> Audi pair claim historic first victory by 9sec
> GruppeM’s Abbott and Marciello star en route to second from 22nd
> Merlin and Yu win GT4 class aboard Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche
> Race 1 classification | Championship points
OD Racing’s Mitch Gilbert and Aditya Patel wrote their names in the Blancpain GT Series Asia record books by becoming the championship’s very first race winners in an action packed opening round at Sepang earlier today.
The pair led from lights to flag barring a couple of laps during the mandatory pit-stop window while a phenomenal scrap and stunning comeback developed behind. Ultimately it was Hunter Abbott and Raffaele Marciello who came through from 22nd to score an unlikely second place overall and Pro/Am class victory ahead of FIST - Team AAI’s Ollie Millroy and Jesse Krohn, who had lined up 10th.
A start-line accident as the lights went green immediately eliminated Clearwater Racing’s McLaren 650S and FIST - Team AAI’s Am/Am-entered BMW M6. And when the inevitable Safety Car period came to an end with 45 minutes of the hour-long race remaining pole-sitter Gilbert was able to sprint clear of Anthony Liu’s BBT Ferrari 488, which had shared the front row.
While the Audi made good its escape Liu was left to defend from Darryl O’Young’s Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche, which found a way past on the opening lap. That helped bring Marchy Lee into contention, and the Hong Kong Audi driver was also soon out-dragging and then out-braking his Chinese opponent around the outside into turn one.
The battle for second then became five cars strong, with Jules Gounon in the second Craft-Bamboo Porsche and Sandy Stuvik’s VSR Lamborghini moving into contention. But it was Liu’s battle with Lee that eventually broke the deadlock, their on-track clash leading to the Ferrari heading for the pits early to make repairs.
All of this played perfectly into the hands of Gilbert, who had established an 11s lead before the mandatory pit-stops began. He was soon in to hand over to Patel, who ultimately inherited a 23s advantage once the stops played out. The Indian could afford to manage his pace thereafter and cruised to a routine victory.
Behind, there was nothing routine about the battle raging for second.
O’Young and Lee inherited first and second when Gilbert stopped, but their decision to run longer before the pit window closed allowed rivals to pounce. While O’Young’s co-driver Shaun Thong rejoined third before relieving Joel Camathias of second, he soon had Krohn - whose co-driver Millroy had moved their BMW from 10th to sixth during the opening stint - for company.
Krohn forced his way through at the final corner, but any thoughts of setting off after Patel were soon dashed by Marciello who passed Thong three corners later.
The Italian’s co-driver Abbott had lined up 22nd and inherited two places amidst the start-line accident, but spent the rest of his opening stint picking his way through the field and eventually handed the Mercedes-AMG GT3 over in ninth. Marciello’s progress was equally rapid thereafter, and although Krohn offered stern resistance, the Italian eventually swept around the outside at turn five’s long left-hander.
With nine minutes remaining and Patel 20s up the road any chance of victory looked lost, but the GruppeM ace gave it a go nonetheless and twice set fastest lap to end up just nine seconds adrift at the chequered flag.
Krohn and Millroy completed the podium ahead of GruppeM’s second Mercedes-AMG driven by Jules Szymkowiak and Tim Sugden, which started eighth, and Thong/Lee’s Audi. The Spirit of Race Ferrari driven by Massimiliano Wiser and Jiang Xin smoked its way to sixth while Camathias and Gounon’s Porsche ultimately slipped to seventh.
VSR’s Martin Kodric and Sandy Stuvik were first of the Lamborghini crews home, Milestone Racing’s Jingzu Sun and Franky Cheng fought their way through from 13th to ninth, and Alex Au/Alex Yoong's Audi R8 LMS Cup entry completed the points-paying positions despite the latter - who starts tomorrow’s race from pole - being tagged into a spin.
GT3’s Am/Am class boiled down to T2 Motorsports vs KCMG, and it was the latter’s all-Japanese crew of Naoto Takeda and Takuya Shirasaka that ultimately prevailed by almost 23s.
Elsewhere, Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Jean-Marc Merlin and Frank Yu claimed GT4 class victory. The pair started second but beat EKS Motorsports’ pole-sitters Byron Tong and Eric Lo by just 3.5s in the category’s first ever event as part of a multi-class pan-Asia GT championship. HubAuto Racing’s Alan Yeo and Ringo Chong completed the podium.
Aditya Patel, #86 OD Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3: “It was pretty easy in the end after Mitch did the hard work early on! I was just hoping for the car to stay together, because when you have such a comfortable lead you hear every noise it makes. I was in touch with my engineer who told me the pace I needed to maintain and it worked out perfectly.”
Hunter Abbott, #999 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It was a good first stint but my objective was to simply get into a position where Raffaele [Marciello] could make progress. We were aiming for the top-10 and I pitted ninth after starting 22nd, so I was pretty happy with that! It was good fun out there, and a lot like being in touring cars again! Raff’s a phenomenal driver and I had the greatest confidence knowing that he’s going to a) get the car home and b) do a great job with it. And he most definitely did that today!”
Ollie Millroy, #91 FIST - Team AAI BMW M6 GT3: “I made a good start and was on a roll during the first lap when everyone else had bunched up, so it was a shame to have the Safety Car period. Obviously I spent some of my stint behind it but was able to push really hard after the restart, and I think we were running P6 when the pitstops began. Jesse jumped in and did a mega job, but you can probably see from the lap times that it was tough for us out there. We’ll definitely take that at the start of the weekend.”
Jean-Marc Merlin, #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport: “I loved the car but I’m still learning after coming from prototypes. It was a lot of fun and I must say everyone was very courteous, not too much pushing around, so a pleasant experience. I managed to pass the pole-sitter at the start and then stay ahead after the Safety Car period, so for me it was quite straightforward. Hopefully we can do the same from pole tomorrow.”