GT Asia Series: Victory to Sawa and Weng Sun at Autopolis

Former champion Mok Weng Sun and co-driver Keita Sawa prevailing on the challenging Autopolis circuit.

GT Asia Series: Victory to Sawa and Weng Sun at Autopolis
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After two qualifying sessions and the opening 50-minute race, it was Clearwater Racing who had the widest smiles by the end of the third round of the 2014 GT Asia Series, with former champion Mok Weng Sun and co-driver Keita Sawa prevailing on the challenging Autopolis circuit.

In front of an almost full main straight grandstand, the opening GT Asia Series race finally got underway after its third attempt at a start, officials concerned about how far the 27-car grid was spread out as the leaders hit the start line, preferring instead to bunch the field up and send them around again.. and then again..

On the third attempt Lyons slowed the field down so much, that it ultimately cost him the lead, Craig Baird in the Clearwater Racing Ferrari pulling alongside the Aston on the run into turn one, with Rui Aguas going around the outside, the two Ferraris dropping the pole-sitter back to third on the run through to turn two.

#97 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage: Richard Lyons, Frank Yu
#97 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage: Richard Lyons, Frank Yu

Photo by: Craft Racing

Behind them mayhem ensued as the Nissan GT-R of Tetsuya Tanaka moved across into the braking zone, straight into the path of Hiroki Yoshimoto, forcing him into the side of his team-mate - the luckless Alex Yoong. “They say it’s the gentleman drivers you have to watch out for at this level, when in fact it’s the professional drivers who are trying to prove a point that are the problem,” Yoong lamented after being forced into retirement with broken suspension for the second round in succession.

He wasn’t the only casualty of the opening lap fracas, Takashi Hata was forced wide on the exit of the final turn and into the gravel trap near pit entry, beaching the Porsche GT3-R with damage to the rear of the car. Five laps later his team-mate, Fukujirou was also out, spinning his Porsche 997 Cup car into the turn one gravel trap, ending what had been a good run to that point for the two Team KRM Porsches.

Up front the leaders started turning laps in the low to mid 49s as they pulled away from the field ahead of the compulsory pit stops, but just ahead of the pit stop window opening, the field was brought under Safety Car conditions for the stranded Joel Camathias who had rolled to a stop on the edge of the circuit with power-steering failure.

“I just couldn’t turn the car,” the tall Swiss driver admitted afterwards. Tragically for the Team NB Aston, the puddle of fluid under the car suggested the team would have some work ahead of them before lining up for round four.

Amazingly for the leading Aston team - that of Richard Lyons, lap ten would also prove a game-changer for them after Lyons - who was mounting an assault on an ailing Aguas for second - suddenly slowed to walking pace. Lyons was quickly back up to speed, but had dropped down to ninth after he reset the car’s systems.

“For some reason it had jammed in gear, so all I could do was turn it all off, reboot it, and away we went again,” he explained afterwards.

Lyons delay had also provided Rui Aguas with some breathing space, something the Portugese driver had been searching for after battling with contact from the opening lap after an incident with one of the Aston Martins forced the rear diffuser to come apart and start rubbing on the right rear tyre.

Fortunately he was able to make his intended pit window to have the team effect repairs during their compulsory stop before handing the car to Muzayyin.

The big winner during the pit stop sequences was Keita Sawa who handed the car across to Mok Weng Sun - the former race winner and dual series champion left the pits immediately in front of Hiroshi Hamaguchi in the car he’d shared with Weng Sun during 2013.

The two drivers battled for the lead almost immediately, Hamaguchi clearly carrying extra pace and pushing hard to find a way past the Clearwater Racing team boss. He admitted afterwards that the pace of the Ferrari was so good that his options to effect a clean pass were limited, so he tried a run alongside the Ferrari under braking into turn one. Hamaguchi stayed out wide as Weng Sun cut across to the apex, with the Japanese driver looking to undercut him on the overlap, but out on the ‘marbles’ towards the outer edge of the circuit, the McLaren driver spun whilst attacking for the lead.

Fortunately he was able to rejoin the field after driving steadily through the gravel trap that had already claimed the Team KRM Porsche, and continue.

Behind the battle for the top podium positions, the Ferrari of championship points leaders Davide Rizzo and Anthony Liu had crept back into contention, and three laps from home they were looking good to make a podium finish when Liu was taken off the circuit at turn six after an apparent error from K.S. Wang in the Taiwan Top Speed Racing Ferrari 458 Challenge. The GTM class contender spun into the side of Liu whilst trying to give him room to pass, forcing both cars off, and forcing ‘game over’ for the #37 ‘Spirit of Race’ Ferrari.

