GT Asia Series: Two different winners claim victory in round four at Autopolis

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Rounds five and six of the 2014 GT Asia Series will also be contested in Japan, at the Fuji International Circuit in five weeks time (11-13 July).

There was no question that the form car coming into the two 50-minute GT Asia Series races at Autopolis was the Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin of 2013 series runner-up Frank Yu and part-time co-driver Richard Lyons.

Lyons had set the pace in both unofficial and official practice, before setting a new qualifying lap record to take pole for race one. In the end Lyons and Yu claimed second behind Keita Sawa and Mok Weng Sun in the Clearwater Racing Ferrari, but in race two, a strong opening stint by Yu put he and Lyons in the box seat after the compulsory pit stop [CPS], the duo going on to take the win.

Rob Bell and Hiroshi Hamaguchi finished second in the Clearwater Racing McLaren - at least that’s the way the result was revealed to the 60,000 Autopolis fans…

Unfortunately though, a mid-race infringement for a pit-stop violation created a stir in the paddock after the race, when it became clear that the Craft-Bamboo team had failed to pit for a drive-through penalty despite a black flag being displayed to race leader Lyons.

Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin: Frank Yu and Richard Lyons
Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin: Frank Yu and Richard Lyons
The penalty came about as a result of what was termed an ‘unsafe release’ during the team’s stop, Lyons clipping one of the tyres the team had removed from the car, knocking it out of position, something which regularly incurs a drive-through penalty.

A black flag was displayed to the #97 Aston, but it was withdrawn after two laps, the official statement revealing that the issue would be sorted post race.

Ultimately the local stewards overturned the GT Asia Series Race Director’s decision, fined the Craft-Bamboo team for an ‘unsafe release’ during the pit stop and made no adjustment to the race result, nor take into account that the team had missed the black flag.

Understandably the other teams in pit lane were outraged - not at the end result - but at the fact that no action was taken for ignoring the black flag, many insisting that an unhealthy precedent had been set.

Whilst Yu and Lyons were credited with the win, some hours later an amended result was released - still provisional - which showed that the Aston Martin pair had been excluded, handing victory to points leaders Rob Bell and Hiroshi Hamaguchi. Sadly it is likely the issue will carry over to the next round at Fuji in July (11-13).

Away from the off-track drama though, the race itself was exceptional.

The action though started even before the field had formed up on the grid, after the Dilango Racing Lamborghini GT3 caught fire on the track as it came around to form up at the tail of the field as the result of an overnight engine change.

“We had to go through an engine change last night after the failure in race one, and that put us to the rear of the GT3 field for the race today,” Nathan Antunes explained. “Coming to the grid I saw a bit of smoke, and flag marshalls rushing towards my car with fire extinguishers, and then suddenly I could see the flames, so I got out of the car pretty quickly. I could see they were able to contain it, so I didn’t need to push the fire bomb and fill the car with suppressant, but I have to admit it got the heart-rate up there for a while..

“The guys are scratching their heads a little bit, because they can’t find the source of the problem, so the engine will come back out and they’ll check it again. It was not the way I wanted the weekend to finish up, but that’s motor racing I guess..!”

After the Lamborghini was removed from the circuit, the field formed up for the start. Hiroshi Hamaguchi charged down the outside of pole-sitter Anthony Liu (‘Spirit of Race’ Ferrari 458) on the rolling start to take the lead on the exit of turn one, with Kane Jiang (NB Team Aston Martin) charging past a cautious Mok Weng Sun for third.

Behind them the field streamed through turn one and on to turn six where contact was made between Aki Miyazaki (Team KRM Porsche 997 GT3-R), Jeffrey Lee (Absolute Racing Audi R8 ultra) and the Nissan GT-R of Motoyoshi Yoshida, the latter spinning whilst Lee continued around to the pits with the ‘bonnet’ pressed up against the windscreen. For the Audi it was game-over, so too the Porsche of Miyazaki which failed to complete one full racing lap all weekend.

Clearwater Racing McLaren: Rob Bell and Hiroshi Hamaguchi
Clearwater Racing McLaren: Rob Bell and Hiroshi Hamaguchi
They weren’t the only casualties of the opening lap, Sean Fu spinning the second NB Team Aston Martin on the opening lap after being forced onto the slippery part of the circuit, the Chinese driver going around a second time just prior to the CPS, fortunately without beaching the car in the gravel. “It was a tough day,” he lamented afterwards.

Sadly for the GT3 debutante, the drama continued during his CPS - too fast down pit lane - which incurred co-driver Joe Camathias a drive through penalty, all but negating their challenge on the top ten.

Hamaguchi continued to lead as the CPS window approached, but he was forced to drive a wide line to keep the ‘Spirit of Race’ Ferrari behind him. Ultimately though Liu prevailed, using lapped traffic to his advantage to close on the McLaren and make the pass after a drag race on the main straight down to turn one.

