Repeat GT Asia Series victory for Singha Motorsport in Fuji
Singha Motorsport’s Carlo Van Dam and Piti Bhirombhakdi claim victory again at Fuji
Round seven of the 2016 GT Asia Series was very much a matter of deja-vu with Singha Motorsport’s Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo Van Dam claiming their second win in the region’s leading GT championship, completing a double at the iconic Fuji International Speedway in Japan, exactly 12-months after they claimed their maiden win at the same venue and under similar conditions.
Earlier in the day Craft-Bamboo Racing put their championship back on track with Richard Lyons - who had dominated both wet and dry practice sessions on Friday in the #88 Interush Porsche - claiming the top spot in qualifying. He led the opening stanza of the race, handing team-mate Frank Yu the lead at the compulsory stops, the multiple GT Asia Series race winner holding the advantage until a spin on oil left as a result of an unusual engine failure for the points leading BBT Ferrari earlier in the race.
That allowed 2015 Fuji winner Piti Bhirombhakdi to get around Yu and open up an impressive lead, a lead he continued to extend all the way to the chequered flag as Yu recovered to battle team-mate Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi and Andrea Amici in the FFF Lamborghini across the closing laps.
Ultimately the race ended with a drag race on the main straight with the V10-powered Huracan just millimetres clear of the #88 Porsche to claim second place, Yu hanging on for third for the team’s first podium of the year with the new Type 991 Porsche GT3-R. For the BBT Ferrari team, they continue to lead the outright points, however their rivals have closed the gap significantly, the top four crews; Liu/Rizzo, Liberati/Amici, Fong/Kim and Lee/Thong now separated by just six points with five rounds remaining, whilst in the Pro-Am class, Anthony Liu’s DNF has allowed Phoenix Racing Asia’s Shaun Thong to take over the points lead.
In the GTC class the battle for victory was almost as dramatic as the outright lead, with points leaders Singha Plan-B Motorsport doing battle with local heroes Toshihito Funai and Masayuki Ueda, the Thai pairing eventually gaining the advantage over the closing stages for their third win of the year.
Whilst the BBT Ferrari team were faced with an almost impossible task having suffered a rare mechanical failure, they were given a championship life-line post-race after three-time GT Asia Series champions Clearwater Racing made a generous offer to their rivals, donating the engine from their #3 Ferrari 488 GT3. The Singapore-based team had always planned a limited schedule for season 2016 with their Le Mans 24-Hour commitment and were not expecting to complete the two Chinese rounds of the Series, so their offer brought their season to a close just one round early, but effectively saved the title aspirations of the BBT team.
Under threatening skies and with light misty rain falling, the GT Asia Series teams were faced with two challenging qualifying sessions, both of which were effectively wet.
That didn’t deter the teams, although it put Keita Sawa’s 2015 pole record of 1:40.966 out of reach. Initially it was the points leading BBT Ferrari who claimed the top spot, Davide Rizzo on top ahead of 2015 race winner Carlo Van Dam and the FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini of Edoardo Liberati.
Then it was the Porsches who started to make their presence felt, the fastest man in practice - Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons - jumped to the top mid-session with a 1:52.454, Phoenix Racing Asia’s Alex Yoong also making a big step forward to be fourth.
Like many of their rivals, Bentley Team Absolute had struggled to gain effective data during the constantly changing practice sessions, but each of the three cars had made cameos in the top five, however in Q1 it was Jonathan Venter who waved the flag for the British manufacturer, grabbing fifth, just ahead of the second Craft-Bamboo Porsche.
The Miedecke Stone Motorsport Aston Martin made a welcome appearance in the lead pack, George Miedecke enjoying a much more competitive run in the slippery conditions to claim seventh ahead of the third Porsche GT3-R of Tim Sugden.
The GTC points-leading Singha Plan-B Motorsport Ferrari 458 Challenge saw Kantasak Kusiri as the top qualifier more than a second clear of Team Rosso Scuderia’s Akihiro Asai and Team Naoryu Age Age Racing’s Toshihito Funai.
With just a 10-minute turnaround to Q2, teams had little time but to strap in their second drivers, adjust tyre pressures and send their cars back out again. Some, including round six winner Marchy Lee retained their wet weather Michelins from Q1 (the #5 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi still using their practice tyres), with just two sets of the control wet tyres available for each team. Some though, like the BBT Ferrari team, used fresh tyres for each session in an effort to gain an advantage, especially as there was just as much chance of one dry and one wet race, as there was of two wet races..
As in session one, it was the #37 BBT Ferrari team who were on top early, Anthony Liu setting a best of 1:53.894 before a late surge by Andrea Amici in the FFF Lamborghini saw the Ferrari relegated to P2, Amici lowering the mark to 1:53.864.
Third was Ashley Walsh in the Australian Aston Martin, the former V8 Supercar regular just two tenths off the pole time with local hero Keita Sawa fourth, mere hundredths slower.
