One of the new initiatives the GT Asia Series introduced for 2016 was the Pro-Am Cup classification to award the Amateur driver in the two-driver combination, something that has already proven very popular and seen some intense competition for the top spot on the points table.
Currently seven-time GT Asia Series race winner Anthony Liu leads the standings after claiming his fourth podium finish of the year alongside team-mate Davide Rizzo at Okayama, the duo also leading the outright GT3 championships, such has been their consistency again this season.
Closely shadowing him in the points is two-time 2016 race winner and GT Asia Series rookie, Shaun Thong, the Phoenix Racing Asia star just five points behind Liu in the Pro-Am Cup standings, and importantly for the team, just 11 points behind in the outright points, equal with another Amateur driver, Bentley Team Absolute’s 2016 debut winner, Andrew Kim.
The South Korean driver is in just his second full season of motorsport and has already shown to be a cool operator, willing to learn from experienced team-mate Adderly Fong, he is also fast and consistent, and like Thong, is a valuable asset to the team, assisting them to a share of second in the outright championship, whilst his two podiums at Okayama, move him to third in the Pro-Am points battle.
Also within striking distance of the leaders is Singha Motorsport’s Piti Bhirombhakdi. Piti was one of the revelations of the 2015 GT Asia Series, claiming his maiden victory in Fuji last July, but whilst one of the favourites for the Pro-Am Cup crown, the Thai driver has been plagued by bad luck this season. Had things been different, he could already have had a couple of wins under his belt, yet despite that, he holds fourth in the Pro-Am points heading to a circuit where the team enjoyed great success last season – Fuji.
Former Audi R8 LMS Cup Amateur class champion Alex Au too has been plagued by bad luck in his debut season of GT Asia, technical issues with the Phoenix Racing Asia Audi in Thailand kept he and highly-rated team-mate Alex Yoong from attacking the points leaders, but a strong comeback in Japan with a pair of fourth-place finishes has moved Au back into contention. With their team-mates claiming their second win of the year at Okayama, the #6 Audi team can carry the confidence of knowing their breakthrough result cannot be far away..
Like Au, Bentley’s Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak has endured a difficult return to GT Asia, not the least being three different team-mates in three different events, although the popular Thai driver admitted that all three drivers; Andrew Palmer, Duncan Tappy and Christer Jöns have provided him with a wealth of information, all of which have contributed to his pace. Sadly some technical setbacks and contact from other drivers have kept him from regular appearances on the podium, but his back-to-back second place finishes with Duncan Tappy at home in Thailand have shown that he has the pace to challenge the outright leaders.
Much like Au and Inthrapuvasak, Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Naiyanobh ‘Toy’ Bhiromhakdi has also endured a testing start to the season, the GT Asia Series rookie has weathered an initiation of fire coming from Production based saloons to the cut and thrust of GT3 competition.
Despite that and some early season off track excursions, the young Thai has matured nicely under the guidance of team-mate and reigning GT Asia Series champion Darryl O’Young, and he showed good pace at Okayama, running strongly amongst some of the former podium place-getters.
Whilst some of the new drivers have made a big impression on the GT Asia Series already in 2016, two of the most successful campaigners in the six year history of the category have had a fairly low key start to the season. Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Frank Yu is the only driver in the history of the Series to have started every round, however the Hong Kong driver is yet to build on his five round victories, although with the success that the team has enjoyed in recent seasons, you can guarantee it won’t be long before we see him back on the podium.
Likewise, Yu’s long-time rival Mok Weng Sun, the three-time series champion missed the second event of the season after winning the Amatuer division in South Korea, but a tough run at Okayama last time out kept the Series’ most successful driver (13 wins) off the podium.. we can’t imagine it will be for long.
Whilst the competition on track is fierce, so too is the camaraderie, and whilst on track no quarter is given, off the track, the laughs soon return, a part of motorsport the Pro-Am Cup is looking to foster, bringing the enjoyment back into what in 2016, has proven to be a very, very competitive series..
For the teams there is little time to rest, with the second half of the season beginning just two weeks after the close of the Okayama event with teams in Fuji in Japan on 15-17 July. All the action from the Okayama round will be aired on networks around the world (check www.gtasiaseries.com for details) and replayed through YouTube and Facebook.