The GT Asia Series first competed at the former Aida Formula One circuit in 2013, and at that point the event was dominated by Craft-Bamboo Racing, presenting their rivals with an ominous sign ahead of the two 50-minute races that would signal the second event on the 2015 programme.
Balance of performance was the big discussion point ahead of qualifying with some believing they had been ‘hard done by’, however by the close of the two 15-minute sessions, it was clear the parity between the cars was closer than it had ever been, with less than a second covering the top 12 cars.
Friday’s rain though had dramatically changed the track conditions compared to the unofficial testing that teams had done on Thursday, presenting many of them with a real challenge ahead of Saturday’s opening race.
GTAsia_Okayama_R1_VanDam_Piti_BL_270615_medBentley appeared to have done the best of working their mighty twin-turbo V8 powered Continental GT3s into contention, with new recruit Andy Soucek claiming the ‘Pro’ pole time, with team-mates Duncan Tappy and Keita Sawa filling the second row behind South Korea pole-sitter Richard Lyons, the top four covered by just over two tenths of a second..
Q2 saw the Bentley assault continue, with rising star Adderly Fong claiming a dominant pole ahead of Craft-Bamboo’s impressive Jonathan Venter, whilst Hiroshi Hamaguchi and points leader Anthony Liu filled row two.
With little separating the teams, there was great anticipation from the teams and the fans ahead of the opening race, but the drama started even before the green light, with the #1 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of reigning champion Mok Weng Sun alight down at turn ten.
Factory Ferrari star Gianmaria Bruni was set to start the car, but a fire erupted in the engine bay on his roll-around lap. The quick-thinking Italian found a marshalling point to have the fire extinguished, however it took an agonising 90-seconds for it to be put out, ending the teams chances of making the race, and ultimately jeopardising their chances of taking any points away from Okayama.
Once the race started though it was all Bentley up front, but as things progressed, the consistent FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3 of Tonio Liuzzi and Hiroshi Hamaguchi continued to circulate quickly, picking off one car after another to claim an emphatic victory for the new team ahead of the TP12 Racing Ferrari of Carlo Van Dam and Todd Piti, and the Ferrari of points leaders Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo.
Race#1 (Round 3)
The action began even before the race saw the green light, with the #1 Clearwater Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni catching fire on the out-lap, much to the surprise of the team and their rivals. It took what seemed an eternity to douse the flames, with Bruni doing his best to help the marshalls.
“I could see flames inside the car, so started to look for a marshaling point,” Bruni explained. “We really have no idea why the fire started, but it took hold very quickly, and took some time for the marshalls to extinguish.”
Damage was quite extensive, although team-boss Arj Kulasegaram explained afterwards that much of the fuel system was still intact, despite the fact it was fairly clearly a fuel fire. “We’re at a loss, but will trace the issue,” he explained. “Sadly that has all but ended any chance of claiming points from Okayama, because the championship winning car won’t be repaired overnight.”
Whilst attention was focused on the flaming Ferrari, a second car rolled to a stop on track, the #9 FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren of Max Wiser failing to make it around to the grid with a brake issue.
GTAsia_Okayama_R1_GTM_podium_BL_270615_med“The brakes just locked on full, and I couldn’t go anywhere after that,” Wiser explained. The team effected repairs whilst marshalls cleaned the circuit after the fire, allowing Wiser to start from pit lane, but the issue reappeared on his opening lap forcing the popular Italian back into the garage and retirement.”
Despite all the pre-race drama, the start was clean with Soucek and Lyons going head-to-head into turn one, the Bentley driver getting the best of the battle, with Tappy taking advantage to move into P2.
With fire retardant still evident at turn ten, teams were forced to negotiate a slippery part of the circuit, exacerbating the understeer they were experiencing on cold tyres. The one hit hardest by the handling issue was Sawa who quickly began to drop back through the field.
From fifth position Tonio Liuzzi had made the best of the start to be fourth behind the two Bentleys and Lyons, which soon became third after Lyons suffered a rare spin, which put him into the gravel. He immediately hit pit lane (just prior to the compulsory pit stop window opening) fearing he had suffered some level of damage, but a visual check saw the car continue down pit lane and back into the action.
A lap later he was back, with the team hoping an on-track incident might prompt a Safety Car, handing them back some valuable time, however the Safety Car intervention never came, dropping them further back down the order as they effected their driver change.
By that stage Soucek and Tappy were 15-seconds down the road, the duo leaving their stop until quite late in the window to hand over to Jeffrey Lee and Jacky Yeung.
Liuzzi meanwhile elected to go around one more time, handing Hamaguchi the car with a smaller deficit to the leaders, something he showed only too well on pit exit, slotting in between the two Bentleys in second place.
