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They say that you make your own luck, and whilst in some cases that might be true, in others you are in the hands of fate, and in Shanghai for the penultimate round of the GT Asia Series season, the FFF Racing Team by ACM operation endured one of their toughest weekends of the year despite starting the event with three of the fastest cars on the circuit!
Things started strongly for the new look FFF team, and by the close of practice, there were plenty of wide smiles in the FFF garage, with all three McLaren 650S GT3s well inside the top ten.
New team recruit and McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente led the way, setting times inside the top five within his first five laps of the Formula One venue, but soon after he was all but matched on pace by former F1 driver and FFF incumbent Tonio Liuzzi and Australian GT front-runner Nathan Antunes.
The team’s great practice pace was then converted to qualifying speed with Liuzzi claiming a second row start whilst Antunes was only four tenths slower to claim the seventh fastest time, but sadly for Parente a technical issue late in practice forced the Portugese star to watch the two qualifiers from the pit wall, with team-mate Hiroshi Hamaguchi alongside..
“It’s disappointing, but sometimes that’s how it goes in motorsport,” Parente lamented. “The important thing is that we have the pace and I think you will see that translate during the races. Hiroshi has been quick through practice, and the two other teams cars have also shown great pace, so we’re really looking forward to the two races, although Hiroshi and I will have some extra work to do coming off the rear of the grid.”
During the opening race Liuzzi was immediately into play with the leaders, with Antunes quickly onto his tail, whilst behind them Parente was quickly through to the tail of the top ten.
All three hit the pits for their compulsory pit stop [CPS] from inside the top ten, but then drama struck, first for Rod Salmon in the #15 McLaren, contact with one of the GTM class cars sending him hard into the inside barriers on the run down to turn one.
The impact whilst heavy allowed Salmon to step clear unaided, even the scissor doors on the 650S were able to open to allow the Australian driver to step out and walk away, however up to the windscreen the car had been destroyed, the impact also damaging the rear of the car as it spun after its initial contact with the barriers.
Despite the damage, within 24-hours the FFF team had taken everything off the car that needed repairing, leaving a shell that showed little sign of the incident, although it was obviously withdrawn from the event.
That left two McLarens in play with Hamaguchi continuing on Parente’s great pace to break into the top six, whilst behind him Fu Songyang [Sean] was circulating comfortably before late race contact from the Malaysian Lamborghini forced the Chinese driver into retirement within sight of the flag.
Sadly the FFF team-boss missed a potential top ten finish, however soon after retiring, business commitments forced him to board a plane and leave the venue, ultimately forcing the withdrawal of the #5 McLaren with Liuzzi unable to drive alone under the guidelines and rules of the GT Asia Series (as a ”Pro’ ranked driver, they must have a ‘Bronze’ ranked co-driver).
“I was happy with our pace at the start of the race and managed to hit the pits for our compulsory stop in fourth position,” Liuzzi explained. “Then unfortunately Sean was caught out by the Safety Car, then he had contact late in the race from the Lamborghini that hit him from behind which was a pity because we had the pace to finish top ten.”
That left the #55 McLaren of Hamaguchi and Parente to wave the flag for the team, and with fresh Michelin tyres by virtue of not qualifying, and a strong driver pairing, the Japanese driver felt quietly confident the team would make the podium.
“We did well in race one, starting from the rear of the field, we finished fourth, so I don’t think we could have done much better. Today I start the race, and my pace is quicker than most of the ‘gentleman’ drivers, so I should be able to come through the field. The pace of the car this weekend is better, and the pace with Parente is very good.”
Hamaguchi’s views were quickly backed up by his race pace, the round three winner [alongside Liuzzi] was quickly into the top ten, and onto the tail of 2014 team-mates Mok Weng Sun and Richie Wee, but clearly faster.
On the run into turn 11 Mok ran a little wide and allowed enough room for Hamaguchi to pull to the inside, but as they hit the apex of the corner, to get the ideal line to slingshot onto the long back straight, the Ferrari moved across, making contact with the McLaren’s front left, forcing the #1 Ferrari to spin sideways.
The Ferrari straightened up and recovered, but sadly Hamaguchi came to a stop, forcing him to work his way back through the pack again ahead of his stop, however the contact also saw the popular Japanese driver in pit lane ahead of the CPS to serve a drive through penalty as a result of the contact.
As soon as the CPS window opened, Hamaguchi was in to hand the car to Parente who emerged as one of the fastest cars on the circuit. He was immediately able to work his way through the pack, however once he caught onto the tail of Blancpain Series rival Andy Meyrick in the #7 Bentley, his forward progress was stalled as it took him some time to get around the Englishman, ultimately crossing the line in P8.
For the FFF Racing team by ACM the focus now turns to the final round of the championship, an event where few teams have any prior experience at the new Chang International Circuit, however one drive that does enjoy laps at the new Thai venue is FFF Racing’s Andrea Caldarelli, the Italian on of the front-runners in the SuperGT round held at the circuit in mid June.
“Thailand will prove interesting because unlike the other rounds of the season, no-one has any real experience of the Buriram circuit,” Caldarelli explained.
“I have a good idea now of the circuit after finishing top six in SuperGT, and that will give me some idea heading into the event, but the good thing is that it will create a level playing field for the rest of the teams, and with our new found pace from Shanghai, I can’t see why we won’t be right in the podium fight again, and that would be a fantastic way to end the season.”
The 2015 GT Asia Series final will get underway on Thursday 22 October with two unofficial practice sessions, ahead of the two final 60-minute races of the season on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th October.
Ben Potter

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