Published on June 28th, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
GT Asia Series McLaren claim victory after dramatic opening day in Okayama
Rnd#3 2015 – 27 June, 2015
The GT Asia Series first competed at the former Aida Formula One circuit in 2013, and at that point the event was dominated by Craft-Bamboo Racing, presenting their rivals with an ominous sign ahead of the two 50-minute races that would signal the second event on the 2015 programme. Balance of performance was the big discussion point ahead of qualifying with some believing they had been ‘hard done by’, however by the close of the two 15-minute sessions, it was clear the parity between the cars was closer than it had ever been, with less than a second covering the top 12 cars.
Friday’s rain though had dramatically changed the track conditions compared to the unofficial testing that teams had done on Thursday, presenting many of them with a real challenge ahead of Saturday’s opening race. Bentley appeared to have done the best of working their mighty twin-turbo V8 powered Continental GT3s into contention, with new recruit Andy Soucek claiming the ‘Pro’ pole time, with team-mates Duncan Tappy and Keita Sawa filling the second row behind South Korea pole-sitter Richard Lyons, the top four covered by just over two tenths of a second.
Q2 saw the Bentley assault continue, with rising star Adderly Fong claiming a dominant pole ahead of Craft-Bamboo’s impressive Jonathan Venter, whilst Hiroshi Hamaguchi and points leader Anthony Liu filled row two. With little separating the teams, there was great anticipation from the teams and the fans ahead of the opening race, but the drama started even before the green light, with the #1 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of reigning champion Mok Weng Sun alight down at turn ten.
Factory Ferrari star Gianmaria Bruni was set to start the car, but a fire erupted in the engine bay on his roll-around lap. The quick-thinking Italian found a marshalling point to have the fire extinguished, however it took an agonising 90-seconds for it to be put out, ending the teams chances of making the race, and ultimately jeopardising their chances of taking any points away from Okayama.
Once the race started though it was all Bentley up front, but as things progressed, the consistent FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3 of Tonio Liuzzi and Hiroshi Hamaguchi continued to circulate quickly, picking off one car after another to claim an emphatic victory for the new team ahead of the TP12 Racing Ferrari of Carlo Van Dam and Todd Piti, and the Ferrari of points leaders Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo.
Race#1 (Round 3)
The action began even before the race saw the green light, with the #1 Clearwater Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni catching fire on the out-lap, much to the surprise of the team and their rivals. It took what seemed an eternity to douse the flames, with Bruni doing his best to help the marshalls.
Despite all the pre-race drama, the start was clean with Soucek and Lyons going head-to-head into turn one, the Bentley driver getting the best of the battle, with Tappy taking advantage to move into P2.
With fire retardant still evident at turn ten, teams were forced to negotiate a slippery part of the circuit, exacerbating the understeer they were experiencing on cold tyres. The one hit hardest by the handling issue was Sawa who quickly began to drop back through the field.
From fifth position Tonio Liuzzi had made the best of the start to be fourth behind the two Bentleys and Lyons, which soon became third after Lyons suffered a rare spin, which put him into the gravel. He immediately hit pit lane (just prior to the compulsory pit stop window opening) fearing he had suffered some level of damage, but a visual check saw the car continue down pit lane and back into the action.
A lap later he was back, with the team hoping an on-track incident might prompt a Safety Car, handing them back some valuable time, however the Safety Car intervention never came, dropping them further back down the order as they effected their driver change.
By that stage Soucek and Tappy were 15-seconds down the road, the duo leaving their stop until quite late in the window to hand over to Jeffrey Lee and Jacky Yeung.
Liuzzi meanwhile elected to go around one more time, handing Hamaguchi the car with a smaller deficit to the leaders, something he showed only too well on pit exit, slotting in between the two Bentleys in second place.
Second soon became first after Lee was handed a penalty for speeding in pit lane, whilst Fong suffered a similar fate after it was revealed that Sawa had done the same. Sadly for the #8 Bentley that penalty was a double-whammy after Sawa lost valuable time in pit-lane having stopped well off line for the team to effect the driver change.
Sadly for the local hero, his race hadn’t panned out the way he’d hoped after all three Bentleys suffered from a similar handling problem which saw significant understeer, the #8 car visibly off line in the tighter corners as it battled to get power down.
Despite that, Fong battled on, moving his way through to seventh at the flag as comfortably the fastest car on circuit – the young open-wheel star finishing two places back from the #7 Bentley, and immediately ahead of the #77 JV Global Bentley with reigning GTM class champion Jacky Yeung at the wheel.
In many ways fans were robbed of what could have been one of the greatest races on recent record, as one after the other Hamaguchi’s rivals fell away, handing the new McLaren team their maiden win.
Ultimately though the Liuzzi/Hamaguchi combination had the pace to weather almost any storm. The greatest threat was always going to come from 2014 standout Anthony Liu, however with limited running (his first dry laps of a circuit he’d never seen before were during qualifying), the Chinese driver was unable to make inroads into Hamaguchi’s lead, and everyone else was battling their own demons.
Whilst Hamaguchi was doing his best to keep the field at bay, behind him Piti was turning in a solid performance in just his second event in the Ferrari, the Thai driver in the end hanging on to second despite the approaching threat of Anthony Liu.