Sadly for their team-mates, Rui Aguas and Nasrat Muzayyin, they too were forced into retirement on the final lap, after Nasrat came into contact with one of the Audis, forcing them to retire before the flag.

Another casualty was impressive young Australian Nathan Antunes. After picking up a solid advantage during Dilantha Malagamuwa’s pit stop under Safety Car conditions, Antunes was clearly the quickest car on the circuit and hauling in the leaders from the tail end of the top ten, but just three laps after the Safety Car pulled off the circuit, so too did he..

“The car was fantastic, but three laps in I had warning lights appear on the dash, and then a signal for low oil pressure, so I came straight in,” Antunes explained. “Because it wasn’t clear there was an issue externally, we retired the car, but further inspection has revealed an internal failure, so the boys will have an overnight change ahead of them, but there’s a spare there, so we should be good to go again tomorrow, and this time from the front row!”

In the end though despite the relatively high attrition rate, nothing could stop the Clearwater Racing team taking another Autopolis victory..

“I didn’t have a great start and was out of position into turn one,” Sawa explained. “After that I suffered from a little bit of oversteer, so really had to just hold my ground. We were fourth after the Safety Car restart, but behind a slower GTM car who was pulling into the pits, but by then the lead trio had pulled away.

“I knew that today we were in a position to make the podium, so I just tried to close the gap to the cars in front ahead of the pit stop to give Weng Sun the car in the best position possible.”

“It’s great to be back on the podium, but I certainly didn’t predict P1,” Weng Sun added. “We knew we had a fighting chance for the podium, so long as we kept a clean race. We got a little bit lucky, our team-mates with the McLaren had a success penalty added to their stop time as a result of their podium in Korea which allowed us to come out ahead of them.

“My goal was to stay ahead of Hiroshi, and he gave me quite a good battle for a number of laps. We were side-by-side into turn one at one stage, and he got onto the marbles and gave me the break for the rest of the race.”

“We started pole position, so at the start of the race we were hoping for the win,” Richard Lyons explained on the podium. “We had a little bit of bad luck, the engine stopped - we weren’t really sure what the problem was, but looking at the data it looks like it got stuck in gear, so I had to turn the engine off and reset, and by the time I’d done that, everyone was passing me. So we were unlucky, but then we got some luck with the Safety Car and that allowed us to close up and give Frank an opportunity to bring us home in second.”

“For me - happy at the end, but frustrated in the middle, but it’s okay, we have another chance to do it again tomorrow.”

In the GTM class a great battle was brewing between 2013 title contenders Francis Tjia and Wayne Shen. The Porsche pair had been unable to make the opening event in Korea, but were quickly into the thick of things during the first race at Autopolis. In the end it was Tjia who impressed most, moving from 19th all the way through to seventh outright and first in class.

“It’s a good way to start off the season for me,” Tjia admitted. “Unfortunately I missed Korea due to the schedule change, so I came here with a lot of enthusiasm to get back into the car. After qualifying I was a little bit disappointed because it didn’t look like we could stay with the quickest cars, but in the race it all turned out pretty well.

“I had a good start, but I was cautious, and then felt that I may have dived into the pits too soon with the Safety Car, but it turned out well. I am surprised too to be seventh, but I could see that people were starting to get tired, and also it appeared that some of the GT3 cars were starting to struggle on their tyres, but I had a very easy first stint following Wayne [Shen]. I didn’t want to attack him too much and wear my tyres, so I just waited and my tyres stayed strong and we came through for the win.”

Second overall was Jacky Yeung and Macau’s Keith Vong, the Audi R8 duo working their way through to a strong second place in class and tenth outright, whilst the runners-up in Korea, George Chou and Thomas Fjordbach claimed third.

Unfortunately for local star Takuma Aoki and new team-mate Ryu Ohtsuka, an additional balance-of-performance ballast for their Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 had an impact on their outright pace, and Aoki admitted it made a difference.

“It was more challenging to drive and I could certainly feel the additional weight,” he said. “It’s okay, we have another chance tomorrow, but I don’t think it will be easy.”

After the high level of attrition in the opening race at Autopolis, some teams have a long night ahead of them to be ready for race two - the fourth round of the 2014 GT Asia Series which gets under way at 10:30am (JST).

