Absolute Porsche and Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMG share qualifying spoils at Fuji

Tanart Sathienthirakul and Alessio Picariello shared Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia qualifying honours this morning at Fuji Speedway where Absolute Racing’s Porsche and Craft-Bamboo’s Mercedes-AMG sealed a pole apiece.

Sathienthirakul has a chance to extend his championship lead from pole later today after beating Weiron Tan’s Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute entry by 0.5s. However, the #12 Audi’s five-place grid penalty carried over from Suzuka means MG Choi’s Solite Indigo Racing Mercedes-AMG joins the Porsche on the front row.

Incredibly, the second session featured a top-13 covered by just 0.6s. However, it was Picariello who once again emerged triumphant by notching up his and Craft-Bamboo’s third consecutive pole position. Jazeman Jaafar (Triple Eight) and Naoki Yokomizo (Anstone Racing) completed the top-three.

Meanwhile, Takayuki Kinoshita and Sunako Jukuchou claimed both GT4 pole positions for BMW Team Studie on home soil after twice beating Craft-Bamboo Racing to top spot. Jean-Marc Merlin and David Pun start alongside the M4, while Birth Racing Project’s Kouichi Okumura and iRace.Win’s Joe Chi qualified third for this weekend’s two races.

GT3

Tanart Sathienthirakul’s 1m41.467s proved more than sufficient to see off the opposition in today’s first 15-minute session. In fact, his 0.574s advantage over nearest rival Weiron Tan was also the difference between positions two and seven.

Piti Bhirombhakdi briefly replaced his fellow countryman at the top but, like everyone else, was unable to keep pace once the Thai driver unleashed his and Absolute’s true potential.

Instead, all eyes were on the battle for second place, which raged throughout the session between Tan, MG Choi and Marco Seefried. All three provisionally featured on the front row before Tan ultimately emerged with the second fastest time.

The #12 entry’s five-place grid penalty carried over from Suzuka would ordinarily have handed second to Absolute’s other Porsche, which jumped up to third late on. However, Yuan Bo’s best lap time was subsequently deleted for a track limits infringement, meaning Choi starts alongside his championship rival on the front row.

HubAuto Corsa’s Ferrari driven by Seefried and David Chen’s TSRT Audi complete the revised second row after originally qualifying fifth and sixth, while a lap just one second shy of pole sees leading amateur Hiroaki Nagai start fifth in ARN’s Porsche.

A similarly impressive performance helped VSR’s Alex Au qualify sixth, one place ahead of the demoted Tan. Bo’s second fastest lap was good enough for ninth behind Christina Nielsen’s Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMG. ABSSA’s Bhirombhakdi completed the top-10.

Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak also dropped one place post-qualifying due to a track limits infringement, while Kei Nakanishi secured Am Cup pole for LM Corsa.

The second session was far more straightforward but featured a familiar name at the top: Alessio Picariello.

Jazeman Jaafar set the early pace for Triple Eight and improved again at half-distance to fend off Craft-Bamboo’s Melvin Moh who’d moved to within 0.029s. However, Picariello had yet to show his hand. And when he did, it was emphatic: a 1m40.510s moving the Mercedes-AMG he shares with Jeffrey Lee 0.3s clear of the chasing pack.

Anstone Racing’s Naoki Yokomizo, who claimed victory at Fuji in 2017, employed a similar strategy to jump up to second late on before Jaafar finally made sure of a front row grid slot by re-taking the place on his last flying lap. 0.222s separated the Triple Eight and Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMGs in the final reckoning.

Martin Rump was the best placed non-Mercedes-AMG driver in fifth, although the Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute R8’s time was less than 0.2s shy of Jaafar’s.

ARN Racing’s Porsche bagged a pair of top-six starts courtesy of Yuta Kamimura who beat Indigo’s Manuel Metzger, championship leader Philip Hamprecht (Absolute Racing) and Alex Imperatori (Panther/AAS Motorsport). Franky Cheng rounded out the top-10.

Elsewhere, Frederik Schandorff can consider himself unlucky to be starting 13th after the VSR Lamborghini qualified just 0.662s slower than Picariello. Local team CarGuy Racing claimed the Am Cup spoils in 20th overall thanks to Takeshi Kimura.

GT4

BMW Team Studie’s Takayuki Kinoshita and Sunako Jukuchou failed to top any of the three practice sessions prior to qualifying but delivered when it mattered en route to a double pole position on home soil.

Kinoshita starts this afternoon’s race alongside Jean-Marc Merlin who lapped his Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMG 0.5s slower than the BMW. Behind, debutants Birth Racing Project edged out Team iRace.Win and GTO Racing with TTR courtesy of Kouichi Okumura.

The second session was more notable for the decent scrap between iRace.Win’s Joe Chi and Setiawan Santoso who traded times throughout the 15 minutes. Chi ultimately beat his team-mate by just 0.042s to seal third behind Jukuchou and David Pun, who was unable to convert practice-topping pace into pole position.

This weekend’s first 60-minute race starts at 15:45 JST (GMT +9) today. Watch it live on the championship’s website and Facebook page, SRO’s GT World Youtube channel and China’s leading streaming platforms.