The opening day of official practice went to arguably the most successful team in the last five years of the GT Asia Series, Mok Weng Sun’s Clearwater Racing.
Despite the pace of GT Asia rookies NB Team during Thursday’s unofficial practice sessions, the honours for the opening day of official practice went to arguably the most successful team in the last five years of the GT Asia Series, Mok Weng Sun’s Clearwater Racing.
Session one saw a standout drive by multiple Australian Carrera Cup Champion Craig Baird who despite limited laps, set the benchmark pace of 2:09.205 early in the session before handing the car over to Richard Wee to give the Singapore-based driver a chance to turn some valuable laps ahead of qualifying.
“The car felt great,” Baird admitted. “But it wasn’t about me, it was about Richard turning laps, and in the end, despite his relatively limited racing experience, he managed to break into the 15s, and that was impressive. Clearly he’s getting faster with every session, so the more laps he does before race one the better.”
In session two it was Clearwater again, although this time it was experienced GT3 driver Keita Sawa who set the pace, stopping the clock with a 2:08.745, he - like many of the experienced drivers - admitting that the higher track temperature had ‘slowed’ the circuit and his pace could not have been much quicker.
“I was really trying to get a time out of the car, but like Craig, my focus was to get the car ready for Weng Sun to do some more laps. Then it was a matter of helping him to find some speed, and he adapted really quickly despite limited laps yesterday.
“It’s really interesting,” he explained. “It looks like a big track with plenty of runoff, but when you’re out there it’s almost like being in a tunnel.. the walls feel very close. I had to miss the second practice yesterday due to a business commitment, so I lost valuable laps. After reviewing the data with the engineers, it’s really only the last sector of the lap I’m losing time over Sawa, more in the fast sweeping corners.. we just had one car wrecked at Bathurst in February, and this one is new, so I really don’t want to scratch it [laughs].”
His words were echoed up and down pit lane, the big thing that many of the ‘gentleman drivers’ were focusing on, was their lack of pace compared to the professional drivers through the final sector of the lap.
“It really takes commitment,” Thursday’s pace-setter Andrea Caldarelli admitted. “That last sector really rewards aggressive driving, and that’s where the professional drivers will make up a lot of time. The biggest issue though I think will be traffic. I think the pro drivers will start to lap cars pretty quickly, and that has proven to be a big issue throughout practice.
“In my quick laps I came very, very close to contact with a couple of slower cars, so even though I felt I could do a low eight. I backed out because there was nothing to gain today. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Clearwater had plenty to celebrate by the close of the two 45-minute sessions, the team had all three cars in the top four, with McLaren development driver Rob Bell hauling the MP4-12C that Weng Sun campaigned last year into P3 in the second session, in the process dropping team-mate Baird back to fourth.
“During winter McLaren made a lot of changes to the balance of the McLaren, and those changes were based around another tyre,” Bell explained. “So we almost had to start from scratch yesterday because that was the first time we’d run on the Yokohama.
“We’ve come a long way over the last 24-hours, but we still have some work to do. Those Ferraris and Astons are bloody fast in a straight line, and I was wringing the McLaren’s neck to get that time, but we’re confident we can find some more time before qualifying.”
With just a quarter of a second separating the top three, pole position is still far from certain, and there are a few teams suggesting that maybe not everyone is revealing exactly what they have..
Rui Aguas and Nasrat Muzayyin made it three Ferrari 458 Italia’s in the top five, whilst current Australian Carrera Cup points leader Warren Luff put the 2013 CRAFT Bamboo Racing Aston Martin into sixth place despite limited laps, handing the car back to team-leader and reigning GT Asia Series #2, Frank Yu.
“I’m happy with my pace and that of the car,” Yu said of his lap time post-session. “Warren did a great job despite never having driven an Aston before, and I’m getting more comfortable with every lap. I think we have a strong combination for the two races and I’m looking forward to what we can achieve tomorrow.”
Possibly the strongest Pro-Am pairing though is that of Absolute Racing’s Alex Yoong and Matthew Solomon. Both drivers were capable of turning laps within one or two tenths of one another. “It looks like we have one of the strongest driver pairings,” Solomon observed. “If we play our strategy right, I think we’re in for a good result.”
