The opening day of action at Macau for the FIA GT World Cup may have been relatively trouble free, but qualifying for the 22-strong GT field more than made up for that, with three high profile casualties, including reigning champions Mercedes-Benz, and GT Asia Series regulars FFF Racing, who lost local hero Andre Couto in a monster crash at the fastest part of the circuit.
Ultimately it was reigning GT Asia Series champions Craft-Bamboo Racing who claimed the top spot in both practice two, and qualifying, with Germany’s Stefan Mucke putting the #97 Aston Martin Vantage on the top spot in the dying seconds of a qualifying period that saw three safety car interventions.
Fortunately none of the incidents saw injury to the drivers, but forced the retirement of the #5 FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren of Couto late in the session, after a big hit on the exit of Mandarin Bend, the fastest part of the circuit.
By that stage the qualifying session had been red-flagged twice, both times for the reigning champions, with the #1 car of Maro Engel the first casualty at Mandarin, a spin at around 250kph ending in the barriers, although fortunately without the significant damage that Couto would suffer late in the session.
At that point Engel was fastest ahead of team-mate Renger van der Zande, who at that time was second, but on a flyer when he just clipped the barriers on the run up to the top of the hill, with predictable consequences for the #2 SLS.
“I was pushing, it was qualifying so I was going after it. It was a good lap too, but I just clipped the barrier and it threw me across the track,” van der Zande explained post-session. “It was a reasonable hit which you never want at Macau, but it is repairable.”
Engel’s situation was similar, forcing the the Mercedes-Benz mechanics to work well into the night to ensure the #1 and #2 AMG Driving Academy SLS GT3s would be on the grid for Saturday’s important qualifying race.
With the two SLS AMGs off the circuit, attention turned to five-time Macau winner Edoardo Mortara in the new Audi R8 LMS GT3 which will debut in GT Asia in season 2016.
‘Mr Macau’ and his factory team-mate Rene Rast were quick, with Macau rookie Rast applying plenty of pressure to his high-profile team-mate, but in the end it was Mortara who displaced Engel at the top of the timetables, before Mucke once more put Aston Martin back on top, with a stunning lap of 2:18.032 - a new qualifying lap record - in the final moments of the session.
“I am incredibly happy, big thanks to Craft-Bamboo Racing,” Mucke said afterwards. “I am a little surprised by the result as it is only my second time in Macau and I am still learning the track. The car was just fantastic today and a mega result for us. I expect a tough race tomorrow but starting from pole is nice as I can be a little more relaxed for tomorrow’s race, but we need to remember that Sunday is the important day and we need to finish tomorrow without any damage.”
Mucke’s comments were echoed up and down pit lane, with the new Macau GT format adding a second challenge for the GT Asia Series regulars who are more accustomed to the single 12-lap feature race on Sunday, 2015 presenting them now with a 12-lap ‘qualifying’ race on Saturday to set the grid for Sunday’s 18-lap feature race, the SJM Macau GT Cup.
Despite being unable to complete the session and regain their status as pace-setters, the two AMG SLS GT3s were able to qualifying third and fifth, with Engel starting right behind Mucke, the result actually better than their 2014 qualifying results, which were fourth and sixth, with the Mercedes pair charging through to be 1-2 before turn one off the start.
This year there is no question that their rivals will be aware of their starting pace, and move to counter, which will make for an interesting battle down to Lisboa at turn three, then onto turn four which claimed a large number of victims off the start in 2013.
For the GT Asia Series teams, Macau is somewhere they enjoy experience, something invaluable on the tight and demanding 6.1-kilometre, 22-turn Guia Circuit, a factor which played into the pace of newly crowned champion Darryl O’Young who qualified sixth, and team-mate Richard Lyons who was seventh.
“The session was a bit disruptive, at the end I was able to pull a lap together but I knew I could have gone quicker,” O’Young admitted. “We didn’t get the maximum today but we are happy for the team to be on pole. We want to try and move up tomorrow but we have to be careful to finish without incident. Macau is always tricky for this but we will try our best.”
Lyons concurred.. “I knew we were going to have a fast car, I was confident that we were going to do something but really my target was to break into the top ten given my lack of experience at the circuit. The red flags made it really difficult but on the final run I gave it everything and scored P7. I think this was a really good job and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s race.”
Adderly Fong was ninth after setting a stunning pace to be third in practice two, and split the two Mercedes drivers, but like title rival O’Young, traffic thwarted his run in qualifying.
