29 entries will contest this weekend’s Blancpain GT Series Asia season opener at Sepang in Malaysia where GruppeM Racing begin the defence of their GT3 Drivers’ and Teams’ titles.
Following a successful inaugural campaign in 2017, the championship has consolidated its status as Asia’s leading multi-class GT platform by unveiling another packed entry comprising 21 GT3s and eight GT4s. The combined total features 10 manufacturers and teams representing nine countries, including the first-ever full-season entries from Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Australia. The 58 drivers also comprise no less than 19 nationalities from across five continents, emphasising the series’ increasingly global appeal.
Sepang’s list includes several previously unannounced entries, such as reigning double champions GruppeM Racing whose pair of Mercedes-AMG GT3s feature two brand new driver line-ups: Nico Bastian and Patric Niederhauser join forces aboard 2017’s championship-winning #999 car, while AMG factory ace Raffaele Marciello partners French amateur Brice Bosi in the #888 Pro/Am entry.
Marciello starred at Sepang during a one-off outing with GruppeM last season and returns for five of this year’s six rounds. Fellow AMG factory driver Maxi Buhk will stand in for the Italian at Buriram, while Markus Pommer is expected to take Bastian’s place in Thailand as well as Suzuka, Fuji and Ningbo.
Audi again holds the numerical GT3 advantage courtesy of six full-season entries. While Absolute Racing oversee three of them, it’s European powerhouse Team WRT who feature the best placed of last season’s R8 drivers: Aditya Patel and Mitch Gilbert. The OD Racing pair claimed three victories – including one at Sepang – in 2017, and will be hoping to go one better this time around after ending the year as runners-up by a single point.
Other Audi entries also feature drivers of interest, with Sepang’s Race 2 winner Anthony Liu joining Josh Burdon at Absolute Racing and home favourite Alex Yoong returning with Phoenix Racing Asia to partner Pro/Am co-driver Lim Keong Wee.
Craft-Bamboo Racing finished 2017 strongly and again spearhead Porsche’s challenge with three proven podium finishers in the form of Sandy Stuvik, Aidan Read and Darryl O’Young, who claimed the team and manufacturer’s first series victory at Shanghai.
Meanwhile, Ferrari’s challenge is carried by two of 2017’s race-by-race entries who are stepping up to full-season campaigns. Japanese squad ARN Racing certainly impressed on home soil at Suzuka and Fuji where their 488 GT3 proved one of the quickest cars on show. They’re joined on the entry list by HubAuto Corsa who switch from Porsche to Prancing Horse this year after becoming Blancpain GT Series Asia’s first full-time team from Taiwan.
Three Lamborghinis also feature courtesy of FFF Racing Team by ACM and AMAC Motorsport, the latter becoming the championship’s first Australian representatives, while Honda and Aston Martin both also comprise an Am Cup entry apiece thanks to Arrows Racing and reigning class champions CMRT Eurasia, respectively.
But one of the biggest talking points this weekend will be the performance of Nissan’s 2018-spec GT-R NISMO GT3, two of which have been entered by the manufacturer’s new customer squad, KCMG. Platinum-graded Super GT legend Tsugio Matsuda leads the team at Sepang.
GT4’s popularity continues to grow across the region, and the class will certainly be more diverse this year in Blancpain GT Series Asia thanks to eight full-season entries comprising four different manufacturers.
Nevertheless, Porsche still enjoys the upper hand in terms of numbers, with three Cayman GT4 Clubsport MRs lining up at Sepang. Among them are reigning champions Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin, who won in Malaysia 12 months ago en route to the Drivers’ title with Craft-Bamboo Racing.
They’re joined on the grid by two BMW Team Studie M4s and another pair of Mercedes-AMG GT4s, the latter of which has been entered by reigning GT3 champions GruppeM Racing.
McLaren were the only manufacturer to prevent a Porsche whitewash in 2017, and the same combination that triumphed during a one-off outing at Fuji – Clearwater Racing’s Mok Weng Sun and Richard Wee – are back for a full-season assault aboard their 570S GT4.
Five days of Blancpain GT Series Asia action begins with pre-season testing today and Thursday before free practice officially kicks off the campaign this Friday. That’s followed by further practice plus qualifying and Race 1 on Saturday before the weekend’s second 60-minute contest wraps up this year’s season opener on Sunday.
Fans across Asia and most of the world can watch qualifying and both races live and for free on Blancpain GT Series Asia’s website and Facebook page. US viewers can tune into Motor Trend On Demand, while Fox Asia and the Asiavision network will also broadcast both races live across the region.
Brunei, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan*, Laos*, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
*American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, North Korea, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Pakistan, Pitcairn, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna Islands, and Western Samoa.
*FNG’s Fox Sports / Star Sports channels are not currently being distributed in these countries however they may be reached by digital services or other media.
China’s Youku platform will also stream live race coverage across the country.
PITSTOP SUCCESS PENALTIES
All GT3 and GT4 entries must adhere to the minimum pitstop time during both race’s mandatory driver changes (pit window open between minutes 25 and 35).
Pitstop success penalties are not applicable during the season’s first race. However, the top-three GT3 and GT4 finishers will incur 15, 10 and 5-second penalties to be served in addition to their Race 2 minimum pitstop times.
Wednesday 11 April
10:00 – 10:55: Paid Practice 1
15:00 – 15:55: Paid Practice 2
Thursday 12 April
10:00 – 10:55: Paid Practice 3
15:00 – 15:55: Paid Practice 4
Friday 13 April
11:30 – 12:15: Free Practice 1
16:00 – 16:45: Free Practice 2
Saturday 14 April
09:00 – 09:30: Free Practice 3
11:55 – 12:10: Qualifying 1 (Race 1 grid)
12:20 – 12:35: Qualifying 2 (Race 2 grid)
15:45 – 16:45: Race 1
Sunday 15 April
11:50 – 12:50: Race 2
GT3: 2m04.859s – Raffaele Marciello – GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 2017
GT4: 2m20.141s – Eric Lo – EKS Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR – 2017