Lyons prevails in qualifying for Round #3

As he had done on both Thursday and Friday, Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons held the top spot after qualifying for round three, the British GT star falling just short of his predicted 1:47.5 lap, but not by much. A number of drivers fought over the other spot on the front of the rolling-start grid, in the end Ferrari ‘veteran’ Rui Aguas fell just 17 one-hundredths short of Lyons for second, with Craig Baird leading a trio of Clearwater Racing cars to be third. In the end just six one hundredths of a second separated the three Clearwater cars

Team-boss Arjunen Kulasegaram explained that as a result of how close his three cars had qualified, that he’d warned his driver about ‘etiquette’ prior to the start of round three. “I suggested that if any of the chrome cars came back with red on them, or the red car with chrome, that they’d better keep driving to the airport, because otherwise there would be trouble!”

Carlo Van Dam put the second Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston on P6 ahead of the Japanese Nissan GT-R and Hiroki Yoshimoto in the first Absolute Racing Audi R8. Championship points leader Davide Rizzo was first out of pit lane, and first to record a quick lap, but as he had predicted, it was Lyons on his first flying lap that set the pace, very few cars from that point on improved, with many returning to pit lane to preserve tyres for the opening race.

GT3 cars filled the first 15 grid places, ahead of the leading GTM class car of former Autopolis GTM class winner Jacky Yeung who managed to out-run reigning champion Wayne Shen by just a quarter of a second, with Korea podium place-getter Thomas Fjordback third in the leading Taiwan Top Speed Racing Ferrari 458 Challenge.

Points leader claims pole for Round #4

GT Asia Series championship points leader Anthony Liu emerged as the fastest driver in the second 15-minute qualifying session, the Ferrari 458 driver taking the top spot in the dying stages after series debutante Nathan Antunes put the Dilango Racing Lamborghini FL2 to the top on the only lap the team scheduled to complete.

“We did some pretty serious engineering work on the car overnight based on the data we’d gained during Thursday and Friday’s sessions,” Antunes explained. “Dilantha did a great job in his qualifier, and I knew that we really only had one shot on the tyres in my session, so that’s all we’d planned to do. It looked good there for a while, but in the end, Anthony came through with a better time, but it’s still a front row start for race two!”

“I got baulked on my first flying lap, and from there I knew my chance to start off pole was all but gone,” Lui said post-session. “We didn’t want to fit a second set of tyres, but we wanted the position, so I came back out in the dying stages and put together a lap that was good enough for pole.”

Frank Yu held down second early in the session, and like Antunes, elected to complete just a couple of laps to conserve tyres for the race, but as a result, some late lunges by Hiroshi Hamaguchi, Mok Weng Sun, Kane Jiang and young team-mate Tanart Sathienthirakul dropped him down to P7.

Christian Chia was the big mover in Q2, finding more than three seconds between sessions to take pole for the GTM class, the Audi driver setting the eleventh fastest lap time, in the process out-qualifying the thundering Nissan GT-R!

Second in GTM was Ryu Ohtsuka in the Dilango Lamborghini he was sharing with Takuma, with Taiwan Top Speed Racing team boss George Chou third.

Race#1 (50-minutes)

1. 3. Keita Sawa/Mok Weng Sun (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 25-laps

2. 97. Richard Lyons/Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage) -5.762

3. 32. Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Rob Bell (Clearwater Racing McLaren MP4-12C) -9.545

4. 99. Carlo Van Dam/Tanart Sathienthirakul (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin) -15.636

5. 12. Craig Baird/Richard Wee (Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) -26.058

6. 9. Jiang Xin/Max Wiser (NB Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3) -22.200

7. 21. Francis Tjia (Porsche 997 GT3 Cup) -1:12.657*

8. 13. Tetsuya Tanaka/Motoyoshi Yoshida (B-Max Racing Nissan GT-R GT3) -1:23.410

9. 7. Jeffrey Lee/Hiroki Yoshimoto (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3) -1:24.217

10. 77. Jacky Yeung/Keith Vong (Tiger Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3) -1.25.914*

11. 88. George Chou/Thomas Fjordbach (Taiwan Top Speed 458 Challenge) -1:37.612*

12. 34. Takuma Aoki/Ryu Ohtsuka (Dilango Racing Gallardo LP560 GT3) -1:37.949*

13. 17. Jian Wei Wang/Sun Jing Zu (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3) -1:45.511

14. 96. Michael Chua (Mike Racing Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT3) -1:47.971

15. 68. John Shen/Samson Chan (Porsche 997 GT3 Cup) - 24-laps*
16. 25. Christian Chia (IMS Audi R8 LMS GT3)*

17. 16. Wayne Shen (Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)*

18. 8. Robert Lee/Keo Chang (Taiwan Top Speed Ferrari 458 Challenge)*

19. 18. Craig Liu/Joe Hsu Cheng Chang (Taiwan Top Speed 458 Challenge) - 23-laps*

(*) GTM class

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GT Asia: Lyons on top at Autopolis, but Ferrari is coming!
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