The BBT Ferrari was quick over the closing laps, but like their Ferrari rivals, they were battling an increase in ride height as a result of a BOP [Balance Of Performance] change after South Korea, which made finding the optimum window with the title winning marque a lot more difficult to uncover, something which prompted much discussion in the paddock.
Jonathon Venter again starred for the Craft-Bamboo team, working the car forward over the closing laps to claim fourth. At one stage it looked as if he may join the battle for second place, however difficulties in getting past the Lee and Yeung Bentleys slowed progress mid session, although fourth handed the championship contenders more valuable points.
Lee brought the #7 J-Fly Racing Bentley home in fifth, just ahead of a charging Richie Wee, the 2014 ‘Rookie-of-the-Year’ putting in another impressive run after a solid start by team-mate Matt Griffin.
Whilst the outright battle was interesting, the GTM class fight saw almost as much action despite the relatively small field, and just like GT3, it seemed that everyone was doing their best NOT to go after victory.
Rnd#3/4 2015 GT Asia Series
Okayama International Circuit, Japan
Qualifying #1 (15-minutes)
- 7. Andy Soucek (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) - 1:29.173
- 88. Richard Lyons (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3) – 1:29.282
- 77. Duncan Tappy (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) - 1:29.412
- 8. Keita Sawa (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) – 1:29.436
- 55. Tonio Liuzzi (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3) - 1:29.547
- 37. Davide Rizzo (BBT Team Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:29.552
- 1. Gianmaria Bruni (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:29.557
- 24. Kota Sasaki (Dilango Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3) – 1:29.636
- 11. Carlo Van Dam (Singha Ferrari 458) – 1:29.785
- 5. Andrea Caldarelli (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3) – 1:29.839
- 86. Fairuz Fauzy (OD Racing Lamborghini Gallardo GT3) - 1:30.055
- 12. Matt Griffin (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458) – 1:30.107
- 99. Darryl O’Young (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston) – 1:30.594
- 9. Max Wiser (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3) – 1:30.925
- 22. Dylan Derdaele (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3-R) – 1:30.973
- 20. Kimihiro Yashiro (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3 Cup)* – 1:36.887
- 23. Jerry Wang (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)* – 1:37.960
- 34. Takuma Aoki (Dilango Racing Gallardo LP560)* – 1:39.225
Qualifying #2 (15-minutes)
- 8. Adderly Fong (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) – 1:29.441
- 99. Jonathan Venter (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston) – 1:29.909
- 55. Hiroshi Hamaguchi (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3) - 1:30.287
- 37. Anthony Liu (BBT Team Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 1:30.792
- 1. Mok Weng Sun (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458) – 1:31.739
- 11. Piti Bhirom Bhakdi (Singha Ferrari 458) – 1:32.100
- 12. Richard Wee (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458) – 1:32.914
- 88. Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin) – 1:32.916
- 9. Jiang Xin (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3) – 1:33.438
- 7. Jeffrey Lee (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) - 1:33.459
- 22. Hisashi Kunie (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3-R) – 1:34.513
- 24. Dilantha Malagamuwa (Dilango Racing Gallardo FL2 GT3) – 1:35.236
- 77. Jacky Yeung (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) - 1:35.524
- 23. Jerry Wang (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)* – 1:36.339
- 86. Zen Low (OD Racing Lamborghini Gallardo GT3) - 1:37.054
- 20. Tetsuya Makino (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3 Cup)* – 1:37.676
- 34. Ken Urata (Dilango Racing Gallardo LP560)* – 1:39.187
- 5. Fu Song Yang (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3) – 1:39.350
Race #1 (50-minutes)
- 55. Tonio Liuzzi/Hiroshi Hamaguchi (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3) – 32-laps
- 11. Carlo Van Dam/Piti Bhirom Bhakdi (Singha Ferrari 458) +19.901
- 37. Davide Rizzo/Anthony Liu (BBT Team Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) +20.291
- 99. Darryl O’Young/Jonathan Venter (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston) +33.582
- 7. Andy Soucek/Jeffrey Lee (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) +47.944
- 12. Craig Baird/Richard Wee (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458) +54.014
- 8. Keita Sawa/Adderly Fong (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) +1:02.933
- 77. Duncan Tappy/Jacky Yeung (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3) +1:10.736
- 86. Fairuz Fauzy/Zen Low (OD Racing Lamborghini Gallardo GT3) +1:32.262
- 22. Dylan Derdaele/Hisashi Kunie (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3-R) – 31-laps
- 24. Kota Sasaki/Dilantha Malagamuwa (Dilango Racing Gallardo FL2)
- 88. Richard Lyons/Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin GT3)
- 5. Andrea Caldarelli/Fu Song Yang (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3)
- 34. Takuma Aoki/Ken Urata (Dilango Racing Gallrdo LP560)* – 30-laps
- 20. Kimihiro Yasiro/Tetsuya Makino (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3 Cup)* – 29-laps
- 23. Jerry Wang (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)*
DNF. 9. Jiang Xin/Max Wiser (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3) – 1-lap
DNS. 1. Mok Weng Sun/Gianmaria Bruni (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458) – 0-laps