Kings Racing’s Xu Jia has claimed the opening round of the 2017 China GT Championship in the hotly contested GT3 category, the Chinese star blitzing the field early to open a commanding lead at various points before Porsche star Martin Ragginger closed him down in the closing laps to cross the line a close second. Bentley Team Absolute star Adderly Fong claimed a distant third with Japanese GT specialist Naoki Yokomizo making it two Kings cars in the top four, with a gallant drive in the team’s Ferrari 458 GT3.
Xu Jia’s qualifying performance had already started discussion in the garages about ‘who is this amateur class driver from China’ and by race end, that talk had amplified ten-fold after what was an impressive display, highlighted by the fact that unlike may of his rivals, he’d completed the whole race alone, whilst he’d also weathered a number of safety car interventions that allowed the field to close up. Despite every challenge he was able to just power away, the only glitch in his dream run to victory, trouble lapping Nissan GTR pilot Yuey Tan, the Singapore-based driver confusing the race leader with the second Kings Audi with which he was battling for tenth place, Xu losing almost 15 seconds in the process allowing Ragginger to close in.
Had the race lasted just a lap or two longer, Ragginger in the FAW T2M Porsche may well have presented the podium with a different look, but in many ways, the fairy tale ending to the opening race was complete with Xu’s victory.
Off the rolling start into turn one, there was none of the heroics of the GTC/GT4 start, with all teams smoothly through turn one, although as expected there was a bottleneck heading into the apex as the midfield tried to negotiate the first right-hander three and four wide.
Jia immediately broke free of the pack and started to drive away from the field as behind him Bao Lin Jong in the #99 FAW T2M Porsche, Andrew Kim in the #05 Bentley, Li Chao in the #991 Porsche and Alex Au in the #06 Audi battled over second position, but they were all mindful of the hard-charging André Couto in the #23 Spirit Z-Racing Nissan.
The experienced Macanese GT campaigner was on fire in the opening laps moving through onto the tail of Bao very quickly in an effort to take second, whilst behind him chaos ensued at turn 12 with Li Chao and Alex Au off the track and deep into the gravel-trap on the exit of the final corner. Both were beached with no chance of returning to the circuit, forcing an immediate safety car intervention.
Sadly they made it three cars in the final turn gravel, with the early demise of the D2 Mercedes AMG GT3 of Guo Guoxin who had been there since lap one.
For Xu Jia the appearance of the safety car destroyed his seven second lead, allowing the field to regroup for the restart but no sooner had the safety car withdrawn than the Chinese driver was off again into the distance leaving his rivals comfortably in his wake. By this stage it was Maxime Jousse who was setting an impressive pace, the young Frenchman working his way through the lead group to be second by the compulsory pit stop to hand a solid opportunity to team-mate Jiaqi.
Race leader Xu left his compulsory stop until the closing stages of the pit stop window, rejoining with a solid lead, before pushing hard to extend that lead to almost 20 seconds into the closing stages of the race.
Sadly, he came up on Yuey Tan – who had inherited the #23 Nissan from Couto – but with no waved blue flags, Tan believed he was under attack from the #08 Kings Audi for position rather than the race leader, Xu could do nothing but watch his lead slowly evaporate.
Ultimately he worked his way past, but Porsche specialist Martin Ragginger had closed him down to just five seconds, the Austrian getting to within a second by the closing lap, but Xu had done enough, crossing the line a mere 0.445 seconds ahead of the Porsche driver, with Adderly Fong third in the Bentley.
There were some terrific battles across the closing stages of the race, Fong’s charge through to third, Alexandre Imperator’s pace in the ‘Hard Memory’ Bentley despite being a lap down on the leaders and Melvin Moh fighting back through the field after the disappointment of qualifying in the second Phoenix Racing Asia Audi.
Ultimately the day belonged to Xu Jia, Kings and Audi, whilst their rivals will get the chance to address the Chinese driver’s domination in the second round of the season on Saturday afternoon at 3:20pm (CST).