Published on July 11th, 2016 | by Amirul Mukminin0
Victory again for Absolute Team Bentley in Japan
Coming into the third event of the 2016 GT Asia Series season, Bentley Team Absolute were looking to build on the success they attained in both South Korea and Thailand with another strong podium finish, and 2015 series runner-up Adderly Fong duly obliged. The 2015 Okayama winner claimed pole position and a dominant victory in the opening race, whilst the returning Keita Sawa gave the team back-to-back poles after top qualifying for race two.
With Germany’s Christer Jöns joining Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak in the #9 entry, the team were primed for what was always going to be a challenging weekend, with the whole field separated by mere tenths of a second during practice and qualifying.
Frustratingly South Korean back-to-back winners Sawa and Jonathan Venter were thwarted almost as soon as the opening race began, the Australian turned around in turn one, before being forced to retire from a strong position in race two after a failure attributed to the opening race crash sidelined them, whilst the #9 entry was also sidelined after contact, with Vutthikorn turned around in race one whilst battling at the rear of the lead pack.
For Adderly Fong and team-mate Andrew Kim though, the weekend went flawlessly, the duo dominating the opening race, then backing up with a second podium in race two, to move into a share of second place in the championship at the mid-point of the season.
Practice and Qualifying
After claiming their maiden victory in Asia at Okayama 12 months ago, the three-car Bentley Team Absolute operation were always expected to be fast, and Hong Kong’s Adderly Fong didn’t disappoint, emerging fastest in official practice despite track conditions which were well short of those the teams experienced in 2015.
Jöns too was quick, setting the top time in the second practice session, but no-one could deny Fong, the pole-sitter at Road America in the USA just the prior weekend proved the value of being race fit, topping even world champion Gianmaria Bruni in the final session, whilst the closely matched Venter/Sawa combination emerged as fifth fastest.
Fong carried his pace into qualifying where he quickly set a benchmark which couldn’t be beaten, even his team-mates failed to get close to his 1:29.601 pole-time, Venter closest with seventh and Jöns tenth, the three Bentley’s separated by just eight tenths of a second..!
In session two it was Sawa’s turn to deliver the top spot, the returning Japanese star falling just two tenths shy of Fong’s pole time, but comfortably clear of the pack, whilst Vutthikorn put in an impressive drive on his Okayama debut for sixth, with Andrew Kim starting off the row immediately behind him.
The action started early in the opening race, with Fong forced off the racing line on the run into turn one by the FFF Lamborghini, but whilst he was able to gather it up, Jonathan Venter was forced into a similar position after contact from behind by Richard Lyons in the Porsche, sadly he wasn’t in a position to recover..
Lyons had made a strong start and fired down the inside of Venter on the run into the fast right hander, but with the tight pack around him, the Australian had nowhere to go and was forced into a spin after the Porsche tagged his right rear wheel.
Frustratingly for the dual South Korean winner, the impact was exacerbated by the car running in fail-safe mode for half a lap before the systems reset themselves, dropping Venter to almost a full lap behind Fong who was soon through to put the #8 team a lap down.
By compulsory pit stop time, Fong had opened up an impressive lead of over ten seconds, handing the car to Kim who left pit lane with the lead comfortably intact.
Behind them, Jöns was holding down sixth place, handing the car to Vutthikorn who left pit lane in ninth position and quickly began to move forward, whilst Venter hit the pits to hand over to Sawa.
With Kim comfortably leading and extending the advantage, Vutthikorn too was making inroads and was embroiled in a battle for sixth with points leader Anthony Liu and compatriot Naiyanob Bhirombhakdi. Liu appeared to be struggling for grip and Vutthikorn was searching for a way past, but at the turn five hairpin, whilst looking to effect a move on the Ferrari, Bhirombhakdi fired down the inside under brakes, out of sight to the Bentley driver.
Contact was quite heavy, with the Porsche impacting the right rear wheel of the Bentley, an impact which broke the rear axle and saw the wheel part company with the gorgeous black and magenta Continental GT3 the following turn – it was game over for the #9 team.
Up front though no such dramas for the #7 crew, Kim crossing the line almost 20 seconds clear of the field, with Sawa recovering for 12th.
Starting from pole position, Sawa held the field at bay off the start in race two, then quickly opened up a strong lead, shaking all but Thailand winner Marchy Lee.
Unknown to the Japanese driver, an issue with the car saw him unable to pull away from the Audi pilot, who moved through to the lead on lap four. Sawa held on until the compulsory stop, handing the car to Venter, although the young Australian managed only a handful of laps before retiring the car out on the circuit, which ultimately led to a Safety Car intervention.
Behind Sawa off the start, Andrew Kim was forced wide making the grass as the field forged down to turn one, but the race one winner had it all in hand, holding position to put team-mate Vutthikorn under pressure before the compulsory pit stops [CPS].
Rejoining mid field after the CPS, Fong set about trying to make up the ground the team lost by virtue of their compensation time – an additional pit sop time penalty they received for winning the opening race. His life was made infinitely better by the Safety Car intervention, drawing him onto the tail of the leaders, Fong attacking off the restart to move into third ahead of the flag, defending hard across the closing laps from former F1 drivers Alex Yoong and Gianmaria Bruni.
Jöns had a relatively trouble free run to the line to claim seventh and more valuable championship points for Vutthikorn who now effectively moves into fifth place in the championship.