Stefan Mucke and Frank Yu drove the perfect race despite everything their rivals and mother nature could throw at them.
Former race winners Stefan Mucke and Frank Yu drove the perfect race during round seven of the GT Asia Series at Sepang International Circuit to take a popular victory despite everything their rivals and mother nature could throw at them.
After two days of warm and humid weather, the heavens opened just as the teams prepared for qualifying, catching many of them out, with few crews able to effect anything more than a change to the control Yokohama wet tyre.
The end result saw an all-Audi R8 front row, with local star Alex Yoong withstanding immense pressure from Absolute Racing team-mate Christopher Mies to claim pole for round seven before Thai sensation Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak leapt to an impressive pole in Q2, relegating South Korean round winner Anthony Liu to second by just nine one hundredths of a second.
We lose a lot of time in the straight, but in the corner, the car is just amazing.
The big ‘loser’ - if there was one - was Rui Aguas, who for two days in the dry, had been on top of the timesheets in the AF Corse prepared ‘Spirit of Race’ Ferrari 458 Italia. “We had the perfect dry setup, but when the rain came, that all went out the window,” he shrugged, although he wasn’t too displeased after qualifying third and leading the field into turn one for the 60-minute race.. which was dry!!
Aguas made a brilliant start to charge around the outside of pole-sitter Alex Yoong who tried desperately to close the Ferrari driver out, but the experienced campaigner was able to drive right around the former F1 driver and pull in front to take the preferred line through turns one and two and lead the field through the opening lap.
Behind him Yoong ran deep into turn one, allowing team-mate Mies through to second, but all was not well with the young German, a does of food poisoning forcing him into the medical centre immediately after qualifying where he was placed on a saline drip.
He started the race but made only 15-minutes before he came into pit lane for his compulsory stop, handing the car over to car-owner Jeffrey Lee in fifth place, before returning to the medical centre for treatment. Tragically, Lee would also be forced to return to the pits prematurely with a gearbox issue, retiring in the final ten minutes of the race.
For the Absolute Racing team, celebration at closing out the front row in qualifying soon turned to despair as Alex Yoong found problems on track, and with the car, he too was ultimately sidelined with a driveline issue, leaving the Audi team plenty of work to do overnight.
That left a battle between old rivals Craft-Bamboo Racing and Clearwater Racing, as Stefan Mucke dropped into second behind Aguas, with the three Clearwater cars in close pursuit.
Backmarkers are always an issue, I think that both sides could maybe respect each other and behave better,
The opening laps would see plenty of contact right through the field as cars fought for position, one of those victims, another of stars - Max Wiser.
Unfortunately for the NB Team Aston pilot, Saturday didn’t prove nearly as kind, as first wet qualifying, then contact with new Mike Racing Mercedes recruit Bjorn Wirdheim, ended his run at the front of the field.
“We had a bit of a miscommunication problem during qualifying when one of my crew radioed on my final lap that there had been a red flag, when in fact it was the red lights on the main straight to signal the end of the session,” Wiser explained. “By that stage I was up more than two seconds on my best, with a predicted time that would have had me second, but I backed off..
“Then off the start I was battling with the Mercedes. I got a tap into turn one, then pushed into a spin at turn four.. what can you do.”
“We had a bit of a brake issue, so I just couldn’t take the lines I wanted to into some of the corners,” Wirdheim explained afterwards. “I’m sorry to the guys I made contact with, but there wasn’t a lot I could do at the start when everyone is tightly bunched.. that’s also the best time to attack.”
Unfortunately for both teams, they failed to record a result as first Wirdheim was forced to withdraw with an unrelated alternator issue, and Wiser’s team-mate Kane Jiang was out with front-left suspension failure after contact with one of the GTM class Porsches.
With a number of the potential outright contenders forced into retirement - including the Thai Porsche early in the race after an electrical failure - the race settled into a comfortable rhythm at the front, with Aguas leading well into the pitstop window to hand over to team-mate Nasrat Muzayyin, whilst Craig Baird did a similar thing in the #12 Clearwater Ferrari, handing team-mate Richard Wee a handy advantage.
It was a fight out there. The conditions were changeable, so we just try and make the most of the situation. We have to do better tomorrow.
By the time Stefan Mucke had made his compulsory stop and handed the car to Frank Yu, the Craft-Bamboo team-boss was well within sight of the two Ferraris, taking both of them within half a lap to inherit a handy lead, a lead he would press all the way to the flag as behind him, BBT Ferrari pilot Anthony Liu closed in on the Clearwater team.
Yu though had done enough though, putting in one of the best performances of his career to punch out a sequence of laps that were comfortably the quickest as Hiroshi Hamaguchi, Mok Weng Sun and Anthony Liu tried in vain to catch him.
Liu in particular was his normal aggressive self, working his way past Muzayyin, Wee, Mok and Hamaguchi to lock his sights on Yu, but with ten minutes to go he was more than 13-seconds behind. He pushed as hard as he could, at times with all four wheels on the grass as he slipped into the low 2:09s, but Yu was able to match him for pace on most laps, crossing the line more than six seconds clear of the Ferrari driver, with Hamaguchi third, 15 seconds back from the race winner.
Mok crossed the line just a car length behind his team-mate, with Richard Wee fifth for a Clearwater 3-4-5 finish, whilst Dilantha Malagamuwa, who was forced to recover from an early spin after contact from Jiang, was sixth, not a bad effort for a team who started the event without an engine for Thursday’s unofficial practice.
He [Aguas] was pulling away a lot on the straight which is where we lost a lot of time,
“The car is great, very strong, but we need to do some more work on the suspension because it was a little difficult to drive,” Malagamuwa’s team-mate, Nathan Antunes explained. “It’s close, but we’re down on speed, and that’s as a result of the way it’s coming out of the corners.. it’s a bit soft at the moment, but we have a plan for tomorrow!”
