The opening event of the 2018 GT Asia Series delivered two fantastic 60-minute races across an event that has been synonymous with the championship since it’s inception in 2010. Ultimately the weekend saw a titanic battle at Sepang Circuit between some of the world’s most iconic GT3 marques, but ultimately the wins went to Bentley and Audi after two impressive drives by two Thailand-based teams.
After qualifying on the front row for the opening race, a strong start by AAS Motorsport sensation Kantadhee Kusiri handed Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak an advantage he would press all the way through the compulsory pit stops to hand the Thai team a sensational opening round victory. The Bentley team were right in the thick of the action in round two, but they could do little about a storming Bhurit Bhirombhakdi and Kantasak Kusiri, the two Singha Plan-B Audi drivers claiming a dominant win over the thunderous Bentley.
Absolute Racing had been a powerhouse in GT Asia since the Series’ inception, however the 2016 Team’s champions last won in GT Asia with the mighty twin-turbo Bentley V8, however for season 2018 they were back with a trio of fast Audi R8s, and they were right in the mix from opening practice, although the car they spent the bulk of their time chasing was the AAS Bentley they were also providing technical support to!
Friday’s first official practice session saw Audi’s Franky Cheng set the outright pace in the #13 Absolute Racing R8 with a best of 2:05.052, a mark that held on through the warmer afternoon session which was topped by team-mate Adderly Fong in the #55 EN Sport by Absolute entry. In both cases Kantadhee Kusiri in the est Cola liveried Bentley was second, however by Saturday morning’s final practice session the team was fourth behind Cheng (2:04.066), Singha Motorsport’s Carlo Van Dam (2:04.315) and Fong (2:04.390) setting the scene for a tough qualifying battle.
The opening qualifier saw a repeat of practice with Franky Cheng and Adderly Fong doing battle against the mighty Bentley, with Ferrari’s Carlo Van Dam in the mix in the Singha Motorsport 458 Italia GT3 - a car in which he was a former race winner in GT Asia.
Ultimately Adderly Fong was the pace setter in Q1 stopping the clocks with a best of 2:03.896, just 15 one hundredths faster than Kantadhee Kusiri in the Bentley, with Franky Cheng and Van Dam also within half a second of the pole-man. Young Australian Aidan Read did a sterling job to grab the inside of the third row in the Vattana Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3 alongside local star and reigning Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia champion Afiq Yazid in an all-new Super Trofeo EVO.
In the hotly contested GTC category a pair of Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8s qualified on top, with local star Alif Hamdan not far afield in the B-Quik Porsche Cup Car, whilst 2017 TCR Asia Series runner-up Tin Sritrai too was in the mix.
Just ten minutes after the opening qualifier, cars were back on track for the second session with the second driver behind the wheel to set the grid for Sunday’s second round.
Very quickly Porsche’s Tanart Sathienthirakul was on top in the est Cola PTT Racing Porsche 997 GT3 R, the experienced Thai driver setting a best of 2:04.581 in his third lap to grab the pole.
Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak had taken over the reigns of the #18 Bentley and the experienced GT3 racer was quickly up to speed, taking the British-built machine to the second fastest time ahead of the impressive Bhurit Bhirombhakdi, whilst Afiq Yazid’s team-mate Sarun went one row better than his team-mate to put the menacing black Super Trofeo EVO onto the second row of the grid.
The twin Toyota 86 V8s again claimed the honours in GTC with Hamdan again hot on their heels, whilst the Unixx-TR Motorsport Porsche got the jump on the Singha Motorsport Ferrari for fourth.
Set for Saturday afternoon, the opening round of the 2018 GT Asia Series season was shaping up to be a battle royale between the Absolute Racing Audis and the est Cola Bentley, and the promise of a great fight between the two marques was duly delivered.
Off the rolling start Fong grabbed the wrong gear as he got to the line whilst Kantadhee Kusiri seemingly fell into line with the Audi, before himself getting up to speed. What that did was to allow the second row starters - Franky Cheng and Carlo Van Dam - to split their rivals, with Van Dam making the best of it to lead the Bentley into turn one.
Afiq Yazid too stormed off the line to be third as they hit the apex, but Fong was able to cover on the apex as Sathienthirakul moved onto the tail of the Lamborghini.
Sadly for Alif Hamdan an issue ahead of the start of the race saw him start from pit lane, although he was very quickly onto the tail of the field, his move forward made easier by Nattapong in the #38 Toyota 86 V8 who ran off the circuit in a battle for position mid-pack, becoming bogged in the gravel trap.
