Third success for GruppeM
GruppeM Racing made another step towards the Blancpain GT Series Asia championship team title at Fuji Speedway in Japan over the weekend, 19th/20th August, with Hunter Abbott and Maximilian Buhk scorching to a fabulous lights-to-flag victory in round eight.
Marking Abbott’s third success of 2017, enabling him to conclude the fourth event an enhanced 33 points clear at the top of the outright drivers’ championship and also helping GruppeM depart Fuji 85 points ahead in the team standings, the race two win was also Buhk’s second of the season.
During round seven on Saturday, the No.999 Mercedes-AMG GT3 pairing celebrated a hard-earned podium finish with third place overall thanks to a stellar stint from Buhk during the second half of the race – meaning two Pro-Am class victories for the weekend.
Tim Sugden and Jules Szymkowiak, piloting the No.888 Mercedes-AMG GT3, took away a double top six finish from the weekend plus fourth in the Silver class in race one on Saturday and an improved second in Silver on Sunday, enabling the duo to climb into third in the Silver standings.
Qualifying didn’t go entirely to plan for the GruppeM pairings, with Abbott and Buhk beginning round seven from seventh on the grid, second in Pro-Am, and Sugden and Szymkowiak’s car set to line-up alongside on the fourth row in eighth spot, sixth in the Silver class.
Abbott and Sugden took the respective opening stints for Saturday’s encounter which began in slightly confusing fashion when an additional formation lap was required. Racing got underway with 57 minutes remaining on the clock and Abbott made a terrific start, threading his way through first corner tangles to surge into third place.
Just before the end of lap two, the first racing lap, though Abbott unfortunately ran wide and dropped to fifth while Sugden ended the tour in 10th position having initially held eighth off the line. Abbott was edged back to sixth the next time around and slipped to eighth before the end of his stint while Sugden moved up into ninth before both Mercedes pitted for their stops on lap 14.
Sitting side-by-side in the pitlane, both cars were turned around superbly by the GruppeM pit crew and when the race order settled after the driver changes Szymkowiak held fifth overall with Buhk in 10th place – the No.999 car having to serve an extra 10 seconds in the pits as a ‘success’ penalty from the previous round.
Buhk set fastest lap pace and sliced his way through the order superbly, breaking into the top three with around six minutes to go. Closing down the lead duo over the final few laps, he took the flag only 0.9 seconds shy of second place to also claim the Pro-Am win. Szymkowiak also moved through the order strongly and although passed by Buhk along the way, the Dutchman finished fifth.
Round eight on Sunday was the clear highlight of the weekend for GruppeM, Buhk lining-up on the front row in second position in the No.999 car and Szymkowiak taking the first stint in the sister Mercedes from seventh on the grid.
German racer Buhk anticipated the rolling start superbly to surge into the lead on the run into Turn One and despite several laps of intense pressure from the pursuing Ferrari, Buhk didn’t put a wheel wrong and he began to pull away from lap four onward.
Punching in fastest laps, including the best of the race on lap nine, the GruppeM driver started to dominate proceedings and he opened a cushion of over 13 seconds before pitting for the mid-race driver change at the end of lap 20 – one of the last drivers to do so, maximising his advantage.
Even with another ‘success’ penalty added to the pit stop time due to the race one podium, this time five seconds, Abbott emerged into the race with a healthy lead and he concluded lap 21 over seven seconds to the good. Pulling 8.5 seconds clear, he then controlled the action at the front before taking the flag at the end of the hour just over five seconds clear – a dominant performance.
Szymkowiak, who moved into the top five on lap one, similarly had his hands full with a Ferrari during the early running but repelled the attentions well before falling victim to a challenge on lap eight. Although edged back to seventh soon after, Szymkowiak moved back into the top six on the 12th tour and climbed into fifth again before serving his pit-stop on lap 19.
Sugden held sixth initially when he ventured out onto track and when all stops had been completed he maintained the position. Breaking into the top five on lap 23, the Mercedes was then edged back again to sixth where he stayed to the finish on lap 34 to also secure second in the Silver class.
Car No.999 – Hunter Abbott: “GruppeM and Maxi did a perfect job again and we managed to come away with a great points haul from Fuji. It’s my first time here and hopefully not my last, I couldn’t have asked more from this weekend having entered it with a 10 second success penalty from the win at Suzuka. I would like to dedicate this win to my new daughter Clara, who is three weeks old this week, and her big brother Stirling, who is two next week!”
Car No.999 – Maxi Buhk: “We had a very good weekend! I think P3 is the maximum we could have achieved in race one and race two was fantastic. The team worked really well over the weekend and Hunter did a fantastic job. The car was great and now we need to keep that momentum for the remaining rounds of the championship.”
Car No.888 – Tim Sugden: “Another great weekend for us. We had two solid races with good points and Maxi and Hunter had another amazing pair of races to extend their lead in the championship. It’s been a very strong event for GruppeM, all of the guys did a fantastic job again.”
Car No.888 – Jules Szymkowiak: “It’s been a great weekend with two solid races for both of us and the team has collected good points, which is what we’re here to do. We have to keep pushing now to get a podium for the number 888 car as well!”
Blancpain GT Series Asia now heads to China for the final two events of the season. Shanghai International Circuit will host the penultimate race meeting of the campaign, rounds nine and 10, over the weekend 23rd/24th September.