2015 Fuji winner Piti Bhirombhakdi set a stunning pace to be fifth and just three tenths off pole, and four tenths up on Audi’s two-time 2016 race winner Marchy Lee.. The race was going to prove interesting, especially with intermittent rain predicted..
In the GTC class battle, the top spot went to Bhurit Bhirombhakdi, the points leader just four tenths clear of Team Naoryu Age Age Racing’s Masayuki Ueda and Team Ross Scuderia’s Ken Seto.
Off their first pole-position of the year, Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons got a brilliant start to lead the field into turn one, whilst behind him team-mate and reigning GT Asia Series champion Darryl O’Young made a blistering start to jump to second, giving Porsche the top two spots for the opening lap.
Behind them a slow starting Carlo Van Dam dropped back to fifth, but before the end of the lap he was third and in pursuit of O’Young. The Dutchman got through pretty quickly, but at that stage though Lyons had disappeared, extending his lead to six seconds before the compulsory pit stop [CPS].
The battles mid-pack in the slippery conditions were intense, and ultimately caught the Series most successful competitor on lap three - Clearwater Racing’s Mok Weng Sun.
The Ferrari driver quickly righted himself and set off after the pack, but just a handful of laps later, more drama at turn three for a Ferrari, this time points leader Davide Rizzo who suddenly slowed, trailed smoke then spun on the exit of the corner. Post-race the revelation was that the twin-turbo 3.9-litre Ferrari powerplant had endured a major malfunction dropping oil onto the rear tyres. Fortunately Rizzo adeptly backed the car off the circuit to prevent a Safety Car whilst his rivals [mostly] managed to avoid the now slipperier conditions at turn three.
Experience was as much a virtue in the conditions as car performance, and former F1 driver Alex Yoong showed just why he’s one of Asia’s best drivers, working his way through from a pre-race penalty that saw a pit-lane start, onto the rear of team-mate Shaun Thong and then through to pursue the lead pack, ultimately getting to sixth ahead of the CPS.
A slick turnaround by the Craft-Bamboo team saw Frank Yu emerge as the race leader, holding a six second advantage over Piti Bhirombhakdi in the Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458, the Thai driver charging out the gate and quickly onto the tail of Yu.
Sadly for the Craft Bamboo team, the #88 Porsche caught some oil on the way through turn three, forcing Yu into a spin, the multiple GT Asia Series race winner quickly recovering to carry on in second, but by then Piti was gone, and so too the race..
With team-mate Naiyanobh ‘Toy’ Bhirombhakdi running behind his team boss, Yu looked to have the position covered, but an impressive run by FFF Racing’s Andrea Amici soon had the Lamborghini looming large in their mirrors. In a straight line there was little separating the two marques, and with the two Porsches running protective lines into the slower speed corners, opportunities were few, which was all the incentive that fifth placed Vutthirkon Inthrapuvasak needed in the #9 Bentley, the Thai driver making it a four-way battle for second.
With two laps to go they were at times three-wide, but Amici was forced to take the fight all the way to the final lap, pulling alongside Yu on the run to the line to finish alongside the #88 Porsche, but marginally in front to claim second with Yu an impressive third.
Naiyanobh ‘Toy’ Bhirombhakdi put in the drive of his season so far to claim second, immediately behind his team mate, with compatriot Inthrapuvasak immediately behind for fifth.
Jonathon Venter and Keita Sawa were finally able to put their recent dramas behind them to claim valuable points in sixth, ahead of Phoenix Racing Asia’s Alex Yoong who despite starting from pit-lane, managed to work his way to the front before handing over to team-mate Alex Au. Their stablemates and two-time winners this season - Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong - were ninth, immediately behind their title rivals, Adderly Fong and Andrew Kim in the #7 Bentley.
For Thong, the team had ‘rolled the dice’ by using old tyres for their first race, knowing that their long CPS compensation time would keep them stationary in pit lane up to 26 seconds longer than their rivals, and with rain threatening for race two they elected to save their new wets for potential rain in race two. The result may not have been what the team were looking for, but something they expected, yet even with ninth there was a silver lining, the Hong Kong-based driver had taken over the lead of the Pro-Am Cup standings after the demise of Anthony Liu’s BBT Ferrari.
In the battle for GTC class honours, the win went to points leaders Bhurit Bhirombhakdi and Kantasak Kusiri in the Singha Plan-B Motorsport Ferrari after a titanic battle over the closing laps with the Team Naoryu Age Age Racing Ferrari of Toshihito Funai and Masayuki Ueda.
What the drivers had to say;
1. Carlo Van Dam (#12 Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3): “We know that in the dry, Fuji is a really good track for us and we didn’t have any pit stop time penalty. Piti drove brilliantly, and despite the weather being so unpredictable this morning, I had a good feeling going into the race. I missed the light off the start and dropped back to fifth, quickly got back to third then took Darryl [O’Young] for second, then did everything I could knowing how fast the Porsches were, to not fall too far behind. Piti had told me this morning to just give him the car and he’d do the rest, so I wasn’t worried.”
