Campaigning two brand new 2014 Aston Martin Vantage GT3s, the NB Team revealed Andrea Caldarelli, Massimiliano Wiser, Jiang Xin, and Fu Song Yang.
It’s rare in any form of sport that a complete rookie team enter a series or an event and make an immediate impression, however that’s exactly what new Chinese GT Asia Series debutantes ‘NB Team’ did during their debut at the Korea International Circuit in Yeongam.
Campaigning two brand new 2014 Aston Martin Vantage GT3s, the NB Team revealed SuperGT race winner Andrea Caldarelli and experienced GT campaigner Massimiliano [Max] Wiser would join GT debutantes Jiang Xin (Kane) and Fu Song Yang (Sean) for the 13-round GT Asia campaign.
Just weeks ahead of the Korea round the team flew their new cars to Sepang for some valuable testing miles, then straight to Korea International for the pre-season ‘unofficial’ test day on the Thursday ahead of the opening round.
The two cars looked stunning, but they drew attention for more than just their aesthetics, they were also fast.. blisteringly fast.
Wiser too was quick, as was his Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia championship winning team-mate Kane Jiang, although like Sean Fu, Jiang admitted that Korea was about learning the car and the different style of driving a GT3 car required.
By the close of the two Friday ‘official’ practice sessions, both Caldarelli and Wiser had their cars within reach of the leaders, but their focus was on giving their co-drivers more important laps.
“We proved yesterday that the cars have the pace, but this event is about team-work, so it’s important that we work with our co-drivers and make sure they are comfortable in the cars,” Caladarelli explained.
By qualifying Caldarelli proved just how good the cars were by setting the pace in session one, a quarter of a second faster than Keita Sawa in the Clearwater Racing Ferrari, a driver widely regarded as the best GT3 pilot in Asia. Wiser too was quick, the Italian claiming the eighth fastest time, immediately behind Yoong in the Audi.
In session two both Fu and Jiang improved again, Jiang taking a big leap forward to set the ninth fastest time, immediately behind former GT Asia champion Dilantha Malagamuwa, whilst Fu also made a big step forward to claim the 13th starting position.
Caldarelli held the field under his control for the rolling start in race one, but the Aston driver came under fire from Sawa and Bell into turn one, dropping in behind the chrome Clearwater Racing McLaren on the exit of turn two.
Behind him Wiser became embroiled in a three way Aston Martin battle for fifth place with the CRAFT bamboo Racing duo of Warren Luff and local driver Tacksung Kim.
The three drivers banged wheels and doors as they battled for the advantage, Wiser in the end pitting from fifth to hand across to Jiang, whilst Caldarelli stopped at the end of the compulsory pit stop window to hand over to Su, the Chinese driver rejoining in fourth just as the Safety Car was deployed to recover the stricken Jeffrey Lee Audi.
Whilst the safety crew managed to clear the Audi quickly, the Safety Car was unable to pick up race leader Hiroshi Hamaguchi, and circulated for almost 15 minutes trying to get the field in order. With nine minutes to go the Safety Car pulled in, and Fu drove the race of his life to hang on to sixth place at the flag, whilst Jiang crossed the line immediately behind him.
“That was hard work, but I really enjoyed it,” Jiang smiled post-race. “Having never driven a GT3 car like this before, it was a real challenge, especially learning how to drive with all the aero. It’s a very different driving style to the 4-wheel drive Super Trofeo, so it took a bit to get used to, but I’m very happy with the result.”
Whilst the ‘Pro’ drivers started the car in race one, it was up to the ‘Amateur’ drivers to start the car in race two for their first GT3 rolling-start.
Both drivers came through cleanly and settled into a rhythm. Fu was first in during the compulsory pit stop to hand over to Caldarelli, the Italian quickly into the 2:08s before setting the fastest lap of the race - a mid 2:07 before pulling into the pits just a handful of laps into his stint.
“We don’t know exactly what’s happened, but there has been a mechanical failure somewhere in the engine,” Caldarelli explained. “It wasn’t major, but certainly forced our retirement. It was disappointing not to finish the race, but our goal this weekend - our very first race - was to gain experience and give Sean and Kane some valuable laps and we achieved that.
“An engine failure in an Aston is rare, so we’ll go away and do some research before Autopolis and be ready to go again there.”
Whilst the #5 car was forced into retirement, Jiang’s opening stint had put the car into the top six ahead of the pit stops. Wiser was quickly up to speed hauling in the CRAFT Aston to move into the top four, which became a podium finish after Alex Yoong retired the leading Audi.
“It was not a really easy race for us, we needed to do a better job in qualifying,” Wiser admitted. “Kane did a great job and overtook the other two Astons and gave the car to me in P5. I could see Sawa in the mirror so I tried to push as hard as I can. The car was very good today and we are on the podium in our first race in GT Asia.
“This championship is at a very high level this year and our team did a very good job. I would like to say a very big thank you to everybody. We are only a new team with two Chinese drivers and we would like to improve every race and push them as much as we can.”
Jiang too was happy with the result, although like Wiser - lamenting the low starting position. “Yes I am happy for the first time I have driven the GT3. My starting position was not so good, but I managed to pass a couple of cars during my race and give the car to Max to get onto the podium.”
“I think we surprised a lot of people,” Jamey Blaikie, the team’s Australian team-manager admitted post-event. “Two brand new cars, relatively untried, and two drivers with no prior GT3 experience. With all of that taken into consideration, to take away one pole, the fastest GT3 race lap around the circuit, and a podium is a pretty good start, especially against teams of this caliber. The aim now will be to take another step forward at Autopolis.”
Despite their ‘rookie’ status, the NB Team now sits fourth and ninth in the championship points after two of 13 rounds. They will have little time to regroup ahead of the third and fourth rounds of the championship at the Autopolis Circuit in Japan in just over a week where they will be looking to find some improvement and work both cars further towards the front of the field.
GT Asia Series