It turned out to be something of a routine afternoon’s work for Team NZ Motorsport during the final round of Asian Le Mans 2017/18, the ‘4 Hours of Sepang’, which took place last Sunday. Certainly, one of our smoothest endurance races, Graeme Dowsett, Will Bamber and our late stand-in driver, Alif Hamdan, combined superbly in the cockpit to get the job completed in the GT Cup class.
That P1 result – when the maximum points score it brought in its wake are added to the maximum points we also claimed during the penultimate round, held at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit three weeks – delivered the Drivers’ and Teams’ championship titles in ‘GT Cup’, one of four racing classes that make up this season’s Asian Le Mans Series.
This time last year we finished as ‘GT Cup’ championship runners up in Asian Le Mans Series, so to go one better this time around and nail down the two titles was a good way to finish off the season, albeit a ‘season’ that wrapped up just five weeks into the year and that leaves the team free to gear up for our main programme.
With the team and our #77 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup both in superb shape following that P1 at Buriram last month, we arrived at Sepang Circuit – our ‘home’ track – with the only big issues we had to resolve being related to the driver roster.
Graeme’s regular driving partner in the #77 Porsche, John Curran, was unable to make the race due to business commitments, so Will, who returned to the team in Buriram to bolster the driver line-up for that 6-hour race, was then scheduled to substitute for John at this round – and in fact create the first ever ‘all Kiwi’ driving strength for Team NZ. However, the week before the race Graeme picked up a sprained wrist and broken toe and with doubts lingering over his fitness in the build-up we drafted Alif in late – so late in fact it all came together on Friday evening.
Alif however is a very familiar face at Team NZ, he was part of our driving crew at the Sepang 12 Hours in 2015 where we finished runners up in GTC with this same car. And he really knows the ‘997 Cup’ inside out having also raced this breed of car previously in Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and Porsche Supercup, so, although he was coming off the back of two years away from ‘GT’ level racing, the 27-year-old Malaysian driver was good and ready to go.
In the end we hardly needed to cover the bases as Graeme shrugged off the pain to deliver pole during last Saturday’s end-of-afternoon qualifying session and he started the #77 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup in Sunday’s 4-hour race.
That opening stint went like clockwork before the experienced New Zealander handed over to his young compatriot Will for the second hour, Alif stepped in for the third hour and then Graeme was back in the cockpit to wrap everything up in the fourth and final hour of the race, crossing the line a couple of minutes after 1700 with the car having clocked up 101 laps on what turned had out to be a very hot and dry afternoon in Sepang, temperatures having reached the mid-30s degrees.
The drivers got the job done superbly and they were backed up by a faultless performance from the crew in the garage who prepared a car that was ‘ready to race’ and backed that up with slick pitstops all afternoon.
Having joined Asian Le Mans Series at the halfway point in their calendar, we’re delighted to have nailed down an important title so early on in the new year and that sets us up perfectly for our main programme of 2018. That promises to be very exciting for the team, taking us in a new direction, and we will announce full details shortly.
We also very pleased with the support we received this weekend from new team partner MG Insulation & Marine. We have a long-standing relationship with them and we were happy to officially welcome them to the team for this round. MG Insulation & Marine brought more than twenty guests and we greatly appreciated their support and trust they enjoyed the experience – which included ‘Hot Laps’ in our Porsche to allow the guests to get a real feel of what being inside a ‘GT’ level sportscar is all about.
Team NZ Motorsport was supported in Sepang by Completion Products, MG Insulation & Marine Services, Asia Pacific Spiral, Motosure, Pioneer Consultants and Nam Aik.
Graeme Dowsett (New Zealand): “I started and finished today’s race and it went really smoothly, the car was going really good, really strong, I did a little bit extra time than I originally planned, so that was great. Big thanks to Alif for joining the team, he did a great job, he got little bit hot but it’s been a while since he’s driven a car like that. Thanks also to our supporters who came to the race, we really appreciated their support and we hope they enjoyed the experience.”
Will Bamber (New Zealand): “Firstly thank you to Team NZ and Graeme and John for having me along for the final race. It’s been a good few races and to round it out at Sepang is awesome. We had a bit of challenge coming into the weekend to get Graeme through with the small issue he had with his hand so in the end it actually became a lot easier, but luckily, we had Alif come along and join us which was awesome. He did an awesome job filling in and likewise Graeme did even more than he planned before. A great weekend, I’m really happy for the guys for doing a superb job and another chapter in the team’s history.”
Alif Hamdan (Malaysia): “It was a really good race for me, getting reacclimatised after two years of having a hiatus, even for me as a local I struggled with the heat today. It felt good to be back in a 997 Cup car, getting back into the mix. The biggest challenge for me was just coping with the heat and driving a 997, getting the gears down, so I think I was two or three laps short of my stint as I ran into a brick wall with the heat. But it was good, I kept the car on track the whole time, didn’t hurt the car, protected the machinery.”