After a drama-filled opening race on the GT Asia Series’ debut at the impressive Buriram United International Circuit in Thailand, the scene was set for an epic battle for the 2015 title, with the two title combatants lined up side-by-side for the final race of the season, matched on points.
The big discussion point ahead of the final 60-minute race of the year, was what would happen at turn one, with many drivers up and down pit lane suggesting that would be key to the result.
Ultimately, that theory proved correct, and whilst turn one was trouble free, it laid the foundations for Englishman Daniel Lloyd to hand Craft-Bamboo team-mate Darryl O’Young an opportunity he was not soon going to relinquish, the Hong Kong driver going on to claim his fourth victory of the year, and with it, the coveted 2015 GT Asia Series title.
The big question on everyone’s mind going into such an important race, was what would happen at the fast opening right hander off the start. Would there be contact as the title rivals fought over the racing line into turn one, would the two Bentley’s starting first and third be able to lock out the Craft-Bamboo Aston, or would the Aston be able to out-drag the Bentley on the run into the opening corner..
The tension in pit lane was high as the field came to the lights for the rolling start, however the Race Director ultimately elected to send them around one more time after some of the lesser experienced GTM teams dropped back coming out of the final turn.
That forced the teams and the huge local crowd to wait one more agonising lap before the green lights were ultimately displayed, and the final race of the season was underway.
Adderly Fong had proven just as capable a starter as Daniel Lloyd across the 2015 season, but a misjudged start after he anticipated the green before it was displayed, meant that he was off the throttle as the lights changed. That was all the momentum that Daniel Lloyd needed, the Craft-Bamboo driver just managing to power ahead in the big V12 Aston to turn across the front of Fong’s Bentley as they hit the apex at turn one.
Benny Simonsen followed his team-mate through to make it a Bentley 2-3, whilst behind them the pack made it through turn one without any drama.. that happened at turn three!
Lloyd and the two Bentleys made their way through turn three cleanly followed by Anthony Liu and Hiroshi Hamaguchi, whilst behind them, Piti Bhirom Bhakdi made a big dive up the inside of Frank Yu for sixth place, spinning the Interush Aston into the path of the chasing field.
Yu was able to continued, whilst sadly for Piti, he was hit by his brother Bhurit who had taken the GTM class victory the day prior, putting both Singha Motorsport cars out of action almost immediately. Bhurit was able to continue on, although the radiator on the left front was damaged beyond repair forcing him into retirement not long after, whilst behind him, Piti was unable to restart, ultimately forcing the introduction of a Safety Car period.
The action continued on the exit of turn four though, with new Vattana Motorsport GT3 recruit Narasak Ittiritpong spinning at high speed on the exit of the corner. Fortunately the Lamborghini driver didn’t hit anything, and was able to continue despite having dropped from fifth to seventh.
Almost ten minutes was lost whilst the recovery team removed Piti’s TP12 Racing Ferrari from the apex at turn three before the battle for the title once more got underway.
Fong initially stuck with his rival, before slowly fading back into the clutches of Simonsen, the Hong Kong driver unable to do anything about Lloyd’s expanding lead, the Englishman pitting with an advantage of almost eight seconds by the time the compulsory pit stops had arrived.
From there the battle was down to O’Young and Sawa, a battle which in the past had often worked in the Japanese driver’s favour, but not this time. Lloyd had been quick during his early stint, but with warm tyres and a lighter fuel load, O’Young was one of the fastest drivers on circuit, setting a blistering 1:33.631 on his way to a victory of more than seven seconds.
Behind him Davide Rizzo had inherited second after a strong opening stint by team-mate Anthony Liu, the Ferrari driver working harder than he had done all season to keep the faster Bentleys of Sawa and Tappy at bay.
In the end, Sawa was unable to improve by more than about a tenth of a second a lap on the leader, so ultimately unable to attack Liu, much less O’Young. With a handful of laps to go, the Absolute Team released Tappy from his position locked in behind Sawa to go after Liu, but in the end the Englishman had lost the best of the pace from his tyres, so he elected to stay behind the #8 car and cross the line in fourth.
“It was a frustrating race for me really, my pace - as it has been all weekend - was really strong,” Tappy reflected. “I qualified pole, won the first race, it was amazing and it was brilliant, and we carried that pace into race two, but we had to play a bit of a team game and sit behind Sawa, but ultimately towards the end of the race the team gave me the all clear to go past, but by then it was too late in the day. So ultimately we decided to just stay behind and gain some more valuable points for Absolute Racing.”
Over the closing laps Alvaro Parente had closed in on the battle for second, but was unable to do anything about the straight line speed of the twin-turbo 4.0-litre Bentleys in a straight line, so was forced to settle for fifth for the FFF Racing Team by ACM operation.
“Second position wasn’t too bad for the first day, fifth today wasn’t what we wanted, but at the same time we had nine seconds of handicap [during the CPS] in the pit lane,” Parente lamented. “Hiroshi came in for his stop in fifth position, and I managed to get in between the Bentleys and that was frustrating because every time we’d get to the straights, they’d pull away by two or three car lengths, then I’d get to the corners and be right on them again.”
Sixth was Tomas Enge who regained his mantel as fastest man on the Buriram circuit, the Czech driver setting the fastest lap of the race as he closed in on the leaders, dropping the best to a 1:33.038 early in his stint, to take almost half a second of Fong’s opening race lap record.
