New Zealand’s Chris van der Drift triumphed in one of the most thrilling races in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia’s 12-year history, successfully fending off a relentless challenge from pole-sitter Martin Ragginger to take the chequered flag after 15-laps of Japan’s 4.56km Fuji International Speedway. van der Drift, contesting his first season in a Porsche, gave his new Chinese Porsche dealer team Kamlung Racing their third consecutive winners’ trophy after crossing the line with the slimmest of margins from the Team Porsche Holding driver.
Overall championship leader Craig Baird took third for Clearwater Racing having stayed with the leading duo throughout the race, briefly getting by Ragginger to go second before the hard-charging Austrian snatched back the position.
Class B winner was 100 PLUS Racing Team driver Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak of Thailand, successfully converting his pole position into a victory, while OpenRoad Racing’s Francis Tjia took second after yet another epic battle with Team Jebsen’s Yuey Tan, third.
With coveted invitations to race at the Porsche Carrera Cup 24 Hours of Spa 2015 next month at the legendary Spa Francorchamps waiting for whoever leads the overall and Class B championships after Round 6, the heat is on at the top of both leaderboards. While van der Drift may have taken the last three wins, his DNF in Round 2 means he still trails Baird by seven points in the points, who remains in pole position to take on the famed Belgian track. Despite missing out on the last two rounds while on duty at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, Ragginger’s thunderous return sees him go joint third in the overall classification with Avila, ahead of Team Yonda’s Ro Charlz Skyangel. In Class B, Tan jumps one point ahead of rival Wayne Shen of Modena Motorsports with Tjia in third only ten points behind, so everything will rest on the outcome of tomorrow’s race.
For van der Drift, Round 5 was won off the start when he snatched the lead from Ragginger who, outside his grid box, had had to reverse back into position just seconds before the start lights came on. Sitting alongside the Austrian on the grid, the Kiwi grabbed his chance: “If Martin had stayed in front off the line, I wouldn’t have been able to pass him. He was super, super fast and thanks to Martin for having a clean race too. There were a couple of moments; especially down the straight where, for the first time, I felt the draft effect. Martin got beside me and it was like a magnet and cars came together, which was quite interesting. My main concern was making no mistakes and making the car as wide as possible!”
For 15 scorching laps, Ragginger had battled to find a way cleanly past his rival, the pair giving a wheel-perfect display of no-holds barred racing on the limit: “It was a cool race, and very close and I enjoyed it a lot! van der Drift was defending and Craig was also pushing very hard and was quick. I was in a sandwich [between van der Drift and Baird], but I think everybody is happy we gave them a great race.”
Baird, who had struggled in qualifying to master the deceptively tricky circuit, worked hard to make sure he was ready should the dueling pair come together: “I was waiting for them to take each other out! It was very exciting watching Chris and Martin from third, I had the best seat in the house. I wasn’t quite good enough to be able to challenge though.”
In a race packed with exceptional motorsport, the action was no less intense amongst the Class B field, with drivers dicing for position from lights out to the chequered flag. Vutthikorn was delighted to be back on the top step of the podium for the first time after his return to the championship, while Tjia, who set the fastest lap in the category, enjoyed drafting with friendly rival Tan: “My car just got better as the race went on, especially under braking.” Tan, meanwhile, while adamant his focus was 100% on the race, did admit the promise of Spa isn’t far from his thoughts this weekend: “It’ll be a very long day tomorrow, and I know anything can happen. I wasn’t thinking about it during the race, but I have watched all the classic Spa races on Youtube!”
As the lights went out, van der Drift rocketed into the lead, with Ragginger immediately recovering from his start line error to mount one of the fiercest challenges ever seen in the series. Behind the pair, Baird got away well followed by PICC Team StarChase driver, 17-year-old Nico Menzel, Tan’s team mate Rodolfo Avila, Budweiser Team Absolute Racing’s Tung Ho-Pin. As Baird caught up to the race leaders, Menzel, Avila and Tung tussled for position, with the Chinese ace snatching fourth a third of the way through. Rodolfo took the chase to Tung, the latter spinning off before rejoining to cross the line seventh behind Menzel.
As the battle between van der Drift and Ragginger had the crowds on their feet, Baird kept them firmly in his sights, even diving past the Austrian on lap 10 to briefly hold second before the Team Porsche Holding driver reclaimed his place and – headlights ablaze – resumed his quest for the race lead. Behind, while Avila kept his head down, talented Malaysian Alif Hamdan was a man on a mission, staying clear of trouble in amongst the drama and keeping on the power to set the fastest lap of the race. Hamdan eventually finished fifth behind Avila having started from the fourth row of the grid.
After a truly momentous race in the foothills of Japan’s majestic Mount Fuji, and with the season approaching its crucial mid-point, Round 6 promises to be equally exciting. van der Drift’s second fastest lap of 1:43.345 in the single qualifying session means he will take pole position with Ragginger lining up alongside, and Menzel and Avila making up the second row.
However, with the enticing promise of a chance to tackle Spa’s storied Eau Rouge and going head-to-head with fellow Carrera Cup drivers from across the globe next month, Baird, van der Drift, Tan, Wayne Shen and Tjia must both conquer one of the calendar’s most challenging race tracks and their formidable rivals as Round 6 beckons.