The 2014 GT Asia Series crown will be decided in Macau
On round #11/#12 at Shanghai International Circuit, the title contending teams were looking at a minimum to consolidate their points.
Coming into the Shanghai round of the GT Asia Series, the title contending teams were looking at a minimum to consolidate their points - or if the opportunity presented itself, extend their advantage - but not even the best script-writer in Hollywood could have written a better plot as the Chinese round delivered some amazing twists that may ultimately have an indelible effect on the 2014 season...
Off pole-position for the second time in two days, the round 11 (Saturday) winning BBT Ferrari of Davide Rizzo was eliminated in a battle for position with the Bentley on the opening lap - strike one.. Not long afterwards, the points leading GTM class Ferrari of Thomas Fjordbach was sidelined with suspension failure - strike two. And just prior to the compulsory pit stops [CPS], Fuji race winner Jeffrey Lee was eliminated in a car destroying crash which forced the field to circulate for five laps behind the Safety Car.. strike three.
Ultimately what that did was hand the NB Team’s Max Wiser a lead that the Aston Martin pilot wasn’t about to hand over despite immense pressure from Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons. In the end he finished more than five seconds clear to claim his first win of the season, but not long after it was revealed that both the leading #9 Aston of Wiser/Jiang and the #97 Aston of Lyons/Yu had completed their CPS in less than the minimum time they’d been allocated.
That handed both the NB Team and Craft-Bamboo team a 40-second penalty, however an appeal sees the Craft-Bamboo team retain their position, and with Wiser/Jiang dropping back to eighth, that elevates the Yu/Lyons combination to first overall subject to the outcome of the Appeal with Clearwater Racing’s Richard Wee/Matt Griffin and Mok Weng Sun/Keita Sawa classified second and third respectively.
Jiang Xin too strong off the start
Despite two laps to get the field in formation for their rolling start, Jiang Xin drove around the pole-sitting BBT Ferrari of Davide Rizzo to lead comfortably into turn one.
Behind him Frank Yu, Jeffrey Lee and the Bentley tried to go three wide into the first turn, Yu backing out, allowing Vannelet through in the Bentley to go after Rizzo.
Rizzo didn’t appear to have his control Yokohama’s up to temperature which allowed Vannelet to pull alongside on long the run down to turn 14, but Rizzo was having none off that, exiting the turn side-by-side with the big Bentley and the two touched on the run to turn 16 as Rizzo appeared to move across to find a faster line through the final turn.
The impact spun the BBT Ferrari down the pit entry road where it was clear something had broken in the rear suspension - his race was run. Vannelet was able to continue, although the team discovered during the CPS that a large piece of the right front rim had gone missing. “It was a miracle we didn’t have a tyre go down,” the Frenchman admitted afterwards. “I don’t know what the Ferrari driver was thinking, we were still alongside and I was on the extreme edge of the circuit. He had the line, so there was no need to move across on me.. it’s a pity for him, and almost a pity for us!”
The incident allowed Jiang to open up a small lead, and allowed Jeffrey Lee through to third, although a short time later Lee appeared to have lost power in the J-Fly Racing Audi, dropping him well down the order. Just as quickly he appeared to have found the problem, and rejoined the fight, very quickly catching the tail of the battle between Mok, Richard Wee and Li Chao in the JRM Porsche.
Round ten GT Asia Series race winner Richard Wee was looking particularly racy in the early laps, and he made a big lunge down the inside of Li Chao into turn 14, but was carrying so much momentum that he took Mok as well, the Clearwater Racing team boss fortunately seeing the #12 Ferrari out of the corner of his eye, to move across at the last moment to avoid contact.
“To be honest, I missed my braking point,” Wee admitted afterwards. “Fortunately Mok saw me, but I was almost certain I was going to hit him.. I think dinner is on me tonight.”
The battle allowed Lee in the Audi to catch the group, making it a four car fight over the following laps.
Safety Car holds field for five laps
By lap seven Jeffrey Lee had caught the JRM Porsche and the two Clearwater Racing Ferraris, and he made a lunge inside Mok into turn two. The two cars made contact which pushed the #3 Ferrari off the circuit, Mok recovering to exit turn three alongside Lee.
