It was a race that had everyone at the edge of their seats when the battle for the win between two supercar powerhouse, the Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3 and the McLaren 12C GT3, clashed right before the end of GT Asia Series Round 4.
German driver Stefan Muecke and Japanese Hiroshi Hamaguchi caused quite a few hearts to stop beating with their multiple overtaking. In the end, the Aston claimed the win ahead of McLaren with Porsche taking third.
It all started with Frank Yu, who drove the first stint for Aston. He was in second on the grid beside pole sitter, Mok Weng Sun, who drove the first stint for McLaren. Right at the start, the two cars battled, driving side by side throughout the first few turns of the Opening Lap.
Mok managed to maintain his lead while Yu lost a spot to Li Zhi Cong in the Porsche 997 GT3R. Behind them Tunku Hammam Sulong in the Lamborghini LP560 GT3 was pressuring Taiwanese driver, Jeffrey Lee in the Audi R8 LMS Ultra for fourth and managed to get by on lap 2.
Philip Ma in the second Audi was having a consistent race in sixth.
At the same time, midway through the grid behind them and battling for the GTM lead, Michael Green took Naoryu on lap 1. Green in the Porsche 997 GT3 Cup held the lead until lap13 when Naoryu in the Ferrari 458 Challenge caught up and found a way past.
Meanwhile privateers Wayne Shen kept a steady pace ahead of Keith Vong and John Shen, all driving in the Porsche 997 Cup 3.8.
Hideki Onda in the third Audi suffered slightly at the start after missing first gear and subsequently dropping down to twelfth before starting to pick his way through the GTM pack. By lap 9 he was up to tenth leaving a trio of Porsche’s beginning with John Shen’s 997 Cup 3.8 to battle with Takeomi Mima’s 997 GT3 Cup, followed by Shim Ching in a 997 Cup 3.8 and Jacky Yeung in Tiger Racing’s Lamborghini Gallardo.
Up ahead, Li who has been looking for a way past Yu, found an opening on the third lap at the S bend to claim second. From there Li powered on and clocked the fastest time on lap four before pushing to catch up to Mok. They held their positions all the way to the pit-window when they both pitted at the same time.
There Mok handed over his car to teammate Hiroshi Hamaguchi but it was Yu who went to pit earlier handing driving duties to Stefan Muecke. From there as the grid settled back in order, Li took the lead as both the McLaren and Aston had longer pit-stops from the added Compensation Times given for their podium finish in the previous race.
At this point, Li had Hamaguchi a few seconds behind, with Marchy Lee, who took over from Jeffrey in the Audi, in third and Muecke fourth. But the German was determined to close the gap and immediately set fastest times at almost each lap.
Mucke found a way past Marchy for third and set his sights on Hamaguchi but the leading duo were caught in a battle of their own, changing positions a few times before Hamaguchi managed to outbrake Li at Turn one of lap 20 for the race lead.
Li could not continue to fight Hamaguchi as he had to concentrate on defending his position from Muecke but a backmarker made Muecke’s job easy as he found a way past Li on the hairpin towards the end of lap 20.
Muecke then started chasing down Hamaguchi and the pair made impressive overtaking manoeuvres on one another at the tight circuit, neither giving up, leaving everyone at the edge of their seats. On lap 22, Muecke took Hamaguchi at the hairpin to claim the lead. Immediately at the next lap on turn 6, Hamaguchi tried a move and they touched, as they veered toward the gravel, causing everyone to gasp. Both managed to rejoin the race, with Hamaguchi ahead.
The fight was not over as on the second last lap, Muecke once again used his favourite overtaking spot, at the tight hairpin to claim the lead, one that he held all the way to the chequered flag, much to the delight of everyone at the circuit.
“I did what was planned at the start” said Yu, “which was to be side by side with Weng, and we had a few ‘moments’ in the first couple of laps. Then Peter started catching us and the plan was to either be in front or stay behind the train with not more than a three second gap when I handed over to Stefan.
“Peter overtook me at the hairpin because the 30 extra kilos started weighing the car down and I had to pull back on the braking so that I can give a good car to Stefan.
“I did however make a little mistake at the pit-stop and overshot the pit a little bit so we lost a few seconds there, which made it tougher for him” ended Yu.
Muecke then continued, “It was interesting. I went back out behind the Audi in P4. I tried to push as hard to close the gap because that’s all that I can do. I managed to overtake the Audi quite quick then and saw the cars in front fighting with each other, so that was my time. It slowed them down a little bit and I was able to catch up.
“I really enjoyed the last laps, it was big fun in the car and Hamaguchi and I were often side by side. I took the lead and he took me back, there were some nice manoeuvres and a little bit of contact, which is normal in racing but it was a really good show for the spectators. At the end it was very good results for us and the team” ended Muecke.
