Published on September 12th, 2015 | by Subhash Nair0
Weekend of mixed fortunes for FFF Racing in Japan
There was plenty of optimism in the FFF Racing Team by ACM McLarenoperation heading into the inaugural GT Asia Series Sepang 3-Hour in Malaysia, with the team back to full strength after a pre-race testing accident in Japan set the team on the back foot for the previous round in Fuji.
Malaysia not only represented a new event for the series regulars, but for the FFF team, it also represented a return to a circuit on which they had completed a lengthy sequence of pre-season tests.
For Sepang, Sean Fu was out of the seat with business commitments internationally, allowing FFF Racing team by ACM ‘junior’ driver Ronald Wu to slot in beside his mentor Andrea Caladrelli in the #5 car, whilst Australian drivers Nathan Antunes and Rod Salmon returned to take over the reigns of the #15 car.
Joining round three winners Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Tonio Liuzzi in the #55 car, the three teams fired into unofficial practice with some impressive lap times. From unofficial practice it was pretty clear the standing 2:05.789 qualifying lap record was in jeopardy, with Ferrari WEC star James Calado quickest in session one, but in great news for the FFF team, Liuzzi was next quickest, just four tenths behind, Caldarelli and Antunes making it three McLarens in the top six..!
Session two saw Hamaguchi, Salmon and Wu complete much of the session, with a similar strategy adopted on Friday during opening official practice. By the close of Friday’s two 60-minute sessions, the FFF team were right in
the thick of the battle with Caldarelli leading the McLaren charge in sixth, with Liuzzi and Antunes not too far behind, although all three were suffering in the high temperatures and intense humidity which had a big impact on the turbo cars, whilst the drivers were facing cabin temperatures of well over 60 degrees.
By Saturday morning qualifying conditions had cooled off a little, allowing Caldarelli and Wu to claim a second row start, the duo the best of the McLaren teams on a grid that was set by the combined times of both drivers. Former Sepang winner Hamaguchi showed the wealth of that experience to claim fifth alongside Liuzzi, the pair just half a second off the pace of their team-mates, whilst Salmon and Antunes claimed a seventh row start.
Wu and Hamaguchi started strongly, sticking with the lead pack across the early laps, before the more experienced Hamaguchi started to pull away and battle with the leaders. Unfortunately his run at the front was to come to an early end, the Japanese driver beached in the gravel on track after spinning on circuit, the team discovering later there had been a mechanical issue with the right rear of the car. He hobbled back to pit lane where the team effected
repairs, but he was soon back again, this time permanently with a gearbox failure.
With the #55 car out, focus turned to the #5 and the #15, with both Caldarelli and Antunes now embedded in the two FFF McLarens, although both were battling changeable conditions after heavy showers forced all teams into pit-lane outside the compulsory pit stop [CPS] window in order to change to wet weather tyres.
Off the back of a solid opening stint by series debutante Ronald Wu, Caldarelli was charging back up the order, well inside the top ten and one of the fastest cars on the circuit, before he too succumbed to problems, the Italian and his young Hong Kong driver team-mate out with an electrical failure after 46-laps.
That left the fight to the Australian pairing of Salmon and Antunes, and whilst quick early, the duo struggled across the closing laps with a failing fuel pump. The team did an incredible job of keeping the car under power, to record a finish, albeit seven laps down.