Hamaguchi did his best to stick with the points leader, but tragically spun at turn one a few laps later after running in too deep under brakes, his second spin at the same corner in two races.. “That’s three spins in four races now,” he shrugged post-race..

Fortunately the Japanese driver didn’t lose too much time and he handed the car across to Rob Bell within reach of the leaders.

By the CPS, Liu was in first to hand over to Rizzo, the Ferrari team rejoining the field in P1 with Max Wiser now second. Frank Yu pitted immediately behind Jiang having pulled the Chinese driver in ahead of the CPS, handing the RacerLink supported Aston Martin to Lyons.

From his out-lap the Autopolis regular charged, setting a string of fast laps, in the process breaking the recently re-set GT3 lap record lap-after-lap to haul in first Wiser and then Rizzo.

Using his ten years of Autopolis experience, Lyon used traffic to get alongside Rizzo on the run through turn 17, ultimately moving through to lead with compatriot Rob Bell locked onto his tail.

From there the two Englishmen charged away from Rizzo who soon came under fire from Wiser, the Aston Martin driver also making good use of the traffic to take the position away, putting Rizzo under attack from race one winner Keita Sawa.

Bell did everything in his power to catch Lyons, but the Craft-Bamboo star found a few extra tenths each lap to ultimately cross the line over four seconds clear of Bell, with Wizer falling back in traffic but comfortably third, whilst one of the big focal points in the final laps was Sawa’s ongoing assault on the identical Ferrari 458 of Rizzo.

Ultimately the Korean round winner prevailed, crossing the line just a car length ahead of the Japanese driver for fourth. “It was nice today, at least we finished the race..” Davide Rizzo said post-race, reflecting on the previous day’s DNF. “For us it was an important race because neither of us knew the track. Anthony did quite a good job, but it was difficult to pass the McLaren, but sometimes you have to take some risks to try to pass.

“It was difficult for him to pass, so I knew that if I could keep Sawa behind me in my stint, it would be difficult for him to pass and we really wanted the extra championship points.”

Alex Yoong crossed the line just four seconds behind the two Ferraris to take sixth for the Absolute Racing Audi team. Tanart Sathienthirakul was seventh in the second Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston, ahead of Craig Baird in an ailing Ferrari, the New Zealander explaining post race that the car was a little worse for wear after an opening lap incident involving team-mate Richard Wee.

“Richie got squeezed down at the start which bent a couple of wheels, bent the front toe-link, and bent the rear toe-link, so he struggled through the start,” Baird recounted. “Then I jumped in and there was nothing really to fight with. We pushed on with fairly new tyres in the beginning, but the car was very marginal. We were too far behind the car in front, and the car behind was way back so we just settled into a rhythm and stayed off the kerbs and just tried to get to the finish.”

Ninth was Rui Aguas who was forced to work through the field after a tough opening stint by team-mate Nasrat Muzayyin, whilst Tetsuya Tanaka assisted the Nissan team to a top ten finish to recover from team-mate Motoyoshi Yoshida’s opening lap spin.

Sun Jing Zu and Jian Wei Wang brought the second of the Absolute Audis home in eleventh place, just clear of GTM class winner, Francis Tjia.

Despite claiming the second place trophy on the victory dais, Rob Bell admitted that the hard work the Clearwater team had been doing on the McLaren was starting to pay off, the Englishman also paying tribute to team-mate Hamaguchi.

“I know he’s knocking himself up about the spins he’s had whilst we’ve been in a position to win the race, but we’re leading the points now because we’ve been so consistent,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time before we take a win, but we have to keep working at it. This is a very competitive series with some fantastic driver pairings, but we want to win, that’s why we’re here and we’ll keep pushing until we do.”

“I am sorry for the team for the spins, but by the same token, I’m proud of what we’re achieving with the car as a team,” Hamaguchi added. “I’m just lucky to have such a talented co-driver like Rob who has been able to recover from any of my losses and put us back in a position to fight for the win. Next up for us is Fuji, which is a circuit I know very well, a circuit where I hope we can take the victory.”

For Lyons and Yu, the immediate media conference was presented with the team as the race winners, and both drivers admitted that the result was testament to the hard work of the ‘new’ Craft-Bamboo Racing team, Lyon’s admitting that his ten years of experience around the 4.673-kilometre venue had probably not done the team’s result any harm either.

“It’s all a bit confusing when people are on a different strategy when you pop out of the pit in position four or five,” Lyons said. “You don’t know who is left to pit. By the time everyone has pitted we were in position two possibly, and then we got into position one.

“From that point I could see a very fast McLaren hovering behind me and I felt like I was out there for two hours, to be honest, because he just wouldn’t go away.

