan GT3 to its maiden victory in Asia.
Behind them an intense battle played out for the remaining podium positions, with Bentley’s South Korean stars Keita Sawa and Jonathan Venter forging their way through on team-mates Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak and Duncan Tappy in the closing stages for second, whilst the fastest man at Fuji – Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons – turned in an epic drive to work his way back onto the podium for the second time in two days.
The big news for the fans ahead of the start of Sunday’s second race though was the return of the BBT Ferrari which had suffered a technical failure in race one, the Chinese team provided a life-line by rivals Clearwater Racing who completed their 2016 season one race early, making a selfless move by electing to donate the engine from the #3 car to the #37 team so they could continue their battle for the title.
The BBT Ferrari duo may not have made the podium after starting rear of field, but their eighth placed finish has kept them right in the title chase heading ‘home’ to Shanghai next round (19-21 August), the result also putting team-leader Anthony Liu back on top of the hotly contested Pro-Am Cup standings.
Andrea Amici in the FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini led the field into turn one off the rolling start, but it was 2015 Fuji winner Keita Sawa who made the greatest impression to charge up the inside of Ash Walsh in the Aston on the run to turn one, the Australian having inherited a front row start with the BBT Ferrari forced to start rear of field after their overnight engine change. Sadly for Walsh, who was expected to challenge the leaders, a spin at turn three as he went for a move on Sawa dropped him back to rear of field, his charge back through to the top four ahead of the compulsory pit stops [CPS] one of the highlights of the opening leg of the race. For Marchy Lee the spin also cost the two-time 2016 race winner, the gold Bathing Aape Audi forced to take avoiding action as the big Aston inverted itself.
“This is a really great result for all the guys in the team,” said Andrea. “It’s a result that comes because of the help we get from Lamborghini who assist us with everything we need. We were not so fast on the straight, but we had the best handling car in the technical parts of the circuit. Sawa stayed with me for the first few laps, then I just pushed and tried to stay consistent to get the car to Edo to complete the race.”
Up front though Sawa locked onto the tail of the #55 Lamborghini and the pair started to pull away from the pack, but just as quickly Sawa’s pace began to drop, the Japanese driver aware that all was not right at the front of the car, soon discovering from the crew in pit lane, that the car was suffering from a broken splitter. Within a couple of laps the hometown hero had found a way around the issue and began to find some more pace in the #8 Bentley, but by then Amici was gone.
Behind the leaders Marchy Lee was on a charge, working his way quickly through the pack and onto the tail of Naiyanobh ‘Toy’ Bhirombhakdi, putting an aggressive move on the VLT Porsche driver through the turn 10-11-12 complex ahead of an even bigger move under brakes on the #12 Ferrari of Piti Bhirombhakdi at turn 14.
Looking to make up places early, Lee fired in deep under brakes – so deep that Bhirombhakdi turned into the apex of the corner not expecting it to be filled by an Audi braking hard for the corner. Contact ensued and Lee paid the price, forced down pit lane the following lap for a drive through penalty. Behind the leading trio a great battle was evolving between Vutthikorn in the #9 Bentley, Anthony Liu and Walsh in the Aston Martin, with both Liu and Walsh keen to make up for their opening lap issues. Liu tried everything on the Bentley driver, but Vutthikorn was using the bulk of the British-built supercar to great effect, the Ferrari at times with all four wheels on the grass looking for a way past.
Sawa was one of the first down pit lane once the CPS window had opened, handing the car across to team-mate Jonathon Venter who fired out pit lane as the leader with a fresh set of Michelin slicks, but no sooner had he braked for turn one, than he locked a right front tyre and ran deep into the corner, losing the top spot to the #55 Lamborghini, then very quickly team-mate Duncan Tappy.
Venter though soon regrouped whilst reporting an intermittent ABS (braking) issue back to the garage, the Australian though adapting his driving style to counter the issue and lock back onto the tail of the #9 Bentley.
Behind him the Craft-Bamboo Racing team had pulled Frank Yu into the pits from P7, the team quickly inserting Richard Lyons into the #88 Interush Porsche and sending him out with a fresh set of Michelins for what would be one of the most impressive stints ever seen in GT Asia, the Ulsterman on lap record pace lap after lap to work his way through from eighth to third at the flag..
Up front though there was no question about the winner, Edoardo Liberati bringing the gorgeous black Roger Dubuis liveried Huracan across the line 10-seconds clear of Venter with Lyons incredibly third in what he described as one of the toughest stints of his life, whilst Liberati admitted he too had his work cut out for him in the closing laps [nerves] citing a personally tough start to the season. “It was really intense,” said Edoardo. “Especially when you have such fast cars coming behind you, you have to keep the focus and concentration not to make any mistakes. I was also focusing on not using a lot of the tyre to make sure we could get through to the finish and have some in reserve just in case. We’re very happy with the result, Andrea and I don’t know many of these Asian circuits, so we don’t have previous experience, but coming into this race, both of us had only done three laps here in the dry, so thanks to YouTube which gave us some information from onboards to use and to the laps we could do on the simulator.”
