Lights-to-flag victory for Keita Sawa on home ground.
From opening practice at Okayama, it was clear that the two scheduled 50-minute races were going to deliver some of the best racing the GT Asia Series had ever produced. There were mere hundredths of a second separating teams in qualifying, and one of the most competitive fields of local and international drivers ever assembled in the series six year history, a perfect recipe for some close and unpredictable racing.
Ultimately race one saw a survival of the fittest, with former race winner Hiroshi Hamaguchi and team-mate Tonio Liuzzi claiming victory for McLaren - the first for the new FFF Racing Team by ACM operation. Their effort was flawless, whilst around them almost everyone else struck trouble.
Bentley had dominated both legs of qualifying, and the opening stanza of race one leading a 1-2 into the pits-stops, but victory eluded them.
It’s a very important moment for me, because I started my career here back in 1998, and won the Formula 4 title here
For race two - the fourth round of the championship - the teams had the opportunity to apply what they’d learnt in race one, which promised for some more impressive door-to-door racing.
Sadly the field would be without the #1 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of reigning champion Mok Weng Sun and multiple WEC world champion Gianmaria Bruni after their car was engulfed in flames during the roll-around lap ahead of Saturday’s opening race.
They had hoped to acquire a similar Ferrari to keep the reigning title holder in the points, but despite some strong indications they’d be able to put a plan in place, things fell through at the last minute forcing the #1 team to watch from the Clearwater garage.
What they saw was another unusual race, with a false start after a technical issue with the timing bringing out the red flag on the opening lap.
In some ways that served to make up for what had been a messy start. GTM Class points leader Jerry Wang had suffered a gear selection issue on the roll-around lap, and had pulled off on the run to turn one, whilst mid-pack there had been some contact with some of the teams which saw tyres changed on the grid as the field was placed back into its original order. The delay saw the race shortened to 45-minutes, which put additional pressure on the Pro drivers who would take over after the compulsory pit stops and have a shorter run to the flag.
There were no dramas during the second start with Adderly Fong leading into turn one ahead of Venter, Anthony Liu and the impressive Richie Wee.
Wee soon came under fire from former team-mate Hamaguchi and then Craft-Bamboo’s Frank Yu, both of them making their way through.
The leading trio were quickly into the 31s, and able to break comfortably clear of the pack led by Hamaguchi, Piti and Wee.
Further back, former champion Dilantha Malagamuwa had worked his way onto the tail of Jeffrey Lee in the J-Fly Racing Bentley, the Sri Lankan driver doing everything he could to work his way past, but nine laps in, Lee put two wheels on the grass on the run into turn ten and spun. Sadly Malagamuwa was unable to avoid the Bentley, making heavy contact which ultimately forced them both into retirement.
Malagamuwa had tried to complete a lap back to pit lane, but noticed the oil warning light come on half way around, forcing him to stop on the run down to turn five, ultimately enforcing a Safety Car period two minutes ahead of the compulsory pit stop [CPS] window opening.
With teams unable to effect their CPS whilst the Safety Car was on circuit, they were forced to wait until the green flag was waved once more, which saw an immediate stream of teams in for their driver changes.
For the leading four cars though, they continued on, with Fong the last to pit, handing the car over to Sawa. The Japanese driver rejoined just ahead of Darryl O’Young in the VLT Craft-Bamboo Aston, and whilst it looked like O’Young might just be able to replicate his South Korean victory, Sawa was clearly intent on taking Bentley’s first Asian win on his home turf.
In the end he broke clear of the bright yellow VLT Aston, but it wasn’t O’Young that he was concerned about, with the second Craft-Bamboo Aston of Richard Lyons closing in quickly. Lyons was charging over the closing laps, breaching what seemed an impossible margin to close onto the tail of his team-mate. O’Young moved across, sensing that Lyons might have an opportunity to take Craft-Bamboo to victory, but whilst he got to within a car length, Sawa held on for an emotional victory.
Lyons led home a Craft-Bamboo 2-3, with O’Young under fire from a trio of rapid Ferrari 458s led by Matt Griffin. Points leaders Davide Rizzo and Anthony Liu were fifth, the Italian driver holding Carlo Van Dam at bay over the closing laps.
Round three winners Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Tonio Liuzzi were next, the FFF Racing Team not too disappointed with the result, considering they’d finished 9.5-seconds back from Sawa, but incurred a 10-second additional parity time penalty during their CPS.
Fairuz Fauzy was eighth for OD Racing, a nice recovery after a difficult weekend, narrowly ahead of Duncan Tappy, the Englishman doing a sterling job to support car owner Jacky Yeung. Andrea Caldarelli too did an outstanding job, although only those that could see the timing monitors were aware of his impressive pace, the Italian turning laps at qualifying pace through the closing laps, whilst behind him, team-mate Max Wiser was reflective about his result.
“During Jiang Xin’s stint he managed to avoid the Malagamuwa incident but clipped the rear wing which knocked it onto a strange angle, but around here it didn’t affect us much, and I’m happy to say my race pace was fractionally faster than Tonio [Liuzzi] which I’m very happy about.”
The final two cars that made the finish were the two GTM class warriors - the Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3 Cup Car of Kimihiro Yashiro and Tetsuya Makino, and round three winners Takuma Aoki and Ken Urata. The Porsche drivers crossed the line first, however they were handed double time penalties for infringements during the compulsory stop. That initially saw Aoki and Urata handed their second victory, however a stewards hearing post-race reinstated the local team as winners, small consolation for the loss of their team-mates Dylan Derdaele and Hisashi Junie in the Porsche GT3-R who were forced to retire after just 15 laps.