As they approached turn four, Lee was marginally in front, however he appeared to move across on Mok to prepare to take the racing line for turn four, the Audi turned sideways across the front of the Ferrari and hard into the inside wall in a scene very reminiscent of Hamaguchi’s Thursday impact with the barriers on the exit of turn ten.
The impact was severe, tearing the right front wheel off the Audi, before bouncing it back onto the circuit with debris everywhere. Like Hamaguchi, Lee was able to extract himself from the car uninjured, but it was game over for the #7 J-Fly team despite a brilliant run all weekend between Lee and co-driver Christopher Mies.
That brought the field under the control of the Safety Car which circulated for five laps as the safety crew removed the Audi from the circuit and cleaned up the debris. Unfortunately for the teams, whilst under Safety Car control, the CPS window had opened, but no-one could pit until the Safety Car pulled off the circuit.
With a couple of minutes left of the CPS window, the bulk of the field hit pit-lane behind the Safety Car, all crawling down pit lane to the control line at the start of the pit apron, but the #32 Clearwater Racing McLaren made an inspired move and stayed out, making a significant leap up the order despite Hamaguchi being placed well outside the top ten prior to Lee’s incident after an electrical failure on the opening lap dropped him 20-seconds behind the field!
Aston Martin finish 1-2
After the CPS it was Max Wiser who assumed the lead, some eight seconds up on the Craft-Bamboo Aston of Richard Lyons who did everything in his power to catch the Italian, but by the 40-minute mark, Wiser was still comfortably clear, taking the NB Team Aston Martin to their maiden win of the season, Lyons crossing the line 5.2-seconds back, the two drivers sharing fastest lap times over the closing laps, Lyons best of 1:47.107 faster than the pole time set on Friday afternoon.
Third across the line was Matt Griffin, who like his team-mate Richard Wee was forced to pass the #3 Clearwater Ferrari during his stint, Sawa though not providing too much interference to his stable-mate as the two car’s crossed the line for third and fourth with series debutantes Li Chao Li and Zhang Dasheng fifth.
Fellow GT Asia Series rookies Bentley also finished strongly, although they could well have finished higher up the order had Vernay not stalled the car during the pit-stop, the former Le Mans winner losing valuable time restarting the car.
“We should have stayed out one more lap when the Safety Car pulled in,” Gilles Vannelet admitted afterwards. “However when JK stalled it negated any advantage we had because it took so long to reset all the systems.”
Rob Bell crossed the line in seventh place despite holding the Bentley behind him for a couple of laps, the Englishman admitting that he was surprised to finish that strongly after a race long battle with a miss-fire.
“That was all down to the crew,” he admitted afterwards. “They elected to keep Hiroshi out for another lap whilst everyone else came down pit lane. That one move made us something like ten positions, because I came out for my stint in sixth place!”
Rui Aguas was eighth across the line after a strong drive that saw him catch Vernay and Bell late in the race, whilst Jian Wang and Jingzu Sun drove brilliantly in the Absolute Racing Audi to claim ninth, just ahead of Audi Cup regular Matt Solomon in Jacky Yeung’s GTM class Audi R8.
Whilst Wiser and Jiang, and Yu and Lyons celebrated on the podium, post-race it was revealed that both Aston teams had rejoined the field ahead of their minimum allocated CPS time, both by fractions of a second.
The Craft-Bamboo team have appealed the decision and are therefore elevated to the round win pending the outcome of the Appeal. The NB Team elected not to appeal the decision after discovering the error was theirs. That elevated the Clearwater Racing Ferraris of Wee/Griffin and Mok/Sawa to second and third, and has had an impact on the championship points, however officials have confirmed that the result will be confirmed ahead of the final round at Macau in four weeks time (14-16 November).
Tiger Jacky returns to GTM points lead
Whilst the battle for the outright championship points lead was on in earnest, so too the GTM class with 2012 champion Jacky Yeung right back in the title race after victory in round 11 (race one at Shanghai). Sadly for the points leader coming into Shanghai - Thomas Fjordbach - his incredible drive through the field on Saturday was thwarted by a pit-stop infringement, dropping him back to fifth after emerging from the pits before his minimum CPS was completed..