That saw a Safety Car intervention with Van Dam leading from Kantadhee Kusiri, Fong, Yazid, Sathienthirakul, Cheng and Kantasak Kusiri. Whilst the cars circulated behind the Safety Car for a couple of laps, former GT Asia front runner Jono Lester hit pit lane in the #159 Vattana Motorsport Lamborghini suffering from a lack of power ultimately attributed to a cooling issue which forced the team to retire the car.
On the restart Van Dam charged away again, but couldn’t shake a driver he’d spent much time working with as part of his role in developing young Thai driving talent - Kantadhee Kusiri. Likewise Kusiri was unable to shake Adderly Fong, although positions ultimately remained unchanged to the compulsory pit stop where the Bentley was one of the first down pit lane, AAS Motorsport hoping that an early change to the experienced Vutthikorn would help them leap the Ferrari.
Sadly for Sathienthirakul, a strong opening leg which saw him comfortably in the top five, ended with a visit to the team garage during his compulsory stop suffering from a technical issue the team quickly rectified, but the Thai driver turned just one more lap then retired the car ahead of Sunday’s second race for which he’d qualified pole.
With Vutthirkorn out and circulating in clear air, Van Dam and Fong hit pit lane together, with Franky Cheng, Afiq Yazid and Aidan Read close behind. First out was Jingzu in the all blue Audi with Voravud Bhirombhakdi close behind, but as they hit the brake marker for turn one, the mighty Bentley had ranged up alongside Bhirombhakdi, taking the position on the run through the tight turns one-two complex, before moving through on the Chinese driver at turn four.
Voravud initially tried to follow Vutthikorn through, but Jingzu was able to hold him out and eventually pull away as the next threat became Bhurit Bhirombhakdi who was on a charge in the #59 Singha Plan-B Audi, the Thai driver setting the fastest lap of the race in the process (2:06.444).
A bold move at turn eight saw a clash between the Bhirombhakdi’s, Voravud taking the safe road by running wide on the exit to allow the charging Bhurit through to third, six seconds back from Jingzu with 15-minutes to go.
All eyes were on the #59 Audi, and Bhurit didn’t disappoint, catching Jingzu within a couple of laps, to make a clean move down at turn nine, but with just a couple of minutes to go, he came off the circuit looking to close down race leader Vutthikorn, allowing Jingzu back to second, the Chinese driver protecting his position all the way to the flag.
Up front though, Vutthikorn crossed the line 17-seconds clear in the end, with Jingzu Sun second just clear of Bhurit Bhirombhakdi, with Voravud Bhirombhakdi across the line fourth. Sarun in the #155 Super Trofeo EVO carried on Afiq Yazid’s strong early pace to claim fifth ahead of Vincent Floirendo who improved with every lap in his first race back in 12-months.
Chonsowat brought the striking orange Vattana Motorsport McLaren home seventh clear of Akihiro Asai in the Vattana Gallardo FL2, then Henk Kiks in the B-Quik Audi R8 ultra with Racing Spirit PSC Motorsport’s Saravut rounding out the top ten in the first generation Huracan Super Trofeo.
Phongthep was eleventh in the second Vattana Gallardo, ahead of the first of the GTC entries with Denmark’s Thomas Raldorf behind the wheel of the Unixx - TR Motorsport Porsche, narrowly pipping Arrows Racing’s Sam Cheng, with Nattavude in the sole surviving Toyota 86 V8 claiming third in the category.
Sadly for Alif Hamdan, a brilliant drive through the field to comfortably lead the GTC field came to a sudden end on lap 18, the B-Quik Porsche suffering a driveline failure whilst on track for maximum points for the round.
Pole sitter Sathienthirakul wasn’t showing any signs of what had troubled the est Cola PTT team on Saturday as he stormed away from the line to lead Vutthikorn into turn one. Behind them Bhurit Bhirombhakdi initially looked to split the two leaders, but ultimately had to go on the defensive into turn two to keep Sarun’s Super Trofeo EVO at bay.
Very quickly the field settled into a comfortable rhythm with Voravud Bhirombhakdi fifth ahead of Akihiro Asai in the Vattana Gallardo, Jono Lester in the second of the Super Trofeo EVOs, Vincent Floirendo in the EN Sport by Absolute Audi and team-mate Jingzu Sun in the #13 Audi.
They made it to lap four second time around, but again the Safety Car was called for the #38 Toyota Team Thailand entry, this time Supong who rolled to a stop on the circuit, forcing the recovery crew out to retrieve the red and white Toyota 86 V8.
