Published on July 3rd, 2016 | by Subhash Nair1
Bentley and Ferrari battle for Top Honours at Okayama
The expected battle for supremacy at Okayama International Circuit in Japan played out in spades during official practice, with little separating all six marques, powerhouses Bentley and Ferrari battling for the top spot across all three sessions before Bentley Team Absolute’s Adderly Fong claimed the top spot during P3.
The young Hong Kong-based driver – who is doing double-duty for the team in 2016 alongside his role as a Bentley driver in the USA – stopped the clocks in session three with a best of 1:29.654 for a three-tenth advantage over multiple WEC and Le Mans champion Gianmaria Bruni, but the Bentley Team Absolute driver was still half a second off Andy Soucek’s 2015 pole time for the team.
Mechanical grip was a resounding issue up and down pit lane, with the bulk of the teams focusing on maximizing the setup of the car to tackle both understeer and oversteer.
As expected, the race-fit Gianmaria ‘Gimmi’ Bruni was quick straight out the gate, setting the benchmark time in P1, before another European-based driver in Germany’s Christer Jöns took the top spot in the #9 Bentley the following session, leading a Bentley 1-2-3.
Ultimately the ‘pro’ drivers allowed their team-mates time to settle into the cars during the bulk of the three 45-minute sessions, with the stars coming out to play on ‘green’ rubber in the closing stages of P3, a session impacted by a series of red flags for cars who pushed the limits of adhesion just a little bit too far.
Ultimately it was Fong who prevailed, his 1:29.654, still half a second off Andy Soucek’s 2015 pole time of 1:29.173, but comfortably clear of Bruni, whose 1:29.957 was a mere three one thousandths faster than the impressive points leader Davide Rizzo.
Despite being the slowest of the Bentley’s in fifth place, South Korean round winners Jonathan venter and Keita Sawa were all smiles after the official practice sessions were completed, with the pairing separated by mere hundredths of a second in their respective sessions on new rubber, Venter ending the day less than four tenths off Fong, and mere hundredths slower than Jöns.
Whilst the Bentleys and the Ferraris were quick – including Singha Motorsport’s Carlo Van Dam and Piti Bhirombhakdi – the Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsches were also on the improve, so too the GruppeM machine which saw the debut of New Zealander Jono Lester.
Irishman Richard Lyons had the #88 Interush Porsche he shares with Frank Yu at the top of the timesheets a number of times across the day, before finally settling in with the sixth fastest time, whilst Lester assisted the GruppeM team to the eleventh fastest time, just over a second off Fong, and only half a second off Lyons on his GT Asia Series debut.
The Audis too were lamenting a lack of pace, much of which they put down to grip, and some of which they felt would come back to them ahead of the opening race, whilst the FFF Racing team by ACM Lamborghini showed signs of strong pace early, before the two young Italian drivers focused on dialing themselves into a circuit that neither of them had previously seen.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day though was the lack of speed from the two young Australian drivers in the Miedecke Stone Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT3. The owners of the 2015 GT Asia Series title winning Craft-Bamboo cars were a little further back in the pack than they’d hoped, despite both drivers running within tenths of each other, but with a ‘brains trust’ that includes some of the sharpest minds in Australian motorsport setting up the car, they’re not expected to be off the pace for long in a car capable of making the Okayama podium.
For now though teams have to prepare for Saturday morning’s two 15-minute qualifying sessions which will set the grid for the two rounds at Okayama, and this weekend, they have a little bit of extra incentive, after GT Asia Series partner Motul revealed a stunning new trophy for the top qualifying teams of 2016.
Made exclusively in France by Hozoi – a world renowned artist – the trophy will be awarded to the top driver who accumulates the most number of pole positions during the 2016 season.
The design of the trophy reflects motor racing, featuring components and elements of cars being used in their construction – and although taking pole doesn’t automatically guarantee a win, the pursuit of setting the fastest lap amongst a very competitive field is an achievement well worth celebrating.
Fortunately the weather remained fine throughout practice, allowing the circuit to start to regain some of the rubber and grip that was lost during the recent heavy rains, but that rain could yet return, with some predictions of a thunderstorm on Sunday afternoon.. Make sure you join us for the live stream through the GT Asia Series website; www.gtasiaseries.com for what promises to be another epic weekend of GT3 action!