Off the fourth row of the grid thanks to an impressive qualifying run on Friday afternoon, Fjordbach was hanging off the tail of the battle between the two Clearwater Racing Ferrari GT3s during the opening leg of the race, but after just four laps he was forced to retire with left-front suspension failure.
The young Danish driver was then forced to watch title rival Jacky Yeung - with assistance from rising star Matt Solomon - drive to his second race win in two days to extend the Audi drivers points lead to 12-points over the young Ferrari driver ahead of the Macau final.
Whilst the two points leaders battled at the front of the pack, further back the battle for a podium finish was waged between Takuma Aoki and Ken Urata in the Dilango Racing Lamborghini, and Taiwan Top Speed Racing’s Ryo Fukuda and Craig Liu in the #18 Ferrari 458 Challenge. Liu and Fukuda had claimed second in round 11 after Fjordbach and George Chou were penalised for their pit-stop infringement, and they were able to hold on for a second podium at Shanghai after a solid run through the second 40-minute race at Shanghai to claim third.
“I can’t thank the Taiwan Top Speed Racing team and Ryo enough,” Craig Liu admitted post-race. “On my debut at Autopolis I finished last in the field, but here I made the podium, not once, but twice, so I am very happy - the development program the team have in place is first rate and I’m overjoyed with the result.”
Whilst happy to have claimed second, former 500cc motorcycle star Takuma Aoki was clearly disappointed that his 2014 season had come to a close after it was revealed that organisers weren’t equipped at Macau to remove a disabled driver from a car in the event of an incident. At the close of the Shanghai event, the Japanese Lamborghini driver had moved to within two points (adjusted) of the championship lead...
“I am very happy with how we went today, even though we were carrying quite a penalty (success ballast). We also had contact with one of the Audis which really affected our aero and the car developed very bad understeering problems, but despite that Urata-san and I were able to continue and finish second, but we were never going to catch Matt Solomon.
“I am sad that my season is over, but hopeful that I can join Dilango Racing again alongside Ken Urata and Dilantha Malagamuwa for the 2015 season and go after the GTM Championship title.”
Macau will be the championship decider and it’s a four-way battle for the crown
He may have come into the penultimate event of the 2014 GT Asia Series season in a distant fourth place, but subject to his appeal, Frank Yu leaves the Shanghai round just three points behind outright (and adjusted) points leaders Mok Weng Sun and Keita Sawa.
At Macau however only one driver is eligible to compete for GT Asia Series points which means for a second year, Mok and Yu will be in a battle for the crown. In 2013 the points and the title went to Peter Li in the Porsche GT3-R, but this time there are four drivers who could mathematically win the title; Mok Weng Sun (145-points), Frank Yu (142), Anthony Liu (137) and Hiroshi Hamaguchi (132) - on adjusted points.
In the GTM class battle the fight for the title is almost as close with Yeung leading on adjusted points (146) from Fjordbach (138). Sadly Aoki (144) is unable to compete at Macau, nor George Chou who is committed to another series the same weekend, but as ever, Macau will come down to qualifying and finishing. Either way, both drivers will have their work cut out for them!
Plans for 2015 well underway and interest is high
At Shanghai, David Sonenscher - the CEO of Motorsport Asia Limited - spoke with the team principals about the 2015 season so that a calendar can be released ahead of Macau.
Interest in the region’s leading sportscar series is high and it has emerged even more factory-supported teams from around the world are looking to field cars for the 2015 season.
“With the 2014 season drawing to a close, I’m getting regular calls from teams all across the region, and others from within Europe about fielding cars next year,” Sonenscher confirmed.
“We’re enjoying strong growth at present, and if not for the late change of venue from Zhuhai to Shanghai due to a local issue at Zhuhai, we would have had a field of more than 30 cars again, and that’s likely to be the baseline figure next year. I’m excited, but with bigger fields comes greater expectation, and we’re working on improving the series even further next year, initiating systems to avoid some of the setbacks we’ve had this year, and ensure that our dates are locked in concrete so we’re not forced to make last minute changes because of internal problems at the venues.
“I can’t tell you just yet what we have planned for the 2015 season, but it’s pretty exciting, and when the industry see the names of some of the teams that are looking to join us, I think we’ll be able to say with some pride that we’re one of the leading GT3 championship in the world.”
