Craft-Bamboo Racing and Absolute Racing shared the wins in Sepang as the first round of Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia got underway under the watchful eyes of royalty in Malaysia.
With a grid of 30 cars – 25 GT3s and 5 GT4s – the action was typically intense up and down the field. Mix in the typically unpredictable South East Asian weather and the opening weekend was a thriller, setting up what is set to be a nail-biting season.
Race One – Picariello’s late lunge secures victory
Alessio Picariello and Jeffrey Lee charged up from 12th on the grid to secure the first World Challenge Asia win of the season, but the result was only confirmed after a penultimate lap wheel-to-wheel battle with Solite Indigo Racing’s Gabriele Piana.
The start of the race was held under leaden skies as strong winds brought rain to sections of the track. That didn’t deter Darryl O’Young in the #99 Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMG GT3 though, as he charged up from fifth to first at the first corner.
He couldn’t build up a margin over the chasing pack however, as three safety car periods – because of reasons ranging from localised downpours to cars venturing off track – stunted O’Young’s charge.
While the safety cars impacted the Porsche, it helped Piana’s team-mate MG Choi and TSRT’s David Chen move up into second and first respectively having occupied the lower reaches of the top ten at the end of the first lap.
However, Chen lost out as the pit window opened with the bulk of the grid electing to take their mandatory stop at the same time. With the pit lane turning into M25-style gridlock, Choi was the biggest winner, as Indigo turned around the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in rapid time to send out Piana into the lead.
Picariello meanwhile, came out in fourth – just ahead of a hard-charging David Russell in the HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 – and set about closing down the leader.
Closing in with every lap, it was the unwitting assistance of GT4 class winner Takayuki Kinoshita, in the BMW Team Studie BMW M4, that helped the Belgian claim the lead.
On the rear bumper of Piana – also in a Mercedes-AMG GT3 – the Italian was slightly blocked by Kinoshita on the exit of the turn nine hairpin, allowing Picariello to pull alongside and – after some minor rubbing – accelerate clear for the final lap-and-a-half.
Piana finished 4.6sec down on the race winner but comfortably ahead of Russell and team-mate Yuya Sakamoto in the HubAuto Ferarri.
Race Two – Late pass once again decides top honours
Absolute Racing secured Porsche’s first Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia victory as Tanart Sathienthirakul and Philip Hamprecht led a Porsche one-two under the watchful eyes of Malaysia’s King His Majesty The Yang di-Pertuan Agong XVI Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah Ibni Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah.
At the start it was a Porsche domination as the top four positions were locked out by 911s as polesitter Dennis Olsen slipped behind Panther/AAS Motorsports’ Alexandre Imperatori at the start and then fell to third as Mathias Beche – in the Modena Motorsports entry – went round the outside of the Porsche Young Professional at turn four. Hamprecht, meanwhile, watched the action unfold from fourth.
However, when Absolute elected to pit the German ahead of the three cars ahead, Sathienthirakul found himself second and on the tail of Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak who had taken over the Panther/AAS car from Imperatori.
Despite the two Thai drivers running nose-to-tail for the majority of the second-half of the 60-minute race, it appeared Inthraphuvasak was doing enough to hold off his Am rival and claim victory.
But with just five minutes remaining, Sathienthirakul saw his opportunity and sent the #911 Porsche up the inside of the #918 at the final corner hairpin. The Absolute driver held off the late pressure from the GT Asia race winner to take the chequered flag by a margin of just 0.833sec.
Third went to the Silver class winners O’Young and Christina Nielsen in the Craft-Bamboo Mercedes. The Dane had pitted from 17th but thanks to the end of the race’s only safety car period and success penalties for crews ahead, O’Young found himself in the midst of the Am drivers which he easily disposed of on his way to the podium.
Fourth went to the Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS Evo pairing of Weiron Tan and Martin Rump, the latter mirroring O’Young’s charge up through the Am drivers in the latter half of the race. He finished almost ten seconds ahead of race one runners-up Piana and Choi.
The second round of Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia takes place at Buriram in Thailand on May 11&12.