OD Racing’s Mitch Gilbert and Audi R8 LMS Cup’s Alex Yoong helped Audi claim a clean sweep of Blancpain GT Series Asia pole positions at Sepang this morning ahead of this weekend’s first ever round.
Meanwhile, in GT4, EKS Motorsports’ Byron Tong and Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Frank Yu will start at the front for race one and two, respectively.
Q1: GILBERT LEAVES IT LATE TO SNATCH MAIDEN POLE
The start of a new era for GT racing in Asia began with Mitch Gilbert snatching pole position from leading Pro/Am entrant Anthony Liu Xi in the dying moments of a red flag-interrupted first qualifying session at Sepang.
The Malaysian had been sixth before the first stoppage occurred midway through the 15-minute session but managed to nail his best time - a 2m04.180s - moments before the second red flag brought a premature end to proceedings with two minutes remaining.
Liu’ Xis BBT Ferrari 488 GT3 was the first to set a competitive time and remained at the head of the field until Gilbert’s late effort lowered the pole time by 0.182s. Darryl O’Young’s Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R made it as many different marques in the top-three, while Audi Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee ended up fourth after initially lying second.
Team-mate Jules Gounon starts P5 ahead of Hunter Abbott aboard the first of GruppeM's Mercedes-AMG GT3s, the Spirit of Race Ferrari driven by Jiang Xin, Sandy Stuvik’s VSR-entered Lamborghini Huracan GT3 and the other Mercedes-AMG of Tim Sugden. Ollie Millroy’s FIST - Team AAI BMW M6 GT3 made it six different manufacturers inside the top-10.
Elsewhere, Jun San Chen had the honour of claiming the very first Am/Am class pole position for FIST - Team AAI. The Taiwanese driver lines up an impressive 12th overall, six positions and 1.3s quicker than his nearest rival, KCMG’s Naoto Takeda.
In GT4, EKS Motorsports’ Byron Tong Siu Kau claimed class pole by 1.6s from Jean-Marc Merlin’s Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR.
The first of the red flags was caused by multiple cars - the #19 KCMG Audi, #39 Spirit of Race Ferrari and #11 TTR Team SARD Porsche - becoming stranded at various points around the circuit, before Vincent Wong’s accident brought the session to a definitive end.
Q2: YOONG PREVAILS IN TIGHT SECOND SESSION
The second session followed a similar pattern to the first after a red flag was required at the halfway mark to remove Davide Rizzo’s stranded BBT Ferrari. But this time there would be no late changes at the top of the order.
GruppeM's Raffaele Marciello was quickest in morning practice and maintained that form at the start of Q2 by again setting the fastest time. But Alex Yoong had other ideas and lowered the Italian’s initial benchmark by recording the best time of the week thus far, a 2m03.248s. His lap was especially impressive given that traffic prevented him from setting an outright fastest sector time.
Marciello wasn’t finished and bettered his time on the following lap. But it wasn’t enough to match Yoong who retained provisional pole by just 0.007s, the closest margin in Blancpain GT Series' seven-year history. Moments later Rizzo’s Ferrari ground to a halt, bringing an end to the pair’s duel. Indeed, there were few improvements once the session resumed.
Team WRT Asia’s Will Stevens couldn’t quite match the top-two’s pace but still lapped 0.214s shy of Yoong’s similar Audi to comfortably claim third ahead of another R8 LMS GT3, this time Milestone Racing’s example driven by Franky Cheng.
Rui Aguas’ Spirit of Race Ferrari was less than a tenth further back, while Ho-Pin Tung’s FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini Huracan GT3 came within 0.020s of toppling the 488 GT3. Rizzo starts seventh despite his mid-session drama, with Jules Szymkowiak’s GruppeM Mercedes-AMG the first of the Silver Cup entries in eighth.
T2 Motorsports’ David Tjiptobiantoro bagged GT3 Am/Am class honours, while Frank Yu claimed pole in GT4 aboard his Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche.
Mitch Gilbert, #86 OD Racing Team Audi R8 LMS GT3: “That was hard work so it’s awesome to be on pole, and especially here for the very first Blancpain GT Series Asia race. As a Silver pair I think we’ve got a really good chance in the first race. We were quite quick earlier in the week but didn’t expect this. We only just pipped the Ferrari, which is really fast - it’s important we stay ahead of it at the start because they’re a bit quicker than us. Yesterday’s race run was tough and we struggled towards the end, but we’ve made some changes overnight that should help.”
Byron Tong, #10 EKS Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR: “The car is special but we’ve also done plenty of testing since March, so we’re very familiar with it. We also opted to wait and avoid the traffic to give us a clear lap and I managed to produce the time good enough for pole position. I’m excited about the first 20 minutes of today’s race. Then, when the GT3s are in our mirrors, it might be a different story! I think the winners will be the crew that copes best with managing traffic.”
Alex Yoong, #6 Audi R8 LMS Cup Audi R8 LMS GT3: “Honestly, I thought I’d need another lap because there was a GT4 car that cost me some time through the last corner. Then I had to back out of my next one because of more GT4 traffic, and after that they threw the red flag. I assumed the first lap wouldn’t be good enough for pole, and there was definitely more time to come. It’s kind of a relief to come back after the winter break in a new championship and not really know where you stand, but it’s fabulous to have 30 cars and a high quality field. So pole is extra special.”
Frank Yu, #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR: “Before the red flag I went out with Jean-Marc’s [Merlin’s] used tyres, which were a bit overheated. So after the stoppage we opted for a new set, but the team told me I only had one lap! I pushed as hard as I could and although the tyres weren’t 100% I managed to set a pretty good time. I was lucky with the traffic, too.”
The opening race of this season’s inaugural Blancpain GT Series Asia campaign gets underway at 15:10 local time today. Live coverage is available on the championship’s Facebook page and website, with Fox Sports 3 Asia broadcasting a full re-run across the region at 23:30 tonight.