Sadly what that did was extinguish Sathienthirakul’s lead which had stretched north of six seconds, forcing the young Thai to do it all over again on the restart, something he desperately needed to do with a lengthy 135-second compulsory pit stop time, in contrast to the Bentley’s 117-second stop and the #155 Lamborghini and #59 Audi’s 113-second compensation times.
Tanart charged off the restart with Vutthikorn comfortably second ahead of Sarun who had gotten through on Bhurit Bhirombhakdi ahead of the Safety Car intervention, whilst Voravud Bhirombhakdi continued to hold on to fifth ahead of Lester, Asai, Floirendo and Sun.
As soon as the pit window opened, a sea of cars made their way into their bays led by Vutthikorn, Bhurit Bhirombhakdi, Voravud Bhironbhakdi, Floirendo and Sun.
By closing in on Vutthikorn on the run down the pit lane entry, Bhurit Bhirombhakdi had given team-mate Kantasak Kusiri the narrowest of advantages after the compulsory stop, the Absolute Racing team affecting the driver change perfectly to send the Audi out ahead of the Bentley, with Kantadhee Kusiri’s mirrors full of Adderly Fong’s EN Sport by Absolute Audi.
Franky Cheng was next out ahead of Carlo Van Dam, but as the freight-train of cars left pit lane, Tanart Sathienthirakul put a lap on many of his rivals, diving into turn one ahead of all but Kantasak Kusiri, keen to open out a greater advantage to make up for his lengthy pit stop which was just ahead.
With the final moments of the pit stop window ticking down, the est Cola PTT Porsche was down pit lane, the team forced to refuel the car to ensure they could complete the 60-minute journey, a situation which saw the front of the pristine 997 GT3-R catch fire as fumes or overflow appeared to hit hot brakes. Undeterred the team carried on with the refueler safely in his fireproof suit, whilst a nearby crew member carried a fire extinguisher in case things got out of hand.
Unfortunately the situation saw an added delay in Sathienthirakul emerging from pit lane, ultimately dropping him to the tail end of the top ten before mounting a recovery to claim sixth at the flag.
Up front though Kantasak Kusiri was mindful his brother was now second in the Bentley, but he held a four second lead with 20-minutes to go, his main focus hunting down race leader Pitsanu in the Vattana Gallardo, and second-placed Daniel Bilski in the B-Quik Audi R8 ultra.
With a speed advantage of almost four seconds a lap, it didn’t take long for the Singha Plan-B Audi to make its way into the lead, the talented young Thai ultimately handing he and team-mate Bhurit Bhirombhakdi their first big win of the year and another GT Asia Series victory (their last coming in 2016 in the GTC category).
Kantadhee Kusiri did everything in his power to close down his brother’s lead but ultimately fell six seconds short, whilst Adderly Fong was able to take third after watching the rear end of a car he had driven for so many seasons with Absolute Racing - the mighty Bentley Continental - for half the race!
Franky Cheng was classified fourth, the Chinese star unable to do anything about Fong ahead of him, but able to claim a solid result on the back of second in round one, after the late race demise of Carlo Van Dam, the Dutchman forced to pit the #89 Singha Motorsport Team Thailand 458 Italia after an electrical failure.
Afiq Yazid brought the first of the Super Trofeo EVO’s home for another strong result for the Racing Spirit PSC team, ahead of the recovering Sathienthirakul and Vattana Motorsport’s Pitsanu in the first of the Gallardos. Despite at one stage holding on to an outright podium position, the B-Quik team of Daniel Bilski and Henk Kiks were classified eighth ahead of Jono Lester who was still struggling for power, and Jack Lemvard in the second of the Vattana Gallardos.
Saravut brought the flame-throwing #77 Racing Spirit PSC Motorsport Super Trofeo home in position 11, ahead of the #39 Toyota Team Thailand entry who claimed top honours in GTC ahead of Alif Hamdan who was again denied the win after an error during the compulsory pit stop saw the local hero leave pit lane a fraction ahead of his scheduled time, forcing him back down pit lane for a drive through penalty.
Tin Sritrai was classified third in GTC in the #23 Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari ahead of Steven Chian in the Arrows Racing Porsche.
The GT Asia Series now turns its attention to Thailand, with the second event of the 2018 program at Chang International Circuit in Thailand on June 1-3.
Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
2018 GT Asia Series - 31 March, 2018
1. 55. Adderly Fong (EN Sport by Absolute Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:03.896
2. 18. Kantadhee Kurisi (est Cola PTT Racing Bentley Continental GT3) - 2:04.046
3. 13. Franky Cheng (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:04.253
4. 89. Carlo Van Dam (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 2:04.374
5. 28. Aidan Read (Vattana Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3) - 2:04.729
6. 155. Afiq Yazid (Racing Spirit PSC Huracan Super Trofeo EVO) - 2:04.741
7. 59. Kantasak Kusiri (Singha Plan-B by Absolute Audi R8 GT3) - 2:04.770
8. 15. Tanart Sathienthirakul (est Cola PTT Racing Porsche 997 GT3-R) - 2:04.882
9. 88. Jack Lemvard (Vattana Motorsport Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3) - 2:06.162
10. 159. Jono Lester (Vattana Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo EVO) - 2:07.138
11. 90. Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem (Vattana Motorsport Gallardo FL2 GT3) - 2:07.296
12. 27. Daniel Bilski (B-Quik Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra) - 2:08.439
13. 77. Saravut Sereethoranakul (Racing Spirit PSC Huracan Super Trofeo) - 2:08.514
14. 38. Nattapong Hortongkum (Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8)# - 2:09.225
15. 39. Charoensukhawatana (Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8)# - 2:09.379
16. 72. Alif Hamden (B-Quik Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)# - 2:10.110
17. 23. Tin Sritrai (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia Challenge)# - 2:10.487
18. 29. Thomas Raldorf (Unixx-TR Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 Cup)# - 2:11.879
19. 7. Steven Chian (Arrows Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup)# - 2:16.487
1. 15. Tanart Sathienthirakul (est Cola PTT Racing Porsche 997 GT3-R) - 2:04.581
2. 18. Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak (est Cola PTT Racing Bentley Continental GT3) - 2:05.387
3. 59. Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (Singha Plan-B by Absolute Audi R8 GT3) - 2:05.433
4. 155. Sarun Sereethoranakul (Racing Spirit PSC Huracan Super Trofeo EVO) - 2:05.896
5. 89. Voravud Bhirombhakdi (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 2:05.902
6. 90. Akihiro Asai (Vattana Motorsport Gallardo FL2 GT3) - 2:06.146
7. 13. Sun Jingzu (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:06.219
8. 159. Jono Lester (Vattana Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo EVO) - 2:06.612
9. 28. Chonsawat Asavahame (Vattana Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3) - 2:07.405
10. 55. Vincent Floirendo (EN Sport by Absolute Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:08.131
11. 77. Saravut Sereethoranakul (Racing Spirit PSC Huracan Super Trofeo) - 2:09.359
12. 38. Supong Khamtonwong (Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8)# - 2:09.406
13. 27. Henk Kiks (B-Quik Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra) - 2:09.474
14. 39. Kawamura Naoki (Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8)# - 2:09.757
15. 72. Alif Hamden (B-Quik Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)# - 2:11.005
16. 29. Shaun Varney (Unixx-TR Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 Cup)# - 2:11.525
17. 23. Thanavud Bhirombhakdi (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia Challenge)# - 2:13.459
18. 7. Sam Cheng (Arrows Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup)# - 2:14.115
19. 88. Wachirarungruang (Vattana Motorsport Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3) - 2:16.736
Round#1 (60-minutes - CPS)
1. 18. Kusiri/Inthrapuvasak (est Cola PTT Racing Bentley Continental GT3) - 26-laps
2. 13. Cheng/Jingzu (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3) +17.136
3. 59. Kusiri/Bhirombhakdi (Singha Plan-B by Absolute Audi R8 GT3) +18.087
4. 89. Van Dam/Bhirombhakdi (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) +24.523
5. 155. Yazid/Sarun (Racing Spirit PSC Huracan Super Trofeo EVO) +36.264
6. 55. Fong/Floirendo (EN Sport by Absolute Audi R8 LMS GT3) +43.975
7. 28. Read/Asavahame (Vattana Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3) +45.653
8. 90. Pitsanu/Akihiro (Vattana Motorsport Gallardo FL2 GT3) +1:15.415
9. 27. Bilski/Kiks (B-Quik Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra) +1:16.213
