Published on August 20th, 2016 | by Amirul Mukminin0
Audis on top early in GT Asia Series Shanghai showdown
It has been billed as an epic round of the GT Asia Series, and with good reason. Already 2016 has proven to be the most competitive season on record, the addition of some impressive new entries has only bolstered that reputation, and after official practice at Shanghai International Circuit, there’s next to nothing separating the top teams heading into qualifying.
In fact all seven marques are separated by just eight tenths of a second around the 5.451-kilometre Formula One venue, and whilst Audi can perhaps claim credit for topping all three sessions, their margin of advantage is too slight to lay down any predictions.
Interestingly it was two-time 2016 race winner Marchy Lee who topped the opening session, punching out an impressive 2:05.796 in the opening laps of the first session, just eight one thousandths faster than his Phoenix Racing Asia team-mate Alex Yoong, the two Audi veterans laying down the gauntlet for their rivals, who were ultimately unable to match them.
That experience – especially of the Shanghai circuit – was the feature of day one, the local stars and experienced GT Asia Series crews the ones who emerged on top at the conclusion of the three 60-minute sessions. In the end, despite some spirited driving and some qualifying simulations late in the day, Lee’s opening session best was the fastest of the day, Yoong retaining P2 overall, whilst their Nurburgring 24-Hour team-mate Franky Cheng in the Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS, was fastest in sessions two and three to finish fourth fastest for the day.
Another local crew too was keeping the new teams honest, Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo in the BBT Ferrari showing just how quick they can be at their home circuit, putting in some blistering times to really push the Audis, however a technical issue in the final session saw them unable to record a time, but as former winners and pole-sitters, they still provide one of the greatest threats this weekend.
Points-leaders Lamborghini too were fast, but it was the established pairing of Andrea Amici and Edoardo Liberati who were quickest despite the experience of the team’s second [#15] entry of Richard Antinucci and Jeroen Mul, they – like the highly-rated AMG factory drivers – were finding out first-hand just how quick the GT Asia Series regulars can be.
Fresh from back-to-back podiums in the USA last weekend, 2016 race winner Adderly Fong was quick too during the opening session, the Hong Kong Bentley driver looking for more in session two, but he ultimately paid the price after a spin and heavy contact with the barriers in the final corner. That contact forced the second red flag of the session (the first for debris) whilst safety crews recovered the stricken Bentley which had suffered significant damage to the right front corner.
Fong was understandably disappointed, with data supporting the fact that apart from running slightly wide on the exit, he’d done little wrong. Perhaps the vagaries of international flight though may have impacted his usually impressive reaction time.
With Fong and Kim back in the garage for the following session, the Bentley charge was left in the capable hands of two-time 2016 winners Keita Sawa and Jonathan Venter, the popular Japanese-Australian pairing sixth fastest in session two, immediately ahead of the first of the AMG GT3 pairings of Nico Bastian and Matt Solomon.
Making their maiden appearance in GT Asia, and with typical German precision (the local AAI team are being supported technically from Germany), the two pristine white AMGs spent their three sessions establishing a strong baseline setup from which to push during qualifying, whilst also ensuring that new recruit Zhang Wenhe could take as much time behind the wheel under the guidance of team-mate Maro Engel.
In the end the team pronounced themselves happy with their pace, whilst some suggested the successful international marque were ‘foxing’ ahead of qualifying, a not uncommon sight in world motorsport, however qualifying – the most important session of the weekend – usually gives a better indication of where the performance really lies.
As the fastest driver in the two prior visits to Shanghai for the GT Asia Series, Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons was also in the mix, however the reigning driver’s champions were still looking to extract more performance from their Porsche GT3 Rs, so too the [now] two-car GruppeM operation who added 2014 podium-placegetters Zhang Dasheng and Li Chao to their driver roster.
So what could we take from official practice.. Ultimately the heat affected the performance of some cars during the middle of the day, whilst the morning session saw the fastest lap times of the day, a time of day when qualifying will take place, and with what teams uncovered during their extended three hour sessions, you could perhaps expect a low 2:04-minute lap time to take the top spot.
As for the racing, practice proved what everyone expected – that the competition will be tight – with less than a second covering ten cars over a two-minute lap, this weekend could belong to anyone, but keep an eye on the established teams to dominate the podium, although don’t be too surprised if the international stars make an impression, that’s certainly their intent..!
Teams now prepare for qualifying at 9:40am (CST time) on Saturday morning with two 15-minute sessions separated by a ten minute break, ahead of the opening round in China at 4:05pm, in the peak of the heat of the day where temperatures are expected to hit 37 degrees with some chance of an afternoon storm. Round ten (race two at Shanghai) will be held at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon, with increasing chances that thunderstorms will hit during the day.