Rino Mastronardi and Rui Aguas claimed theirs, Spirit of Race’s and Ferrari’s first Blancpain GT Series Asia victories with a controlled drive in the first of this weekend’s 60-minute encounters at Chang International Circuit in Thailand earlier today.
The pair came home less than a second clear of Hunter Abbott and Maxi Buhk’s GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, which closed in during the closing stages before being handed a 30-second post-race penalty for causing a collision on the opening lap. That promoted Silver Cup winners Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong to second after the Audi Hong Kong-entered R8 LMS GT3 sealed its second consecutive Series podium on the road after enjoying a tense battle with team-mates Alex Au and Alex Yoong.
The Am Cup spoils were decided on the final lap in favour of Takuya Shirasaka and Naoto Takeda, while Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Jean Marc Merlin and Frank Yu emerged victorious from a topsy-turvey GT4 race.
The afternoon began with pole-sitter Anthony Liu maintaining the lead from fellow front row-starter Mastronardi. However, contact at Turn 3 between Abbott and Mitch Gilbert sent the latter’s Audi tumbling down the order and into the pits for repairs, and ultimately saw the #999 car drop to sixth in the final result. That altercation allowed Martin Kodric to gain three places from where he started and hold third ahead of Abbott, Aidan Read’s FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini, Darryl O’Young and Marchy Lee.
Mastronardi continued to keep Liu honest over the opening 12 minutes before Terence Tse’s out-of-position TTR Team SARD Porsche GT4 collided with the BBT Ferrari at Turn 3, which immediately ended the latter’s race. Mastronardi was following closely and just snuck through unscathed, but Kodric was far less lucky when Tse made further, terminal contact with his Lamborghini while attempting to rejoin.
The subsequent Full Course Yellow was soon upgraded to a Safety Car in order to clear all three cars from the track, and when racing resumed just four minutes remained until the pit window opened.
Mastronardi’s lightning restart, coupled with a GT4 car between himself and his pursuers, meant the Italian was well up the road once the clock ticked past 25 minutes and the front-runners began to stop. However, Spirit of Race elected to continue circulating for another three laps before swapping Aguas in, by which time Buhk – who’d replaced Abbott – was just 1.5s behind.
The Mercedes-AMG loomed large in Aguas’ mirrors for a lap or so before the Portuguese driver slowly edged clear. At one point the lead was more than four seconds before his German pursuer closed in during the closing stages.
“Maybe it looked easy but that was a hard race,” said Aguas talking about this race. “It’s a shame the BBT boys went off but I’m very happy for us. Rino [Mastronardi] and the crew did a brilliant job and the car was great. We won by a small margin and the Mercedes-AMG was definitely catching up, but the chequered flag finished first today! I was very aware of the track limits here so didn’t want to push too hard in case we received a penalty.”
Further back a great battle had developed between the two Phoenix Racing Asia-run Audis of Yoong and Thong. The latter’s co-driver, Marchy Lee, dodged the earlier incident and picked up places at the restart to run third before serving an additional five-second success penalty during his pitstop for finishing third at Sepang. Nevertheless, newly-installed Thong pulled away from his pit box barely a car’s length ahead of Yoong in the sister Audi R8 LMS Cup entry with which Alex Au had made headway during the opening stint.
Speaking about his race, Phoenix Racing’s Marchy Lee: “The race pace was very good and I also managed some overtaking moves, which isn’t easy here, so I was happy with those. But today the key was always going to be our pitstops, and the team did a very good job trying to estimate the best plan for overcoming our success penalty. That’s why we stayed out a few laps longer than the other front-runners. I must say Shaun [Thong] then did a very good job to keep Alex [Yoong] and Alessio [Picariello] behind him with the extra Silver Cup ballast onboard, which makes a difference under braking. I couldn’t ask for more today.”
The pair circulated together with Alessio Picariello’s J-Fly by Absolute Racing Audi for company before all three passed Alberto Di Folco’s Lamborghini, which had emerged from the pits in third. The trio of R8s eventually took the chequered flag covered by just two seconds, and were ultimately rewarded with second, third and fourth places in the final classification.
Sanghwi Rick Yoon span his KCMG by Champion Racing Audi on the opening lap but benefited from the Safety Car to make up lost time. Co-driver Martin Rump then continued to make ground after the pitstops and set fastest lap of the race en route to sixth on the road and fifth in the final result.
Carlo van Dam also caught the eye in the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari 458 he shares with Voravud Bhirombhakdi, who was involved in an incident at Turn 5 with Jiang Xin just before the pit window opened. Van Dam was a man on a mission once aboard, though, and scythed through the field to claim a fine seventh in the older-generation GT3.
The second Spirit of Race Ferrari driven by Xin and Max Wiser finished eighth ahead of
Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and Maxime Jousse’s est cola Thailand Porsche, and Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi and Chris van der Drift who passed Craft-Bamboo Racing team-mate Devon Modell for the final point late on.
The destination of Am Cup’s winners’ trophy was only decided on the final lap when KCMG’s Shirasaka and FFF Racing Team by ACM’s Lin Yue made contact at Turn 5. Stewards decided that the clash and Yue’s subsequent spin occurred as a result of his Lamborghini rejoining the track, and that no post-race action was necessary. Thus Shirasaka and co-driver Takeda claimed their second Am Cup win in three races.
The GT4 class was won on the road by Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Frank Yu and Jean Marc Merlin, before the car was excluded post-race for the latter causing avoidable contact with Byron Tong’s EKS Motorsport Porsche early in the race. Victory therefore went to Taiwan Top Speed Racing Team’s Keo Chang and Jeremy Wang, who spent time at the front before the pitstops.
Tong and co-driver Eric Lo, who originally started from pole, recovered from an unscheduled pitstop after contact with Merlin to finish second in class.
Meanwhile, Terence Tse’s involvement in the incident that ended Liu and Kodric’s afternoons early resulted in the TTR Team SARD entry being suspended from tomorrow’s race.