Experience shines through in unofficial practice at Autopolis
Practice day for the second event on the 2014 GT Asia Series calendar.
CRAFT bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons emerged as the star of the opening day of practice for the second event on the 2014 GT Asia Series calendar, the Aston Martin regular topping both 60-minute unofficial practice sessions at the picturesque Autopolis Circuit in Japan, to be one of just two teams to break the sub 1:50-mark.
The other experienced Autopolis regulars that featured at the top of the time sheets, were Clearwater Racing, with Keita Sawa getting to within four-tenths of a second of Lyons, whilst fellow Ferrari 458 pilots Rui Aguas and Davide Rizzo filled the top four.
Ahead of the two 60-minute practice sessions there were a number of teams undertaking maintenance work from the Korea event just two weeks ago.
“Straight after Korea we put the cars back into the container to ship them to Autopolis, and with the quick turnaround, this is the first chance we’ve had to look at them,” NB Team’s Jamey Blaikie explained.
The NB Team had set the early pace at Korea with Andrea Caldarelli at the wheel, however the same team had suffered a rare Aston Martin mechanical failure in race two forcing the team to change an engine.
With Caldarelli sitting out the Autopolis round due to his SuperGT commitments, former IndyCar driver Joel Camathias was drafted into the NB Team to drive alongside Sean Fu, the tall Swiss driver admitting that he was enjoying driving the Vantage.
“I’ve been doing some GT work in Europe in a Ferrari 458,” he confirmed. “But this is my first drive in an Aston, and I’m really enjoying it.”
Likewise team-mate and Korean podium place-getter Max Wiser, he and co-driver Kane Jiang were happy with the car’s performance at the end of the opening, although Wiser admitted that the circuit had his attention.
“You’re very busy behind the wheel, and it’s very narrow in parts, but I’m enjoying it and Kane has been quick too, he’s certainly improving every time he gets in the car.”
Clearwater’s Craig Baird too was enjoying his maiden visit to Autopolis, the New Zealander quick in the opening session before handing over to Richard Wee who despite his relatively limited experience was travelling a lot quicker than the team expected.
“We gave Richard a benchmark time to work towards and he’s already three seconds a lap faster,” Baird said with a smile. “He was doing it consistently too, so that’s a great boost for all of us. Now what we need to do is work on the car, but with the Clearwater team’s success around Autopolis in the past, I don’t think that will be a big issue..”
Ferrari in the end held three of the top four spots with Rui Aguas and Spirit of Race team-mate Davide Rizzo right on the money, Rizzo’s co-driver and fellow championship points leader Anthony Lui quick too which could be an ominous sign for the Clearwater team who are hoping their experience at Autopolis might give them an advantage over the surprise opening round race winners.
The much anticipated debut in the GT Asia Series of Nissan netted the B-Max Team the eighth fastest time overall, just half a second shy of the second row of the grid, the local team expecting big things in front of their ‘home’ crowd tomorrow.
With today’s session ‘unofficial’ teams were mixing setup changes with driver miles, many chosing to forgo new Yokohama tyres for valuable co-driver laps, which left some teams ‘foxing’ on what we could expect from them during qualifying.
“There was no need to go after a time today,” experienced Autopolis campaigner Carlo Van Dam admitted. “Our aim was to get a good baseline on the CRAFT bamboo Aston, then give Tanart (Sathienthirakul) valuable miles in the car because it is his very first event in a GT3 car.”
GTM points leader Takuma Aoki was the quickest GTM Class car in the opening practice session, the former 500cc GP rider proving that he will be a title contender this year, although overall the Lamborghini driver was forced to settle for the fourth quickest time after Korean rival Thomas Fjordbach went faster in P1, as did 2013 title contenders Wayne and John Shen, the two Porsche drivers making their series return after missing the opening event.
The only big ‘casualty’ of the day was Jacky Yeung, the Korean GTM Class third-place getter was forced to retire the Tiger Racing Audi R8 LMS early in practice two after team-mate Keith Vong spun the car on the run onto the front straight doing some minor bodywork damage as a result. That was enough to retire the car, although the Audi team were soon rallying around to repair it and the team expects to rejoin the field tomorrow.
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