Everyone was in high spirits at the post race interview. Mok and Hamaguchi were all smiles and excitedly chatting about the great on track fight. Mok said of his starting battle with Yu, “It was fun. Both of us got off really good on the rolling start, we were side by side into turn one, two and three until it started to tighten up. I was marginally in front and Frank gave me the line to go through. I thought I would just start puling away so I put my head down. But on the second lap on turn 2, I lost the car. I had a tank slapper and it was oversteering in both the left and right directions and I almost totally lost the car, which allowed Peter and Frank to close up the gap.
“Frank was once again side by side with me going into turn 5, which made for an interesting couple of laps. But once the tyres came up, I settled myself down a little bit. My strategy was to pull as big a gap as possible to Frank. He was driving really well, I couldn’t get more than three to four seconds on him by the time I handed over the car”.
Hamaguchi then took over driving duties from Mok. “We had a smooth pit-stop and changed tyres, the feeling of the car was pretty good. Thursday was my first time in this car and lap by lap I was feeling more confident, so by the time I raced today I had done a lot of laps and I had a great feeling of the car and me.
“My pace was good and I caught Peter quite smoothly and I knew Stefan was coming. I know who he is so I didn’t want to fight too much but I tried my best. I knew I could try something and I did but he is Stefan Muecke, so what can I do?” he laughed.
“I am really honoured to be able to battle with a great driver like him in this Series and I am glad to be back here” ended Hamaguchi.
Li maintained his third to the flag, ahead of a trio of Audis.
“My start was not so good because the new car is wider and bigger, making it harder for me to overtake and especially in a narrow circuit like this. I just kept my position and try to overtake Frank in the first lap but I couldn’t because this car does not have such good braking on the back straight into the corners. So I just backed off for a few laps. Then I think I overtook him on lap four for second and I tried to catch up to Mok.
“This weekend, the team tried to find the best set-up for the car since the first day I tested until today and I feel we are still trying to find the best set-up. Its getting better but its still not that good on the tyre pressure and its not perfect. But we hope that we will be able to do better in the next race and get the car faster, so its good” ended Li.
Marchy crossed the line in fourth for him and partner Jeffrey in the first Audi to cross the finish line. Franky Cheng Cong Fu finished the race fifth for himself and Ma, ahead of Alex Yoong who made up positions during his stint taking sixth for him and Onda. Meanwhile, Charlz finished the race in seventh for him and Hammam in the Lamborghini for Clearwater Racing.
In GTM Tohjiro Azuma, who took over from Naoryu took the flag for Age Age Racing. He maintained the team’s lead while Green and W.Shen battled behind him. Green was ahead of W.Shen until lap 17, W.Shen found a gap making a move on the New Zealander for second.
Speaking of the start of the race, Naoryu said, “at the start, I was overtaken by Mr Green. Although I think I could overtake the GT3 cars in front, I was searching for the best overtaking spot and then I had to follow Michael. I was more confident today after the great start Tohjiro did yesterday so I wanted to return the favour to my teammate.
“After I reclaimed the lead from Michael, I picked up the pace and tried to open a gap, until the driver change. I really want to thank the mechanics and the supporters. I will do my best in Fuji and try to get another double win”.
Azuma immediately thanked his teammate saying “Thanks, thanks, thanks to Naoryu. He gave me a good margin during the driver change so I was able to concentrate until the end. Wayne was very fast so I was a little bit concerned but I managed to keep the position right to the end of the race. I am very happy”.
“It feels good, it was a fun race for me” said W.Shen. “I had a pretty good start but due to the traffic ahead of myself and Michael, I think we were passed by a couple of cars. I knew it was quite important to pass by those cars as soon as possible so I pushed quite aggressively and I managed to do that.
“Towards the end of the race I saw Michael and I saw a chance so I started pushing. And when I was finally able to get quite close, at the hairpin I managed to outbrake him and made a pass. I am quite happy about that” ended W.Shen.
For Green, his first outing in the Series was an exciting one. “The race was another interesting one, I had a better start this time. I had the outside line on turn two today on the Ferrari and yesterday I had the inside. Yesterday he overtook me and today I was able to get in front of him, so that was what put me at the top of the GTM class in the first few laps.
“Today was a little bit closer in the GTM class at the front, so that was good, we were racing almost right to the end. My first endurance race, it was an experience managing the tyres in the longer distance”.
J.Shen finished the race in eleventh, fourth in GTM with Mima and Yeung completing the finishers.
Shim Ching’s race ended on lap 10 while Vong’s unlucky weekend continued with his race ending on the seventh lap.
Hitotsuyama Racing’s Audi R8 LMS, driven by the duo of Billy Fung and Asai Akihiro had a stroke of bad luck as their race ended before it could start with a clutch failure.
The GT Asia Series continues with Rounds 5 & 6 held at Fuji International Circuit from 12th to 14th July 2013.