Frank Yu - 1st, #97 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3: “I was at the bottom of the four coming into this weekend so there wasn’t really a lot of pressure. If I was second or first I would have been under a lot of pressure like Zhuhai last year. I just knew coming here that I would have to push hard all the way through to Macau and see what happens. I think we’ve done 90% of it this weekend, but the championship will be decided at Macau which fortunately I’ve driven a number of times.”
Richard Lyons - 1st, #97 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3: “Here at Shanghai it’s a bit of a funnel into turn one, so obviously with Frank being in title contention, you get a bit anxious watching the start, but he did a great job getting through turn one and we could see he had decent pace so everything was looking good. We had a long Safety Car and it turned into a bit of a go kart race at the end because it was so short, so we just went out there and gave it everything for the five or six laps.”
Richard Wee - 2nd, #12 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3: “This was an incident packed race. The first few laps were really hectic and I pushed as hard as I could. I did have one moment - I was trying to overtake my team-mate (Mok) and missed the braking point and almost took him out, but we got through.. I think I’m paying for drinks tonight!
Matt Griffin - 2nd, #12 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3: “This is my first drive in this series and I have to say it’s fantastic. GT Asia is super competitive and it’s great just being here. Clearwater Racing are a top team in Asia, but they’re clearly world class. I drive for a lot of Ferrari teams around the world - I was at Road Atlanta (USA) last weekend, I’m at Estoril (Spain) next weekend and these guys are every bit as good - it’s a privilege to come and race with them. Richie is very humble, that first stint he did was simply outstanding. I’ve just met him this weekend, but the improvement he has made this weekend alone is mind-boggling.”
Jacky Yeung - 1st, #77 Tiger Racing Audi R8 LMS Cup (GTM): “I saw four GTM cars in front of me so I pushed as hard as I could before the Safety Car came out and that allowed me to close the gap and hand Matt the car in about P3, and he did a fantastic job to pass two cars in one lap and drive away for our second win. Matt is incredibly talented, and I learnt a lot from him across the weekend which helped me to drive faster.”
Matt Solomon - 1st, #77 Tiger Racing Audi R8 LMS Cup (GTM): “We don’t like to see big crashes, and I’m so glad Jeffrey is okay, but the Safety Car certainly allowed us to make up some ground one the leaders ahead of the CPS which made my job a lot easier because the time was so short to the end of the race. I think Jacky did a good job too and ticked all the boxes before his stop - that made my life an awful lot easier.”
The final event of the record-setting 2014 GT Asia Series will be on the streets of Macau (14-16 November) as part of the annual Macau GT Cup where the car’s registered driver will compete in one 12-lap race against some of the best GT3 drivers in the world. Don’t miss it!
GT Asia Series - Race#2 (Rnd#12)
Shanghai International Circuit, China
1. 12. Matt Griffin/Richard Wee (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
2. 3. Keita Sawa/Mok Weng Sun (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
3. 66. Dasheng Zhang/Chao Li (ART Porsche GT3-R)
4. 4. Jean-Karl Vernay/Gilles Vannelet (Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)
5. 32. Rob Bell/Hiroshi Hamaguchi (Clearwater Racing McLaren MP4-12C)
6. 38. Rui Aguas (Spirit of Race Ferrari 458 Italia GT3)
7. 9. Max Wiser (NB Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
8. 97. Richard Lyons/Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage)
9. 17. Jian Wang/Jingzu Sun (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3)
10. 77. Matt Solomon/Jacky Yeung (Tiger Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)*
11. 34. Takuma Aoki/Ken Urata (Dilango Racing Lamborghini LP560 GT3)*
12. 18. Ryo Fukuda/Craig Lui (Taiwan Top Speed 458 Challenge)*
13. 26. Johnson Huang (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS Cup)*
14. 8. Keo Chang/Robert Lee (Taiwan Top Speed 458 Challenge )*
15. 55. Yuk Lung Siu (LKM Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3)
16. 89. Benny Lim/Michael Choi (FUN88 Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3)
17. 93. Joe Hsu/Han Lin (Team AAI Rstrada McLaren MP4-12C)
GT Asia Series
Three teams, two points and a GT Asia Series crown in the balance
Impressive Chinese debut for Bentley Continental GT3