Tjia takes back-to-back victories in GTM

Despite missing the opening two rounds of the 2014 season in Korea, 2013 championship runner-up Francis Tjia more than made amends at Autopolis with back-to-back victories in his Porsche 997 GT3 Cup car despite immense early pressure from GTM class pole-sitter Christian Chia (Audi R8 LMS) and the Dilango Racing Lamborghini LP560 of points leader Takuma Aoki.

Tragically for local hero Aoki, he was forced to retire from the race after 17-laps, the Dilango Racing Lamborghini sidelined with driveshaft failure, whilst round four GTM Class pole-sitter Christian Chia retired just two corners from home after coming off on the high speed right-hander and beaching his IMS Audi in the gravel after running strongly inside the top five.

Tjia though was typically all smiles post-race.

“The result is a big surprise,” he admitted during the post-race media conference. “Of course I was targeting a good position for the weekend, but I think with this competitive grid it’s too much to expect to be able to come home with two wins.

“I had a clean race. The first few laps were very competitive, I had an Audi and a Lamborghini in front of me, and another Audi behind me, because I think they had better tyres and they have a bit more aero, so in the beginning it was a bit of a struggle, but as the tyres started to wear off, that is where we started to come into the equation.

“After the pit stops I came out in second, which very quickly became first, but I’m actually not sure how I became first, because I actually didn’t pass anyone!”

For George Chou and Thomas Fjordbach in the leading Taiwan Top Speed Racing Ferrari 458 Challenge, they admitted a little frustration at being unable to match the Porsche and the Audi on outright pace, but were still pleased to have kept their podium finishing record alive after claiming their fourth straight round trophy.

“Of course we are here to win,” Fjordbach admitted matter-of-factly. “But thanks to the team, we are leading the championship, and that’s what counts in the long run. We’ll keep working at it, and hopefully soon, we can be on the top step of the podium.”

Rounds five and six of the 2014 GT Asia Series will also be contested in Japan, at the Fuji International Circuit in five weeks time (11-13 July).

GT Asia Series (Sunday, 1 June, 2014)

Autopolis International Circuit, Japan

Race#2 (50-minutes - provisional result)

1. 32. Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Rob Bell (Clearwater Racing McLaren MP4-12C) -4.215

2. 9. Jiang Xin/Max Wiser (NB Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3) -20.297

3. 37. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (Spirit of Race Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) -25.809

4. 3. Mok Weng Sun/Keita Sawa (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) -25.930

5. 98. Egidio Perfetti /Alex Yoong (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3) -29.794

6. 99. Tanart Sathienthirakul/Carlo Van Dam (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin) -31.438

7. 12. Richard Wee/Craig Baird (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) -51.081

8. 38. Nasrat Muzayyin/Rui Aguas (Spirit of Race Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) -1:13.568

9. 13. Motoyoshi Yoshida/Tetsuya Tanaka (B-Max Racing Nissan GT-R GT3) -1:45.560

10. 17. Sun Jing Zu/Jian Wei Wang (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3) - 26-laps

Championship points (after 4 of 13 rounds)

Overall (provisional)

1. Rob Bell/Hiroshi Hamaguchi (64 points), 3. Davide Rizzo/Anthony Liu (50), 5. Max Wiser/Jiang Xin (45), 7. Frank Yu (39), 8. Mok Weng Sun/Keita Sawa (38), 10. Richard Wee/Craig Baird (24), 12. Warren Luff (23), 13. Nasrat Muzayyin/Rui Aguas (21), 15. Alex Yoong (19), 16. Carlo Van Dam/Tanart S. (18), 18. Richard Lyons (16), 19. Jeffrey Lee (12), 20. Tacksung Kim/Natasha Seatter/Motoyoshi Yoshida (11), 24. Matt Solomon (10), 25. Fu Song Yang/Egidio Perfetti/Francis Tjia/Sun Jing Zu (9), 29. Andrea Caldarelli (8), 30. Marchy Lee/Takuma Aoki (7), 32. Ken Look/Sun Jing Zu/Jacky Yeung/Thomas Fjordbach/George Chou (5), 37. Dilantha Malagamuwa (4)

GTM Class

1. Thomas Fjordbach/George Chou (62 points), 3. Jacky Yeung (54), 4. Takuma Aoki (46), 6. Franci Tjia (36), 7. Keith Vong (26), 8. Keo Chang (23), 9. Joe Hsu (20), 10. Sungeun Park/Scott Miau (18), 11. Samson Chan/Wayne Shen/John Shen (16), 14. Fukujirou/Robert Lee (14), 16. Craig Liu (11), 17. Nick Edwards/Terry Fang (10), 19. Ryu Ohtsuka (10), 20. Christian Chia (8)

GT Asia Series

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Series GT
Article type Race report
Tags autopolis, frank yu, gt, hiroshi hamaguch, keita sawa, mok weng sun, richard lyons, rob bell

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