Max Wiser crossed the line seventh in what will be the final appearance for the NB Team/Spirit of Race driver for at least the next 12-months, whilst Alex Imperatori made it three Bentley’s inside the top ten.
Ninth was Richard Lyons who put in a blinding second stanza of the race to recover the Interush team from Yu’s opening lap spin, the Aston Martin driver battling hard over the closing laps with Clearwater Racing team-mates Matt Griffin and Hiroki Katoh.
After failing to finish late in the opening race despite holding a comfortable lead, Voravud Bhirom Bhakdi upheld family honour to claim a comfortable GTM class victory alongside Kantasak Kusiri, whilst Hisashi Kunie and Dylan Derdaele claimed second and with it the 2015 GTM Class Teams Championships Trophy for the Gulf Racing JP operation in their maiden year in the sport.
Sadly for podium place-getters and former GTM class race winners James Cai and Kenneth Lim their weekend ended in the gravel trap mid-race after an error, a fate which also claimed the local A Motorsport Porsche of Aekarat Discharoen and Pinet Piyaoui. Both were extracted, the Ferrari team forced to retire, whilst the Porsche continued on before losing a wheel late in the race, fortunately without impacting the end result.
So that’s it for season 2015, an incredible year which saw six races across five countries, seven different winning teams in four different marques and a championship that came all the way down to the wire!
What the drivers said..
Darryl O’Young - 1st, #99 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3
“This is a shared championship. Really Jonathan Venter should be here with Daniel and I because we all won this together, it’s a strange feeling just taking the title on my own. Jono did a brilliant job at the start of the year and Daniel took over after being thrown in at the middle of the year and both drove brilliantly to help contribute to this result.
“It’s a great result too for Craft-Bamboo Racing, especially after the qualifying incident. The team just never gave up and had the car on track for Daniel to get in a couple of laps, and that was really critical to the championship.
“I think experience helped today too. It just allowed me to put my nerves away, work on data with Daniel, and we just all concentrated on trying to find as much speed as we could. We also made some adjustments based on yesterday’s race and that transformed the handling of the car and allowed us to really do the job today.”
Daniel Lloyd - 1st, #99 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3
“It was a tricky start, when I went out on the out lap there was a huge vibration, and when I got to the grid the team found that one of the wheels was bent, so unfortunately we had to put a cold tyre on, so I had to work the tyres extra hard on the lap behind the Safety Car.
“The goal was to get the jump on the Bentley into turn one, because we’d seen how quick they were all weekend, and it worked really well, I think that was a key part of the race. From then on it was just about being consistent and open up a gap before I handed across to Darryl.
“There were two things I needed to do before the end of the season, the first thing was to help Darryl win the championship, the next thing was to show my ability to try and find a ride for next year.”
Anthony Liu - 2nd, #37 BBT Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3
“My race was pretty frustrating, I was screaming on the radio every single lap, teams not respecting track limits and gaining an advantage every lap. Once or twice is okay, but three times in a lap, and two times in a row.. I didn’t feel that was fair. Anyway, second is better than nothing.”
Davide Rizzo - 2nd, #37 BBT Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3
“When you can see the Bentley’s coming at you out of every corner, you can start to feel the pressure, but we continued to push and I was able to hold them out and hang on to second.”
Keita Sawa - 3rd, #8 Absolute Racing Bentley Continental GT3
“It was not the result we were looking for, but we did our best, just as we had done all season. It was fantastic to be a part of two wins for Bentley in Japan this year, but sadly for us, we fell just a few points short in the championship.”
Adderly Fong - 3rd, #8 Absolute Racing Bentley Continental GT3
“I was told before the start of the race at which point the Race Director would start the race, but it didn’t start then, so I’d anticipated and gotten onto the gas, but the lights weren’t green, so I backed off, and at the same time they went green and Daniel got the jump on me, from there it was pretty much all over.
“I was very surprised with the Aston’s pace in the final to be honest. Once Daniel got past me, I thought I’d lock in behind him and see where I’d be able to get back past, but I tried everything and was powerless to do anything about it.”
Frank Yu - Craft-Bamboo Racing
“I’m really, really happy, the team have done an amazing job this season. My car didn’t have much luck, but the 99 did very well. It was really nail biting coming to the last race of the season on the front row but they did it and pulled it off and had a pretty big margin when they crossed the finish line.
“I had a pretty good start, I think I overtook one or two cars at turn one because they all went wide, but coming down to the braking zone for the hairpin at turn three, I felt a tap again, and then I got spun around and then there was carnage because everyone was diving into what is a pretty fast corner. Fortunately I kept going but I was dead last, so I managed to take three or four cars before the stop and handed over to Richard in P10.
“This year has seen us suffer a lot of bad luck, but it’s not just about me. As a team owner, it’s about my team and they had done well, so that’s more satisfying than anything else.”
Jerry Wang - #23 Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GTM
“I just wished I could have done better during the race. The pace was good in qualifying, but with race pace - there’s still room for improvement. Race one was tough because we had brake issues from the beginning and by the pit stop basically the rear brakes were gone, so I did the second stint on only front brakes. It didn’t improve, so over the closing laps I was pretty much reliant on engine braking - I felt like I was driving a golf cart on the race track with these guys.. My mission though was to finish the race, secure the points and the championship, luckily I was able to that.”