Sensational start for GruppeM
GruppeM Racing made a sensational start to the 2018 season of the Blancpain GT Series Asia at Sepang, claiming overall victory in rounds one and two as well as a win on the team’s debut in the GT4 category.
Nico Bastian and Patric Niederhauser converted third on the grid in race one on Saturday into a fantastic four second win, as well as Silver class victory, with Brice Bosi and factory Mercedes-AMG driver Raffaele Marciello climbing the overall podium in third place – winning the PRO-AM class.
The first race of the year also marked the debut for GruppeM in GT4, where Russell Ward and Reinhold Renger dominated to claim a superb win and the fastest lap. Taking third place in Sunday’s race, the duo share the championship lead of GT4 after the opening weekend of the new season.
In GT3 on Sunday it was the turn of Marciello and Bosi to stand atop the overall podium with a dominant victory in their Mercedes-AMG GT3 – taking the chequered flag at the end of race two almost half a minute to the good and opening a healthy points lead. Marciello has to forego the next round in Thailand, so Bosi will be partnered there by Maxi Buhk, who raced with GruppeM in 2017.
In qualifying on Saturday, Bastian was the fastest of the GruppeM contingent with the third quickest lap for the race one grid at the wheel of the No.999 Mercedes-AMG GT3 – only 0.2 seconds shy of pole – while in the sister No.888 car Bosi secured the Pro-Am class pole with the fifth best lap overall. In GT4, Ward secured a dominant pole by 0.7 seconds on the team’s debut in the class. During the race two session, Bosi’s team-mate Marciello just missed out on pole position in a titanic battle with the lead Audi as Niederhauser in the No.999 Mercedes ended the session sixth overall and fourth in the Silver class. Renger took driving duties in the GT4 car for session two and secured second on the grid for round two.
Saturday’s race was neutralised at the end of the opening lap due to a Safety Car period with Bastian in second and Bosi in seventh place. Although edged down to third on lap five, Bastian soon moved back into second and stayed there to the end of lap 12 when pitting early. During the driver change stop, GruppeM also took the decision to fit new tyres to the Mercedes and it paid dividends later in the contest when Niederhauser managed to finally break Martin Kodric’s defence on lap 22 with a superb move around the outside at Turn Seven. He went on to claim victory by over four seconds as well as the Silver win. Bosi pitted mid-race from eighth position and Marciello held fifth when the race order settled after the stops. Having worked his way into the top four, the Italian ace stormed into third place on the final lap and, with it, took PRO-AM victory. GruppeM dominated GT4 in the opening race of the season, even though Ward incurred a 30 second time penalty for an unfortunate Safety Car infringement. Edged back to second from pole position early on, he fought back through and had established a lead of almost 12 seconds by the time the pit-stop window opened. Renger then controlled proceedings to the flag to secure a terrific win.
Marciello started race two from second on the grid but grabbed the lead into Turn One and on the first lap alone he led by an incredible three seconds, before boosting his advantage to around 12 seconds by the time the pit-stop ‘driver change’ window opened at the 25-minute mark. He stayed on track and eventually handed over to Bosi at the end of lap 16, the Frenchman joining the race with a substantial lead of 14 seconds. Thereafter he cruised to the chequered flag to win by an immense 26 seconds. Unfortunately for round one victors Niederhauser and Bastian, damage picked up on lap one led to eventual retirement on the fourth tour for the No.999 Mercedes. There was also some drama for the GT4 car of Ward in race two after the pit-stops, contact with a BMW preventing a challenge for the win. Instead he and team-mate Renger had to be satisfied with third place which was good enough to ensure a share of the GT4 championship lead. Renger did manage to climb through to the front of the pack during his stint, a highly entertaining first half hour, but the 15 second ‘success’ penalty for the No.666 entry from the race one victory proved too much to overturn after the pit-stop.
Chang International Circuit in Thailand is the next round of the Blancpain GT Series Asia calendar, over the weekend 12th/13th May.