10. 77. Saravut Sereethoranakul (Racing Spirit PSC Huracan Super Trofeo) +1:59.903
11. 88. Lemvard/Wachirarungruang (Vattana Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3) - 25-laps
12. 29. Raldorf/Varney (Unixx-TR Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 Cup)#
13. 7. Chian/Cheng (Arrows Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup)#
14. 39. Charoensukhawatana/Naoki (Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8)# - 24-laps
DNF. 72. Alif Hamden (B-Quik Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)# - 18-laps
DNF. 23. Sritrai/Bhirombhakdi (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia Challenge)# - 16-laps
DNF. 15. Tanart Sathienthirakul (est Cola PTT Racing Porsche 997 GT3-R) - 13-laps
DNF. 159. Jono Lester (Vattana Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo EVO) - 2-laps
DNF. 38. Nattapong/Supong (Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8)# - 0-laps
2018 GT Asia Series - 1 April, 2018
Round#2 (60-minutes - CPS)
1. 59. Bhirombhakdi/Kusiri (Singha Plan-B by Absolute Audi R8 GT3) - 26-laps
2. 18. Inthrapuvasak/Kusiri (est Cola PTT Racing Bentley Continental GT3) +5.897
3. 55. Floirendo/Fong (EN Sport by Absolute Audi R8 LMS GT3) +7.690
4. 13. Jingzu/Cheng (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3) +9.414
5. 155. Sarun/Yazid (Racing Spirit PSC Huracan Super Trofeo EVO) +23.902
6. 15. Tanart Sathienthirakul (est Cola PTT Racing Porsche 997 GT3-R) +34.082
7. 90. Akihiro/Pitsanu (Vattana Motorsport Gallardo FL2 GT3) +37.531
8. 27. Kiks/Bilski (B-Quik Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra) +38.248
9. 159. Jono Lester (Vattana Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo EVO) +1:16.405
10. 88. Wachirarungruang/Lemvard (Vattana Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3) +1:16.766
11. 77. Saravut Sereethoranakul (Racing Spirit PSC Huracan Super Trofeo) +1:55.607
12. 39. Naoki/Charoensukhawatana (Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8)# - 25-laps
13. 29. Varney/Raldorf (Unixx-TR Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 Cup)#
14. 72. Alif Hamden (B-Quik Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup)#
15. 23. Bhirombhakdi/Sritrai (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia Challenge)#
16. 7. Cheng/Chian (Arrows Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup)#
DNF. 89. Bhirombhakdi/Van Dam (Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 18-laps
DNF. 38. Nattapong/Supong (Toyota Team Thailand Toyota 86 V8)# - 4-laps
DNS. 28. Read/Asavahame (Vattana Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3)
GT Asia Series Championship points (after two rounds of ten)
1. Kantadhee Kusiri/Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak (34-points), 3. Kantasak Kusiri/Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (32), 5. Sun Jingzu/Franky Cheng (26), 7. Vincent Floirendo/Adderly Fong (22), 9. Sarun Sereethoranakul/Afiq Yazid (18), 11. Sirimongkolkasem/Akihiro Asai (13), 13. Kenk Kiks/Daniel Bilsk (11), 15. Voravud Bhirombhakdi/Carlo Van Dam (10), 17. Tanart Sathienthirakul (8), 18. Aidan Read/Chonsawat Asavahame (7), 20. Saravut Sereethoranakul (6), 20. Wachirarungruang/Jack Lemvard (6), 23. Jono Lester (5), 24. Shaun Varney/Thomas Raldorf (1), 24. Charoensukhawatana/Kawamura Naoki (1)
GT Cup Championship points (after two rounds of ten)
1. Shaun Varney/Thomas Raldorf (34-points), 3. Nattavude Charoensukhawatana/Kawamura Naoki (32), 5. Steven Chian/Sam Cheng (25), 7. Alif Hamden (14), 8. Thanavud Bhirombhakdi/Tin Sritrai (10), 10. Nattapong Hortongkum/Supong Khamtonwong (0)
GT Asia Series Teams Championship points (after two rounds of ten)
1. est Cola by AAS Motorsport (34-points), 2. Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing (32), 3. Absolute Racing (26), 4. Vattana Motorsport (25), 5. Racing Spirit PSC Motorsport (24), 6. EN Sport by Absolute Racing (22), 7. B-Quik Racing Team (11), 8. Singha Motorsport Team Thailand (10), 9. Est Cola PTT Racing team (8), 10. Vattana Motorsport 2 (6), 11. Unixx-TR Motorsport/Toyota Team Thailand (1), 12. Arrows Racing (0)
GT Cup Series Teams Championship points (after two rounds of ten)
1. Unixx-TR Motorsport (34-points), 2. Toyota Team Thailand (32), 3. Arrows Racing (25), 4. B-Quik Racing Team (14), 5. Singha Motorsport Team Thailand (10)