Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo executed a perfect pit strategy to claim overall and Pro/Am victory aboard BBT’s Ferrari 488 GT3 in the second hour-long Blancpain GT Series Asia race of the championship’s inaugural weekend at Sepang earlier today.
The team opted to stop earlier than their rivals and reaped the rewards by moving from sixth to first once the 10-minute pit window closed. OD Racing’s Mitch Gilbert and Aditya Patel used a similar strategy and overcame their 10s success penalty – the result of winning yesterday’s race – to finish second and again claim Silver Cup honours ahead of Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong’s Phoenix Racing Asia-run, Audi Hong Kong-entered R8 LMS GT3, which completed the podium.
“That was a tough race,” said an exhausted Gilbert. “I’m still destroyed! Every lap had to be a qually lap in order to make up the 10s, which wasn’t easy. I told the team when I got up to third that we were going after Marchy [Lee]. They were like, ‘you’re good in third’, but there was no way I was backing off. The car was amazing and I reeled him in quite quickly. Before that I’d seen all the cars coming out of the pits ahead and doubted we’d have much chance of a podium, but the car had so much grip so I was able to just drive around people. Credit to OD Racing for giving us that, and also to Aditya [Patel] who had to hang in there on my quali tyres in the first stint.”
T2 Motorsports’ Greg Teo Bee Tat and David Tjiptobiantoro got one over on their KCMG rivals Naoto Takeda and Takuya Shirasaka to also give Ferrari the Am/Am class win, while Byron Tong Siu Kau and Eric Lo Piu scored theirs and EKS Motorsports’ first victory in the GT4 ranks.
Rui Aguas’ demon start initially helped his Spirit of Race Ferrari jump from fourth on the grid to first on the opening lap after relieving pole-sitter Alex Young of the lead. It took the Team Audi R8 LMS Cup driver 10 minutes to find his way back past before building a three-second gap ahead of the pitstops.
Franky Cheng ran third after Team WRT Asia’s front row-starter Will Stevens dropped to fourth as a result of banging wheels with Ho-Pin Tung at Turn 3 on the opening lap, which sent the FFF Racing Team by ACM driver spinning.
Rizzo was also in the mix before being passed by Raffaele Marciello, who started 20th as a result of his GruppeM Mercedes-AMG failing post-qualifying scrutineering yesterday. The Italian responded the only way he knows how by claiming eight places on the opening lap before carving his way through to fifth before the stops. “We tried a different strategy,” said Rizzo. Originally we were going to run long with the tyres like everyone else but then saw we might be at an advantage to stop earlier. I got caught up with an Audi at the start but managed to avoid the spinning Lamborghini. Then there was no chance to overtake the guys ahead so I just hung in there before the stops and let Anthony do the rest!”
BBT were the first of the front-runners to pit, a decision that ultimately won them the race. A clear, unimpeded pit area plus Liu’s quick out-laps and delays for others helped the Ferrari emerge with a healthy advantage once the stops had shaken out. Indeed, his lead of 17s had increased to 26.7s by the end of the race.
The battle for the remaining podium places swung backwards and forwards as the second stint developed. A poor pitstop for Yoong initially dropped co-driver Alex Au to third, Aguas’ co-driver Nasrat Muzayyin span on his out-lap, and Sun Jingzu – who’d taken over the Milestone Racing Audi driven by Cheng – dropped to 12th as the race developed.
Instead it was yesterday’s winner Gilbert who made the most of his and OD Racing’s opportunity. Co-driver Patel spent the opening stint running in the outer reaches of the top-10, and with a 10s pit-stop success penalty to serve appeared well out of the reckoning. But the team’s decision to pit and switch to fresher tyres as soon as possible breathed new life into their challenge. Gilbert found himself in sixth after the stops but gradually picked off his rivals before relieving Marchy Lee of second late on.
There was still much for Audi Hong Kong to celebrate, though, given that Lee’s co-driver, Thong, originally pitted from 11th. The team owner was soon on the attack, first passing Au and then Jeffrey Lee in quick succession before succumbing to Gilbert late on.
Hunter Abbott continued co-driver Marciello’s good work by bringing the #999 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG GT3 home fourth, with his combative second stint helping to overcome the seven-second success penalty the pair inherited as a result of finishing second overall yesterday.
Team-mate Tim Sugden, who shared the other GruppeM Mercedes-AMG with Jules Szymkowiak, finished a further 6.6s back, while Aidan Read and Alberto Di Folco (FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini) and Jules Gounon and Joel Camathias (Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche) both took advantage of Jeffrey Lee and Au’s penultimate lap issues to finish sixth and seventh. Spirit of Race’s Xin Jiang and Massimiliano’s Ferrari rounded out the points-paying positions in 10th.
Am/Am again developed into a straight fight between yesterday’s race winning KCMG Audi driven by Takeda and Shirasaka, and T2 Motorsports’ Ferrari of Teo Bee Tat and Tjiptobiantoro. The latter pair finished second in the opener but went one better today thanks to Teo Bee Tat’s pass on Takeda after the pit-stops. The CMRT Eurasia Aston Martin driven by James Cai and Kenneth Lim completed the class podium.
Meanwhile, in GT4, EKS Motorsports’ Tong overcame a brake issue in the second stint to beat yesterday’s winner Merlin by just half-a-second. Their co-drivers had swapped positions at the start, Lo making the decisive move on Craft-Bamboo Racing’s pole-sitter Yu to lay the foundations for victory.
The end of Blancpain GT Series Asia’s opening weekend – the first of six events comprising 12 races across the continent – sees OD Racing’s Gilbert and Patel lead the overall and Silver Cup standings. GruppeM’s Abbott and Marciello top Pro/Am while Takeda and Shirasaka are tied with Teo Bee Tat and Tjiptobiantoro after claiming one Am/Am victory apiece. It’s a similar story in GT4 where Merlin and Yu are equal with Tong and Lo.
Blancpain GT Series Asia resumes at the Chang International Circuit in Thailand on May 20/21.