1. Piti Bhirombhakdi (#12 Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) : “There was a lot of oil on the circuit, so it was pretty slippery, but I tried to work out the best way to drive around that, even if it was a car length or two off line, and after that it was okay. I did not look at the lap times or ask for the times to the drivers behind me, I just focused on driving and concentrating on what I was doing.”
2. Edoardo Liberati (#55 FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini Huracan GT3): “The start was difficult because we’d made a mistake in Q1 so I started P9, but we know the car is good in the wet so it was our chance to show the potential of what we could really achieve. I struggled a little bit in the beginning because I didn’t want to take any risks, so worked my way through to P4 to hand the car over to Andrea who did a great job to bring the car home in second place.”
2. Andrea Amici (#55 FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini Huracan GT3) : “It was a fantastic second stint, which came after a brilliant drive by Edo to get the car up to P4. It was a very strange stint, I pushed very hard from the start and had some great battles, especially with the two Porsches over the closing laps. I have to say thanks to FFF because the car was incredible, easy to drive and very fast.”
3. Richard Lyons (#88 Craft Bamboo Racing Porsche GT3-R): “It was a very, very difficult race, the conditions were not easy because it looked as if it was dry and it looked as if it should have been getting quicker, but the car was on a bit of a knife edge and I think Frank can confirm that. The guys did a great job in the pit stop and got us back out in the lead, so overall we have to be really happy with the job that everybody has done because it has been very difficult to get here so I’m really happy with the overall result.”
3. Frank Yu (#88 Craft Bamboo Racing Porsche GT3-R) : “The track was drying and I think on my third lap whilst I was leading, I hit some oil in turn three and the car turned around. At that stage Piti was not far behind me, and looking at his pace I would have let him through anyway. By then the rear tyres had gone and it was really difficult. If I’d had the choice I would have put slicks on, but at the time when Richard came in it was still wet. From there my engineer just gave me the gap to the cars behind and I just maintained that, until I saw the Lamborghini. They were behind our sister car and I didn’t think they had the pace to pass it, but two laps from home he was through and in pursuit of me. By that stage our tyres were completely gone so at the end, we were happy to be on the podium.”
GT3 Championship points (after seven rounds of 12)
1. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (79-points), 3. Edoardo Liberati/Andrea Amici (76), 5. Adderly Fong/Andrew Kim (74), 7. Marchy Lee/Shaun Thong (73), 9. Piti Bhirombhakdi/Carlo Van Dam (64), 11. Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak (56), 12. Jonathan Venter (52), 13. Alex Yoong/Alex Au (50), 15. Keita Sawa (45), 16. Tim Sugden (42), 17. Duncan Tappy (42), 18. Frank Yu/Richard Lyons, Darryl O’Young/Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi (36), 22. Mok Weng Sun (28), 23. Jono Lester (22), 24. Gianmaria Bruni (15), 25. George Richardson (14), 26. Franky Cheng/JingZu Sun, Richard Wee (13), 29. George Miedecke (9), 30. Andrew Palmer (8), 31. Christer Jöns, Fabian Hamprecht (7), 33. Philip Ma (6), 34. Ashley Walsh (4)
Pro-Am Cup points (after seven rounds of 12)
1. Shaun Thong (89-points), 2. Anthony Liu (87), 3. Andrew Kim (80), 4 Piti Bhirombhakdi (79), 5. Alex Au (63), 6. Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak (60), 7. Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi (50), 8. Frank Yu (45), 9. Philip Ma (18), 10. Mok Weng Sun (17), 10. JingZu Sun (16)
Pro Cup points (after seven rounds of 12)
1. Davide Rizzo (79-points), 2. Edoardo Liberati/Andrea Amici (76), 4. Adderly Fong (74), 5. Marchy Lee (73), 6. Carlo Van Dam (64), 7. Jonathan Venter (52), 8. Alex Yoong (50), 9. Tim Sugden (48), 10. Keita Sawa (45), 11. Duncan Tappy (41), 12. Darryl O’Young (37), 13. Richard Lyons (36), 14. Jono Lester (22), 15. Gianmaria Bruni (15), 16. George Richardson (14), 17. Franky Cheng (13), 18. Andrew Palmer, George Miedecke (8), 19. Christer Jöns, Fabian Hamprecht (7), 22. Nathan Morcom, Ashley Walsh (4)
GT Cup points (after seven rounds of 12)
1. Kantasak Kusiri/Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (84-points), 3. Voravud Bhirombhakdi/Tin Sritra (34), 5. Aekrat Discharoen (32), 6. Suttiluck Buncharoen, Toshihito Funai/Masayuki Ueda (16), 9. Akihiro Asai/Ken Seto (14)
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