“We had a quick car, but I couldn’t catch a break on my qualifying runs,” Fong explained. “Each time I was on a hot lap, the red flag came out - just unlucky - but ‘Isabelle’ is running brilliantly, not only does she look good, but the balance is great and we’re quick, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s qualifying race.”
Like his team-mate, two-time Macau GT champion Keita Sawa was lamenting traffic and red flags, whilst the FFF Racing team were lamenting the loss of Couto, despite having claimed positions eight and nine for Parente and his McLaren GT factory team-mate Kevin Estre.
“The main thing is that Andre is okay,” FFF Racing’s high-profile team principal Andrea Caldarelli confirmed. “He just hit a bump on the run into Mandarin on what was going to be his quick lap, and it threw him into a spin. He almost caught it, but it spun the car into the barriers. That’s one of the inherent challenges at Macau, balancing being fast with being able to stay off the barriers, and fortunately both Alvaro and Kevin were able to do that, but with Alvaro returning for the first time since 2004, and Kevin making his debut here, they’re both showing plenty of caution, but I’d expect to see them move forward during the opening race.”
Dylan Derdaele led the remainder of the GT Asia Series regulars, the GTM Class Team’s Champions recording the 17th fastest time, just ahead of Absolute Racing’s Jeffrey Lee who was making his return to the Audi fold in the new LMS GT3 after a season behind the wheel of the Bentley Continental.
“I’m enjoying being back behind the wheel of the Audi, although not so much that my first drive is in Macau,” the experienced Taiwanese campaigner laughed. “It’s certainly different to the old car, but an improvement on the GT3 ultra I ran in 2014, no question.” Three-time GT Asia Series champion Mok Weng Sun continued to improve on his return to Macau in a McLaren, the most successful driver in the history of the category battling with old foes Lee, Philip Ma, the returning Jacky Yeung and John Shen in his ‘new’ Porsche GT3-R, a car which claimed back-to-back Australian GT titles in 2012-2013.
For the teams, the weekend steps up another gear on Saturday with the all-important 12-lap qualifying race which begins at 12:15pm [CST], ahead of Sunday’s ‘main event’ the FIA GT World Cup at 12:55pm.
Details of live-streaming will be available on www.facebook.com/GTAsiaSeries
SJM Macau GT Cup - FIA GT World Cup - Practice#2 (20 November, 2015)
1. 97. Stefan Mucke (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)* - 2:20.082
2. 2. Renger van der Zande (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy SLS AMG GT3) - 2:20.103
3. 8. Adderly Fong (Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)* - 2:20.203
4. 1. Maro Engel (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy SLS AMG GT3) - 2:20.309
5. 19. Earl Bamber (LKM Racing Porsche GT3-R)* - 2:20.489
6. 55. Darryl O’Young (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)* - 2:20.637
7. 6. Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Pheonix Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:20.696
8. 25. Alvaro Parente (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)* - 2:21.245
9. 15. Kevin Estre (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)* - 2:21.392
10. 7. Rene Rast (Audi Sport Team Pheonix Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:21.445
11. 5. Andre Couto (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)* - 2:21.870
12. 30. Marchy Lee (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:22.108
13. 88. Keita Sawa (Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)* - 2:22.121
14. 10. Pasin Lathouras (AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 2:22.604
15. 99. Richard Lyons (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)* - 2:25.225
16. 9. Vuttihkorn Inthraphuvasak (Est Cola Racing Porsche GT3-R) - 2:25.749
18. 33. Jeffrey Lee (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3)* - 2:29.568
19. 3. Mok Weng Sun (Clearwater Racing McLaren 650S GT3)* - 2:31.201
20. 98. Philip Ma (Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra)* - 2:31.383
21. 77. Jacky Yeung (Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3)* - 2:37.885
22. 68. John Shen (Modena Motorsport Porsche GT3-R)* - 2:39.965
SJM Macau GT Cup - FIA GT World Cup - Qualifying (20 November, 2015)
1. 97. Stefan Mucke (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)* - 2:18.032 2. 6. Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Pheonix Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:18.144
3. 1. Maro Engel (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy SLS AMG GT3) - 2:18.168
4. 7. Rene Rast (Audi Sport Team Pheonix Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:18.315
5. 2. Renger van der Zande (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy SLS AMG GT3) - 2:18.746 6. 55. Darryl O’Young (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)* - 2:19.427
7. 99. Richard Lyons (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)* - 2:19.637
10. 25. Alvaro Parente (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)* - 2:20.048
11. 15. Kevin Estre (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)* - 2:20.255
12. 5. Andre Couto (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)* - 2:20.584