Published on November 21st, 2015 | by Subhash Nair0
Dramatic qualifying day at Macau for GT World Cup
The opening day of action at Macau for the FIA GT World Cup may have been relatively trouble free, but qualifying for the 22-strong GT field more than made up for that, with three high profile casualties, including reigning champions Mercedes-Benz, and GT Asia Series regulars FFF Racing, who lost local hero Andre Couto in a monster crash at the fastest part of the circuit.
Ultimately it was reigning GT Asia Series champions Craft-Bamboo Racing who claimed the top spot in both practice two, and qualifying, with Germany’s Stefan Mucke putting the #97 Aston Martin Vantage on the top spot in the dying seconds of a qualifying period that saw three safety car interventions. Fortunately none of the incidents saw injury to the drivers, but forced the retirement of the #5 FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren of Couto late in the session, after a big hit on the exit of Mandarin Bend, the fastest part of the circuit.By that stage the qualifying session had been red-flagged twice, both times for the reigning champions, with the #1 car of Maro Engel the first casualty at Mandarin, a spin at around 250kph ending in the barriers, although fortunately without the significant damage that Couto would suffer late in the session.
By that stage Engel was fastest ahead of team-mate Renger van der Zande, who at that time was second, but on a flyer when he just clipped the barriers on the run up to the top of the hill, with predictable consequences for the #2 SLS. Engel’s situation was similar, forcing the the Mercedes-Benz mechanics to work well into the night to ensure the #1 and #2 AMG Driving Academy SLS GT3s would be on the grid for Saturday’s important qualifying race. With the two SLS AMGs off the circuit, attention turned to five-time Macau winner Edoardo Mortara in the new Audi R8 LMS GT3 which will debut in GT Asia in season 2016.‘Mr Macau’ and his factory team-mate Rene Rast were quick, with Macau rookie Rast applying plenty of pressure to his high-profile team-mate, but in the end it was Mortara who displaced Engel at the top of the timetables, before Mucke once more put Aston Martin back on top, with a stunning lap of 2:18.032 – a new qualifying lap record – in the final moments of the session.
Mucke’s comments were echoed up and down pit lane, with the new Macau GT format adding a second challenge for the GT Asia Series regulars who are more accustomed to the single 12-lap feature race on Sunday, 2015 presenting them now with a 12-lap ‘qualifying’ race on Saturday to set the grid for Sunday’s 18-lap feature race, the SJM Macau GT Cup.Despite being unable to complete the session and regain their status as pace-setters, the two AMG SLS GT3s were able to qualifying third and fifth, with Engel starting right behind Mucke, the result actually better than their 2014 qualifying results, which were fourth and sixth, with the Mercedes pair charging through to be 1-2 before turn one off the start.
This year there is no question that their rivals will be aware of their starting pace, and move to counter, which will make for an interesting battle down to Lisboa at turn three, then onto turn four which claimed a large number of victims off the start in 2013. For the GT Asia Series teams, Macau is somewhere they enjoy experience, something invaluable on the tight and demanding 6.1-kilometre, 22-turn Guia Circuit, a factor which played into the pace of newly crowned champion Darryl O’Young who qualified sixth, and team-mate Richard Lyons who was seventh. Adderly Fong was ninth after setting a stunning pace to be third in practice two, and split the two Mercedes drivers, but like title rival O’Young, traffic thwarted his run in qualifying.
Like his team-mate, two-time Macau GT champion Keita Sawa was lamenting traffic and red flags, whilst the FFF Racing team were lamenting the loss of Couto, despite having claimed positions eight and nine for Parente and his McLaren GT factory team-mate Kevin Estre. Dylan Derdaele led the remainder of the GT Asia Series regulars, the GTM Class Team’s Champions recording the 17th fastest time, just ahead of Absolute Racing’s Jeffrey Lee who was making his return to the Audi fold in the new LMS GT3 after a season behind the wheel of the Bentley Continental.For the teams, the weekend steps up another gear on Saturday with the all-important 12-lap qualifying race which begins at 12:15pm [CST], ahead of Sunday’s ‘main event’ the FIA GT World Cup at 12:55pm. Details of live-streaming will be available on www.facebook.com/GTAsiaSeries