GT3: Victory for GruppeM
Nico Bastian and Patric Niederhauser took the #999 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG GT3 to victory in the 2018 Blancpain GT Series Asia’s opening race at Sepang today, following a masterful battle with FFF Racing Team by ACM’s #19 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 driven by Dennis Lind and Martin Kodric. The start of Race 1 was marked by a short Safety Car period and Full Course Yellow, but once the action got going 13 minutes in, pole-sitter Lind took full advantage and pulled clear of the squabbling pack behind him. At the same time, Bastian started putting intense pressure on Leo Ye Hongli in the #27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 who was running second at that point. OD Racing’s Aditya Patel also started to challenge them for position, however an unfortunate coolant hose rupture ended the Audi’s charge just after the Indian driver had followed Bastian in overtaking Ye.
Now back in third, Ye continued his efforts to keep the Ferrari ahead of Edoardo Liberati’s KCMG Nissan, while Lind got down to business and gained a 6-second advantage over Bastian by the time the pit window came into play 25 minutes in. GruppeM immediately pitted the #999 Mercedes-AMG for fresh tyres, aiming for a traction advantage. This ultimately determined the race’s outcome, along with FFF Racing Team making the call to pit later and not change tyres. As it turned out, the gap was down to 3.5 seconds when Kodric took over from Lind, and the race’s second Full Course Yellow soon brought the Mercedes-AMG right up on the Lamborghini’s tail.
An intense battle quickly ensued with both drivers demonstrating masterful offensive and defensive driving, Kodric always positioning himself perfectly on the inside line when it mattered most in spite of his visibly deteriorating rubber to counter Niederhauser’s over-and-under passing maneuvers. The Mercedes-AMG managed to pull alongside several times, but the Lamborghini stood its ground resolutely. It would clearly take a special pass to get Patric the top spot, and he managed to pull one off with under 7 minutes to the chequered flag. Anticipating Kodric’s defensive moves, Niederhauser dived left at Turn 7, went in late on the brakes and carved round the outside of the Lamborghini. Despite light contact between the 2 on corner exit, no damage was done and the GruppeM car came home 1st overall, 4.3 seconds ahead of Kodric.
Patric Niederhauser, #999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It was a lot easier to catch Martin [Kodric] than to overtake him, but it was also a lot of fun trying! You can’t ask for anything more than close, door-to-door racing. I had a good car and the tyres still felt good at the end, so I was waiting for him to make a mistake. I saw the space on the outside and just went for it. It was close – we touched – but we were both racing on the limit. After that I could build a little gap and bring it home.”
Martin Kodric, #19 FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini Huracan GT3: “Dennis [Lind] did everything he could in the first stint to build a gap, but we also gambled a little bit with the strategy and I caught some GT4 traffic while exiting the pits, which didn’t help. However, Patric was very fast and I knew that sooner or later he would be there. I did everything to defend but he was driving and attacking well, using my disadvantages to his advantage. I tried to keep him at bay for as long as possible. It was really close and probably the best battle I’ve ever had with anyone, but ultimately we just didn’t have the tyres to stay ahead. Still, it was great fun.”
Nick Foster was on point for third place after taking the HubAuto Corsa Ferrari over from Ye, however Raffaele Marciello was solidly pushing the #888 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG GT3 after his Am co-driver Brice Bosi put in a solid first stint. A well-executed overtake on the final lap enabled Marciello to bring it home third overall and take the Pro/Am victory, with the Ferrari taking fourth. KCMG’s Liberati and Florian Strauss took fifth with the #23 GT-R NISMO GT3, while Absolute Racing’s Anthony Liu and Josh Burdon brought the #37 Audi R8 LMS GT3 home in sixth. The second #63 FFF Racing second Lamborghini took seventh with Marco Mapelli and Hiroshi Hamaguchi putting in a solid drive, taking four places in the second half.
The #3 Absolute Racing Audi finished eight in the hands of Franky Cheng and Martin Rump, just ahead of Daisuke Ito and Hiroaki Nagai in the #8 ARN Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, while Sandy Stuvik and Shae Davies rounded out the top 10 in the #911 Craft-Bamboo Racing 911 GT3 R. GT3 Am Cup honors went to Naoto Takeda and Takuya Shirasaka in the #45 KCMG Audi, just in front of the #51 AMAC Motorsport Huracan GT3 driven by Australians Andrew Macpherson and Ben Porter.
GruppeM also take GT4 honors
GruppeM Racing and Mercedes-AMG took 2 victories in total with Reinhold Renger and Russell Ward giving the #666 Mercedes-AMG GT4 all they had. Clearwater Racing’s Richard Wee put the #12 McLaren 570S GT4 ahead initially, but Russell regained the lead and never look back. Thanks to an 11.5 second advantage when the pits opened, his German co-driver Renger held first place to the finish line in spite of a post-race 30 second penalty incurred for Ward’s Safety Car infringement.
Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin put in a solid drive to take second place with the #77 Craft-Bamboo Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR. Final podium honors went to Ringo Chong and Gilles Vannelet in the #72 Team iRace.Win Mercedes-AMG GT4, and they will be starting tomorrow’s Race 2 in pole position for the class. The action resumes tomorrow with Race 2 starting at 11:50pm.