The championship now enjoys a three week break ahead of the fifth and sixth rounds of the season at Fuji International Speedway (Japan) on 17-19 July.
Keita Sawa - 1st Absolute Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “By the last lap I wasn’t sure I could win, because Richard was coming very fast and I was pushing hard. We also didn’t change tyres during the stop, so my tyres weren’t at their peak, but we were able to do it. It’s a very important moment for me, because I started my career here back in 1998, and won the Formula 4 title here, so I was very emotional as I came across the line, especially being in front of so many of my fans, my sponsors and the many Bentley guests that have come here this weekend.”
Adderly Fong - 1st Absolute Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “This was a very special experience. It was my first time in Okayama, so I was glad to be able to be on the pace from qualifying onwards and help Sawa win at his home race. I didn’t feel the pressure at the expectation of what a win would mean, as a driver you have to be able to work around that. It helped that I was at Red Bull Ring (Austria) last weekend, so when you have lots of racing you’re really in the swing of things. We had lots of practice here this weekend too.”
Frank Yu - 2nd Interush Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3: “Our car struggled a little bit across the weekend, it’s just not a circuit that really suits the Aston. Two years ago we won here back-to-back, but the competition has improved markedly since then. Yesterday we had a really terrible day - it could have been a podium day too - but the team fixed the car overnight and gave us a better setup for today and we were able to fight for the win.”
Richard Lyons - 2nd Interush Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3: “First I’d like to thank our team for giving us a car we could challenge with today, because yesterday was a bit of a mess. They worked till 2:00am and were back at the track at 6:00 so that was a fantastic effort. Our sponsor also came to the race, so Interush was here supporting us and that added a little bit of additional pressure, but that gave us both the determination to be on the podium to thank everybody for their efforts. I jumped in the car around P5/P6 and started picking off cars, but when they told me there was still 5-6 laps to go, there was quite a margin still to go, but with a lap to go I wasn’t sure if I should risk it. I gave it a fair go, and I could see he [Sawa] was under pressure, but it just wasn’t to be.”
Darryl O’Young - 3rd VLT Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3: “I saw Richard’s pace was quite out there, he was really quick, and I really wanted to keep my race going, because I was starting to struggle a bit on my tyres towards the end and I could see the Ferraris coming behind. We’re aiming at consistent results this year, and I’m really happy with our weekend, even though we had a tough qualifying yesterday. We worked a lot on the setup last night and made some bigger changes than we’d have wanted to make before a race, but I think it really worked.”
Jonathan Venter - 3rd VLT Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3: “The race was really interesting, Adderly and I got off to a great start and did some very consistent laps at the beginning. The race was looking quite good at that point, but the moment the Safety Car came out, we knew that it was going to be hard to maintain, or even pull a gap again given that the pit window was so close. Coming into this year we knew with the list of drivers and teams that it was going to be difficult, but our pace has been pretty good so far in the series and we’re pretty happy with where we’re sitting. There’s still a long way to go, we just have to stay consistent and collect as many points as we can.”
Rnd#3/4 2015 GT Asia Series - Race #2 (45-minutes)
1. 8. Adderly Fong/Keita Sawa (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
2. 88. Frank Yu/Richard Lyons (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin GT3)
3. 99. Jonathan Venter/Darryl O’Young (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston)
4. 12. Richard Wee/Matt Griffin (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458)
5. 37. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (BBT Team Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
6. 11. Piti Bhirom Bhakdi/Carlo Van Dam (Singha Ferrari 458)
7. 55. Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Tonio Liuzzi (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3
8. 86. Zen Low/Fairuz Fauzy (OD Racing Lamborghini Gallardo GT3)
9. 77. Jacky Yeung/Duncan Tappy (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
10. 5. Fu Song Yang/Andrea Caldarelli (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3)
11. 9. Jiang Xin/Max Wiser (FFF Racing McLaren 650S GT3)
12. 20. Kimihiro Yashiro/Tetsuya Makino (Gulf Racing JP Porsche Cup)*
13. 34. Takuma Aoki/Ken Urata (Dilango Racing Gallrdo LP560)*
DNF. 22. Hisashi Kunie/Dylan Derdaele (Gulf Racing JP Porsche GT3-R)
DNF. 7. Jeffrey Lee/Andy Soucek (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
DNF. 24. Dilantha Malagamuwa/Kota Sasaki (Dilango Racing Gallardo FL2)
DNS. 23. Jerry Wang (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)*
DNS. 1. Mok Weng Sun/Gianmaria Bruni (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458)
1. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (57-points), 2. Adderly Fong/Keita Sawa (45), 3. Darryl O’Young/Jonathan Venter (42), 4. Richard Lyons/Frank Yu (37), 5. Piti Bhirom Bhakdi (34), 6. Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Vitantonio Liuzzi (28), 7. Richard Wee (27), 8. Jeffrey Lee (25), 9. Carlo Van Dam (24), 10. Jacky Yeung/Duncan Tappy (21), 11. Matt Griffin, Zen Low/Fairuz Fauzy (18), 12. Sean Fu/Andrea Caldarelli (17), 13. Mok Weng Sun/James Calado, Jean-Karl Vernay (16), 14. Jiang Xin/Max Wiser (14), 15. Naoki Yokomizo (10), 16. Craig Baird, Andy Soucek (9), 17. Hisashi Kunie (8), 18. Jerry Wang (5), 19. Keiichi Mori, Dylan Derdaele (4)
1. Jerry Wang (50-points), 2. Kimihiro Yashiro/Tetsuya Makino, Takuma Aoki/Ken Urata (34), 3. Keiichi Mori/Hisashi Kunie (32)
GT Asia Series