Absolute Racing team-mates Jeffrey and Marchy Lee weren’t quite as comfortable, the Audi pace-setters on Thursday dropping to tenth. “I feel pretty good, but Jeffrey is not 100% comfortable, so we gave him the bulk of the two sessions,” Marchy explained.
They’d fallen in behind the BBT Ferrari of Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo and the second NB team Aston Martin of Max Wiser and Jiang Xin but were still within striking distance of the leaders.
Dilantha Malagumawa looked quick during the afternoon session, the Lamborghini driver just seven tenths off a top ten start, whilst Natasha Seatter and Korean team-mate Kim Tacksung were 12th, both into the two minute 13s, Tacksung admitting that he had suffered from a seating position issue in session two, and could have gone quicker.
“Natasha did a great job to drop into the 13s, but when she came in for the stop, her booster seat stayed in the car, and I just couldn’t get comfortable, and as a result, I really couldn’t push the car.”
The leading GTM class car was Jacky Yeung in his Audi R8 LMS - the Audi Cup regular making his season debut after missing Friday practice to concentrate on Audi R8 Cup.
Whilst Yeung’s result was impressive, perhaps better than that was former 500cc Grand Prix regular Takuma Aoki, the former Honda factory rider - now a paraplegic - was behind the wheel of a Lamborghini LP560 fitted with hand controls. He missed the bulk of session one after the floor came loose on the car early necessitating repairs which cost him session one, but by session two he was right in the mix of it setting the fourth fastest time in the class, just half a second shy of the George Chou and Thomas Fjordbach in their Ferrari 458 Challenge car who were second.
“I had a great time,” Takuma smiled post-session. “The first time I drove the car was yesterday, and the issue with the floor really upset my rhythm. It took me a while to settle in during the second session, but I really enjoyed the car the more laps that I did. I’m looking forward to tomorrow because I think we can be very competitive against the other GTM drivers in the field.”
The two 15-minute qualifying sessions to set the race grid will begin at 10:00 (KST) Saturday morning, with just ten minutes between sessions, then race one will get underway at 2:20pm - you can catch all the action as it happens right on your computer at home.. by logging on to the live-stream.
GT Asia Series - official practice
Korea International Circuit, South Korea - Combined times (2x 45-minute sessions)
1. Keita Sawa/Mok Weng Sun (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 2:08.745 [P2]
2. Andrea Caldarelli/Fu Song Yang (NB Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3) - 2:08.989 [P2]
3. Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Rob Bell (Clearwater Racing McLaren MP4-12C) - 2:08.990 [P2]
4. Craig Baird/Richard Wee (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 2:09.205 [P1]
5. Rui Aguas/Nasrat Muzayyin (Spirit of Race Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 2:09.268 [P2]
6. Warren Luff/Frank Yu (CRAFT Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage) - 2:09.795 [P2]
7. Alex Yoong/Matt Solomon (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3) - 2:09.938 [P2]
8. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (BBT Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 2:09.954 [P2]
9. Jiang Xin/Max Wiser (NB Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3) - 2:10.538 [P2]
10. Jeffrey Lee/Marchy Lee (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3) - 2:11.145 [P1]
11. Dilantha Malagamuwa (Dilango Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3) - 2:11.882 [P2]
12. Natasha Seatter/Kim Tacksung (CRAFT Bamboo Racing Aston Martin) - 2:13.034 [P2]
13. Ken Look/Sun Jing Zu (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3) - 2:15.825 [P2]
14. Jacky Yeung (Tiger Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:16.439 [P2]*
15. George Chou/Thomas Fjordbach (Taiwan Top Speed Ferrari 458 Challenge) - 2:18.262 [P1]*
16. Nick Edwards/Terry Fang (Taiwan Top Speed Ferrari 458 Challenge) - 2:18.463 [P2]*
17. Takuma Aoki (Dilango Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3) - 2:18.751 [P2]*
18. Keo Chang/Joe Hsu (Taiwan Top Speed Ferrari 458 Challenge) - 2:21.811 [P2]*
19. Scott Miau/Sungeun Park (Taiwan Top Speed Ferrari 458 Challenge) - 2:19.678 [P1]*
20. Michael Chua/Joseph Chua (Mike Racing Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT3) - 2:22.734 [P2]
(*) GTM class
GT Asia Series