Second soon became first after Lee was handed a penalty for speeding in pit lane, whilst Fong suffered a similar fate after it was revealed that Sawa had done the same. Sadly for the #8 Bentley that penalty was a double-whammy after Sawa lost valuable time in pit-lane having stopped well off line for the team to effect the driver change.
“Someone moved the board I use as my stopping marker just before I hit the pits,” Sawa explained afterwards. “So I just followed the board..”
Sadly for the local hero, his race hadn’t panned out the way he’d hoped after all three Bentleys suffered from a similar handling problem which saw significant understeer, the #8 car visibly off line in the tighter corners as it battled to get power down.
Despite that, Fong battled on, moving his way through to seventh at the flag as comfortably the fastest car on circuit – the young open-wheel star finishing two places back from the #7 Bentley, and immediately ahead of the #77 JV Global Bentley with reigning GTM class champion Jacky Yeung at the wheel.
In many ways fans were robbed of what could have been one of the greatest races on recent record, as one after the other Hamaguchi’s rivals fell away, handing the new McLaren team their maiden win.
Ultimately though the Liuzzi/Hamaguchi combination had the pace to weather almost any storm. The greatest threat was always going to come from 2014 standout Anthony Liu, however with limited running (his first dry laps of a circuit he’d never seen before were during qualifying), the Chinese driver was unable to make inroads into Hamaguchi’s lead, and everyone else was battling their own demons.
Whilst Hamaguchi was doing his best to keep the field at bay, behind him Piti was turning in a solid performance in just his second event in the Ferrari, the Thai driver in the end hanging on to second despite the approaching threat of Anthony Liu.
The BBT Ferrari was quick over the closing laps, but like their Ferrari rivals, they were battling an increase in ride height as a result of a BOP [Balance Of Performance] change after South Korea, which made finding the optimum window with the title winning marque a lot more difficult to uncover, something which prompted much discussion in the paddock.
Jonathon Venter again starred for the Craft-Bamboo team, working the car forward over the closing laps to claim fourth. At one stage it looked as if he may join the battle for second place, however difficulties in getting past the Lee and Yeung Bentleys slowed progress mid session, although fourth handed the championship contenders more valuable points.
Lee brought the #7 J-Fly Racing Bentley home in fifth, just ahead of a charging Richie Wee, the 2014 ‘Rookie-of-the-Year’ putting in another impressive run after a solid start by team-mate Matt Griffin.
Whilst the outright battle was interesting, the GTM class fight saw almost as much action despite the relatively small field, and just like GT3, it seemed that everyone was doing their best NOT to go after victory..
Jerry Wang initially held the lead, but was ultimately taken by the Aoki/Urata combination who were also forced to take a drive through penalty for completing their compulsory pit stop too quickly. The consistency of the Lamborghini pair saw them haul Wang in over the closing stages of the race, forcing the Audi driver into a spin, his recovery also losing him position to the Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3 Cup Car of Kimihiro Yasiro and Tetsuya Makino. The Japanese team had been super consistent, but felt they’d lost the opportunity to stand on the top step of the podium after losing valuable practice time due to a software issue with gear selection, ultimately turning their first serious laps during the opening race.
Race #1 (50-minutes)
1. 55. Tonio Liuzzi/Hiroshi Hamaguchi (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3) – 32-laps
2. 11. Carlo Van Dam/Piti Bhirom Bhakdi (Singha Ferrari 458) +19.901
3. 37. Davide Rizzo/Anthony Liu (BBT Team Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) +20.291
4. 99. Darryl O’Young/Jonathan Venter (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston) +33.582
5. 7. Andy Soucek/Jeffrey Lee (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
+47.944
6. 12. Craig Baird/Richard Wee (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458) +54.014
7. 8. Keita Sawa/Adderly Fong (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) +1:02.933
8. 77. Duncan Tappy/Jacky Yeung (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
+1:10.736
9. 86. Fairuz Fauzy/Zen Low (OD Racing Lamborghini Gallardo GT3)
+1:32.262
10. 22. Dylan Derdaele/Hisashi Kunie (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3-R) – 31-laps
11. 24. Kota Sasaki/Dilantha Malagamuwa (Dilango Racing Gallardo FL2)
12. 88. Richard Lyons/Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin GT3)
13. 5. Andrea Caldarelli/Fu Song Yang (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3)
14. 34. Takuma Aoki/Ken Urata (Dilango Racing Gallrdo LP560)* – 30-laps
15. 20. Kimihiro Yasiro/Tetsuya Makino (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3 Cup)* – 29-laps
16. 23. Jerry Wang (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)*
DNF. 9. Jiang Xin/Max Wiser (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3) – 1-lap
DNS. 1. Mok Weng Sun/Gianmaria Bruni (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458) – 0-laps
*GTM Class
Ben Potter
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