The hotly contested GT Asia Series will take another quantum leap this weekend, with the first endurance race in the six year history of Asia’s leading GT Championship.
Unofficial practice on Thursday saw lap records smashed as both Ferrari WEC star James Calado (Clearwater Racing) and round five winner Carlo Van Dam (TP12 Racing) went head-to-head early, with points leader Adderly Fong (Absolute Team Bentley) and Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Richard Lyons joining them later in the day, the top four within half a second of each other, whilst Fong and Calado were under the standing qualifying lap record.The big issue of the weekend so far though, and a question which usually attracts plenty of discussion coming to Sepang, is heat. Temperatures have been in the mid-30s with high humidity, and whilst past 60-minute sprint races with two drivers have been testing, this weekend teams are facing three hours of competition with cabin temperatures around 60 degrees.
As to the weather predictions for Saturday afternoon’s three-hour trial of endurance, no-one is willing to make a firm commitment, as thunderstorms that have been predicted to hit the circuit are yet to eventuate, so that will be one variable that team managers and engineers will be keeping a close eye on.
With double-points on offer for the event, there is plenty to play for this weekend, and all the top teams know it. Michelin too have ruled out any potential questions about tyre wear with six sets of tyres open to teams for qualifying and the three-hour race, allowing them to fit new tyres for both 15-minute qualifiers and every one of the three compulsory pit stops.
Unlike the usual GT Asia Series ‘sprint’ races, the Sepang 3-Hour will feature compulsory pit stops, at roughly 45-minute intervals, the reason being fuel servicing and allowing teams to have the chance to create an even share of laps between their two drivers.
Without the need for fuel rigs in a normal GT Asia Series event, some teams were unable to source the correct equipment to refuel their cars, so in the interests of safety, organisers have made each compulsory stop for a minimum of five minutes to allow safe refueling, driver changes, and tyre changes. When the teams take their stop inside the available ten-minute window, is up to them, and that’s where strategy will start to play into the equation.
Whilst unofficial practice saw an impressive pace, so too the three official sessions on Friday where the title contenders were again in the mix, although this time they were facing the strength of Clearwater Racing on ‘home’ turf.
Ultimately round five winner Carlo Van Dam emerged victorious, the TP12 Racing team Ferrari driver re-setting the bar to a 2:04.465 lap, just marginally clear of the BBT Ferrari of last year’s title challengers Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo. Richard Lyons too was quick, bringing the Interush Aston Martin right back into the equation, with Calado and Adderly Fong not too far behind.
In the GTM class, the competition was hot, with Australian GT star Warren Luff running with points leader Jerry Wang, and Belgian GT champion Dylan Derdaele joining the Gulf Racing JP GTM team from the GT3 category.
Sadly for title contenders Takuma Aoki and Ken Urata, the Dilango Racing Lamborghini Gallardo was suffering a litany of issues during unofficial practice which kept the two Japanese drivers sidelined, but by Saturday night there was a garage of long faces as they struggled to combat a cooling issue, Urata explaining that there was an inherent leak in the system that was setting off alarms in the ECU.
Meanwhile down at the Gulf Racing JP Porsche team, a gearbox failure saw some question about their ability to continue for the round, with both teams expected to work well into the night to prepare for the two qualifiers on Saturday morning ahead of the 3:15pm scheduled start [MYT] for the Sepang 3-Hour race on Saturday afternoon.