Mastronardi, Aguas take first win
Rino Mastronardi and Rui Aguas claimed their first Blancpain GT Series Asia victory. The Spirit of Race pair won round 3 of the new Asian championship at the Chang International Circuit, in Thailand. This was also the first victory in the series for the Ferrari 488 GT3.
Mastronardi and Aguas finished ahead of the Hunter Abbott and Maxi Buhk’s GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, who has 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‘s R8 LMS GT3 sealed its second consecutive 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, with Takuya Shirasaka and Naoto Takeda taking the lead. Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Jean Marc Merlin and Frank Yu topped the GT4 race.
At the light pole-sitter Anthony Liu maintained 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. Martin Kodric gained three places 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.
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.
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.