Fourth was Vutthikorn who earned more valuable championship points, from George Miedecke in the Aston Martin Vantage with Alex Yoong again showing a great turn of pace to be sixth. Race one winner Carlo Van Dam was seventh in the Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 ahead of former points leader Davide Rizzo. The Italian Ferrari driver was forced to settle for a position further back than he would have liked, having gained the best from his tyres early in the stint before being unable to fend off Lyons, Yoong and Van Dam.
Despite the setback for the weekend with the opening race engine failure, Liu’s result handed him back the points lead in the Pro-Am Cup standings leading into Shanghai, an event the team have enjoyed great success at in during past seasons, so don’t rule them out of the title fight for a second, they’re still right in it heading into the final four races.
Whilst the leaders battled at the front of the GT3 field, further back an incredible battle was underway in the GTC class with Kantasak Kusiri and Toshihito Funai battling nose-to-tail for much of the final 30-minutes of the race, Kusiri ultimately emerging victorious for Singha Plan-B Motorsport, whilst Ken Seto limped the Team Rosso Scuderia 458 Challenge car home in third after suffering a late race technical issue.
The Series now moves from Japan to China for the final two rounds of the season, Shanghai (19-21 August) and the debut event for the new Zhejiang Circuit in southern China (21-23 October).
GT Asia Series – Fuji International Speedway, Japan (17 July)
- 55. Amici/Liberati (FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3) – 34-laps
- 2. 8. Sawa/Venter (Absolute Racing Bentley Continental GT3) +9.976
- 88. Yu/Lyons (Craft Bamboo Racing Porsche GT3-R) +16.737
- 9. Inthraphuvasak/Tappy (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) +19.247
- 95. Walsh/Miedecke (Miedecke Stone Aston Martin Vantage) +20.860
- 6. Au/Yoong (Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3) +28.515
- 12. Bhirombhakdi/Van Dam (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3) +29.441
- 37. Liu/Rizzo (BBT Ferrari 488 GT3) +35.403
- 91. Bhirombakdi/O’Young (Craft Bamboo Racing Porsche GT3-R) +36.487
- 98. Ma/Sugden (GruppeM Racing Porsche GT3-R) +51.832
- 5. Lee/Thong (Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3) +52.643
- 7. Kim/Fong (Absolute Racing Bentley Continental GT3) +1:00.696
- 59. Bhirombhakdi/Kisiri (Singha Plan-B Motorsport Ferrari 458 Chall.) – 33-laps
- 73. Ueda/Funai (Team Naoryu Age Age Racing Ferrari 458 Chall.)
- 17. Seto/Asai (Team Rosso Scuderia Ferrari 458 Chall.) – 30-laps
DNS. 3. Wee/Mok (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GT3)
GT3 Championship points (after eight rounds of 12)
- Edoardo Liberati/Andrea Amici (94-points), 3. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (85), 5. Marchy Lee/Shaun Thong, Adderly Fong/Andrew Kim (75), 9. Piti Bhirombhakdi/Carlo Van Dam (71), 11. Jonathan Venter (68), 12. Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak (66), 13. Keita Sawa (61), 14. Alex Yoong/Alex Au (58), 16. Duncan Tappy (51), 17. Frank Yu/Richard Lyons (50), 19. Tim Sugden (46), 20. Darryl O’Young/Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi (41), 22. Mok Weng Sun (28), 23. Jono Lester (22), 24. George Miedecke (18), 25. Gianmaria Bruni (15), 26. George Richardson (14), 27. Ashley Walsh, Franky Cheng/JingZu Sun, Richard Wee (13), 31. Philip Ma (10), 32. Andrew Palmer (8), 33. Christer Jöns, Fabian Hamprecht (7), 35. Nathan Morcom (5)
Pro-Am Cup points (after eight rounds of 12)
- Anthony Liu (96-points), 2. Shaun Thong (95), 3. Piti Bhirombhakdi (89), 4. Andrew Kim (85), 5. Alex Au, Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak (76), 7. Frank Yu (63), 8. Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi (58), 9. Philip Ma (25), 10. Mok Weng Sun (17), 11. JingZu Sun (16)
Pro Cup points (after eight rounds of 12)
- Edoardo Liberati/Andrea Amici (94-points), 3. Davide Rizzo (85), 4. Adderly Fong, Marchy Lee (75), 6. Carlo Van Dam (71), 7. Jonathan Venter (68), 8. Keita Sawa (61), 9. Alex Yoong (58), 10. Tim Sugden (52), 11. Duncan Tappy (51), 12. Richard Lyons (50), 13. Darryl O’Young (42), 14. Jono Lester (22), 15. George Miedecke (17), 16. Gianmaria Bruni (15), 17. George Richardson (14), 18. Ash Walsh, Franky Cheng (13), 20. Andrew Palmer (8), 21. Christer Jöns, Fabian Hamprecht (7), 23. Nathan Morcom (4)
GT Cup points (after eight rounds of 12)
- Kantasak Kusiri/Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (102-points), 3. Voravud Bhirombhakdi/Tin Sritra (34), 5. Aekrat Discharoen, Toshihito Funai/Masayuki Ueda (32), 8. Akihiro Asai/Ken Seto (28), 10. Suttiluck Buncharoen, (16)