Seventh was a great result for the ‘Spirit of Race’ Ferrari team, with Nasrat Muzayyin improving his pace again, whilst eighth was yet another Ferrari, although this time it was the GTM class 458 Challenge of George Chou and Thomas Fjordbach, the latter weathering a late race challenge from Takuma Aoki’s team-mate Ken Urata, and local driver Ashraff Dewal in Jacky Yeung’s Audi - the three GTM cars crossing the line together.
The result extended Fjordbach’s GTM class points lead over Yeung, whilst it retained his advantage over Chou with both of them scoring equal points.
The B-Max Racing Nissan was eleventh, the Japanese team struggling to find a compromise on setup, and like the similarly turbo-charged McLaren, was suffering in the high heat and humidity.
Such was the rate of attrition during the race that just 17 of the 27 starters completed the race, with the second Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston of Australians Jonathan Venter and Daniel Bilski the final classified finisher after an early stop to replace a hydraulic gearbox pump which ultimately locked the car in third gear. The team replaced the unit allowing Bilksi to rejoin, although they finished nine laps down on their team-mates.
Sadly for Samson Chan and Naoki Yokomizo - who after just four laps had qualified Chan’s Ford GT on the fourth row - they were the only team unable to make the start after suffering an oil fire on the out-lap. Fortunately it was quickly extinguished, but the big Ford was pushed back into the garage as the field came to the line to start the race.
Teams will be hoping for dry conditions for round eight on Sunday afternoon (3:00pm local time) where Thailand’s Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak will start from pole position with BBT’s Anthony Liu alongside.
Quotes from the winners of GT Asia Series Rnd#7
1st - Stefan Mucke, #97 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3
“We were not so strong yesterday, but it worked out pretty good, the car was much better today and I managed to get into P3 on the first lap, and in the second lap up to P2. The track provided difficult conditions, everyone was struggling at the end of the first stint with grip level, but we were able to keep pace with the Ferrari in front. He [Aguas] was pulling away a lot on the straight which is where we lost a lot of time, so even of we got close, we had no chance to overtake them. After the stop Frank did an amazing job, really good lap times - I’m really proud of my team-mate, and the team who did a great job. We’re very happy.”
1st - Frank Yu, #97 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3
“I was a little surprised [in the result] because of our lack of pace the whole weekend. We had a lot of understeer, so we made a lot of changes last night after P2 but we weren’t able to test it because qualifying was wet, and we found a lot of time. We lose a lot of time in the straight, but in the corner, the car is just amazing.”
2nd - Davide Rizzo, #37 BBT Ferrari 458 Italia GT3
“This morning was a bit of a mess with qualifying. Starting from eleventh place it’s always a gamble with what you can do. I saw that we could go further and we had good pace, so after I finished my stint, I was quite confident that Anthony could finish the job.”
2nd - Anthony Liu, #37 BBT Ferrari 458 Italia GT3
“This whole weekend has been a mess.. we had dry setup for the morning, and we had wet setup for the race, so that tells you the story. Backmarkers are always an issue, I think that both sides could maybe respect each other and behave better, we can be a little more lenient and they can be more respectful instead of always trying to run us into the wall.”
3rd - Rob Bell, #32 Clearwater Racing McLaren MP4-12C GT3
“We were a little bit on the back foot all weekend really, just not quite getting the best out of the tyre. We made the most of it, we keep positive, we work together really well, and we went into the race thinking that we’d gest the most out of it that was possible. It was a fight out there. The conditions were changeable, so we just try and make the most of the situation. We have to do better tomorrow.”
3rd - Hiroshi Hamaguchi, #32 Clearwater Racing McLaren MP4-12C GT3
“It’s always better to be on the podium when you’re going after a championship, and we’ve only missed one in the last seven races. We knew we would struggle with pace here because it’s just too hot for the turbo-charged car, but we got the most out of it, so we’re pretty happy.”
1st - George Chou, #88 Taiwan Top Speed Racing Ferrari 458 Challenge [GTM]
“We actually started the weekend with a lot of computer trouble, and we worked late every day to get things right. We had a good plan for the race, but at the second corner it was a bit of a mess, so I dropped back to about fourth place and had to work my way forward again, but my main focus was to keep a good pace, stay in touch with the leader and hand the car to Thomas to finish it.”
1st - Thomas Fjordbach, #88 Taiwan Top Speed Racing Ferrari 458 Challenge [GTM]
“It was really hot, but not too difficult because I caught a couple of guys on their out lap out of the pits before they got up to speed, and after that I relaxed a little but pushed where I could. Today we had a lot of strength which we hope to carry into tomorrow.”
1. 97. Stefan Mucke/Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage) - 27-laps
2. 37. Davide Rizzo/Anthony Liu (BBT Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) +6.520
3. 32. Rob Bell/Hiroshi Hamaguchi (Clearwater Racing McLaren MP4-12C) +15.782
4. 3. Keita Sawa/Mok Weng Sun (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) +16.048
5. 12. Craig Baird/Richard Wee (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) +34.369
6. 24. Dilantha Malagamuwa/Nathan Antunes (Dilango Gallardo FL2 GT3) +1:56.165
7. 38. Rui Aguas/Nasrat Muzayyin (Spirit of Race Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) +2:14.481
8. 88. George Chou/Thomas Fjordbach (Taiwan Top Speed 458 Challenge)* - 26-laps
9. 34. Takuma Aoki/Ken Urata (Dilango Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3)*
10. 77. Jacky Yeung/Ashraff Dewal (Tiger Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)*
GT Asia Series