Craft-Bamboo’s Lee and Picariello claim thrilling Race 1 victory at Sepang

Craft-Bamboo Racing began life as a Mercedes-AMG Performance Team in perfect fashion this afternoon at Sepang where Jeffrey Lee and Alessio Picariello came through from 12th on the grid to win a thrilling rain and Safety Car interrupted Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia season opener.

Mercedes-AMG finished one-two thanks to Solite Indigo Racing’s Silver Cup class winners MG Choi and Gabriele Piana, while Yuya Sakamoto and David Russell completed the overall podium aboard their HubAuto Corsa Ferrari.

Elsewhere, AMAC Motorsport’s Ben Porter and Andrew Macpherson won GT3’s Am Cup and BMW Team Studie claimed the GT4 spoils with Sunako Jukuchou and Takayuki Kinoshita.

The race began in thrilling fashion with rain falling at various points around the circuit. But that didn’t deter Darryl O’Young who reacted quickest to burst through from fifth to first by the time the 30-car field reached Turn 1.

A frenetic following 25 minutes featured three Safety Car periods, one to cover a brief localised downpour and two more for stranded cars, which helped TSRT’s David Chen and Indigo’s Choi move from ninth and seventh to first and second by the time the pit window opened just as the third caution was required. Most of the field duly stopped at the first opportunity, which ultimately resulted in Chen’s co-driver Andre Couto being boxed in and losing the lead.

Indeed, the combination of Safety Car timings and a packed pitlane meant the order looked very different after the stops had shaken out. Choi’s co-driver Piana emerged with a sizeable advantage over Russell whose HubAuto co-driver Sakamoto pitted from fifth.

But the biggest winners were Craft-Bamboo’s #88 crew who, in Lee’s hands, made up four places over the opening stint before smart pit work helped Picariello emerge in fourth. He had soon passed team-mate Christina Nielsen, who re-joined where her co-driver O’Young had pitted from, before also overhauling Russell.

Thus the Belgian had 15 minutes with which to bridge his 10s deficit to Piana, and by the penultimate lap the two Mercedes-AMGs were together. Spotting a gap, Picariello dived to the inside at the Hairpin, which Piana – who was momentarily baulked by a slower GT4 car ahead – was powerless to cover. 4.6s separated them at the chequered flag.

Russell finished another 4.3s behind and comfortably clear of Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing’s Audi shared by Bhurit Bhirombhakdi and Kantasak Kusiri. However, that was before 30 seconds was added to the #59 R8’s race time as a result of overtaking behind the Safety Car.

Jazeman Jaafar’s scrap with Chris van der Drift was another highlight of the second stint, and it was the Malaysian – who shares the Triple Eight Racing Mercedes-AMG with Prince Jefri Ibrahim – who prevailed after doggedly pursuing the JRM Porsche for 20 minutes. They were chased home by Dennis Olsen, whose pole-sitting co-driver Yuan Bo dropped from first to fourth during the opening stint.

Craft-Bamboo’s #99 Mercedes-AMG, Absolute Racing’s #911 Porsche and the Panther/AAS Motorsport Porsche all moved up two places post-race as a result of penalties after Modena Motorsports committed the same Safety Car offence as Singha Plan-B.

In GT4, BMW Team Studie’s M4 converted pole position into a first win of the season despite the best efforts of GTO Racing with TTR.

Jukuchou led the first stint but was only six seconds ahead of Brian Lee before the pitstops, and the gap remained fairly constant once Kinoshita and Tony Fong climbed aboard.

The podium was completed by Team iRace.Win’s Ringo Chong and Setiawan Santoso, who finished four seconds further back.

The weekend’s second 60-minute race starts at 10:50 on Sunday. Watch it live on the championship’s website and Facebook page, SRO’s GT World Youtube channel, and across China on Youku, SMG, Douyu and Huya.