Arriving at Macau for the inaugural FIA GT World Cup with one of the strongest driving combinations in the event, the FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren operation were looking forward to applying what they’d learnt during their maiden season of GT Asia. There was however a tinge of concern heading to the iconic Guia Circuit, concern about the lack of straight-line speed they might endure thanks to the Balance of Performance penalty issued by the FIA ahead of the event.
“We’re not sure how it’s going to play out here, but it could have an impact on our speed on the long main straight,” FFF Racing’s high profile team principal Andrea Caldarelli admitted. “The event has adopted the FIA BoP from Europe, where it has impacted the McLarens throughout the year, but unlike many of those circuits, you have limited overtaking opportunities here at Macau, the biggest of them at the end of the main straight!”
Despite the penalty, the weekend started strongly for former Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix winner Andre Couto, and factory McLaren team-mates Alvaro Parente and Kevin Estre, Frenchman Estre making his debut on the 6.12-kilometre Guia Circuit, whilst for Parente, opening practice was his first laps of the circuit in a GT car, and his first laps of the challenging street circuit in 11 years!
Not surprisingly it was newly crowned SuperGT champion Couto who topped the timesheets for the FFF team during opening practice, the local hero and 2000 F3 Grand Prix winner at various stages through the session inside the top three before settling for the seventh fastest time, with a conservative Parente and Estre not far behind, the Frenchman beaming from ear-to-ear after his maiden session.
“That was awesome,” he laughed. “Wow, what a circuit. Like Alvaro, I took it pretty easy whilst I got my head around the corners and just tried to get a feel for the circuit, but it’s genuinely one of the best circuits I’ve ever driven on.”
Unfortunately, despite their early pace, it was clear that the three McLaren 650S GT3s were going to suffer for straight line speed, early indications at the speed trap on the long run down to Lisboa [turn 3] corner suggesting the British built supercar was as much as 12kph down on its rivals, all three drivers admitting to frustration as their rivals drove away from them in a straight line.
By qualifying though Couto was determined to use his extensive local knowledge to break into the top ten, and he was setting a stunning pace before just clipping the kerb on the run into turn one, which threw him hard into the barriers on the exit, bringing out the first of three red flag periods.
Damage was significant, and at one point saw the team considering retiring the #5 car, but an exhaustive overnight effort by the full FFF crew saw the car take its place on the grid for Saturday’s opening qualifying race, much to the amazement of rivals and fans, many of whom stayed on to watch the team in action.
Despite the incident, Couto was still classified 12th, immediately behind his FFF Racing team-mates, with Parente tenth and Estre 11th, the trio of McLarens covered by just half a second.
The opening race – which would set the grid for Sunday’s all important GT World Cup – was relatively pedestrian, with little on-track action allowing Parente and Estre to move into ninth and tenth, whilst Couto also moved forward to be closing in on his tem-mates late in the race before a throttle failure left him stranded on the side of the circuit on the final lap, the Macanese driver ultimately classified 20th.
Lamenting a lack of straight-line speed, which made overtaking almost impossible, the three McLarens were keen to make a faultless start to the ‘main event’, an 18-lap sprint around the 22-turn Guia Circuit, and all three moved up on the run into turn one, Estre making an impressive leap to claim three cars by Lisboa, although sadly for the Frenchman, that would also be the end of his Macau experience.
“Today I had a really good start and overtook two or three cars into Mandarin, but coming into Lisboa, I braked at the point I thought it was okay, then suddenly the Aston [Lyons] broke really hard so that he could make the corner, and I had too much speed, so when he stopped to turn in I hit him, and the same thing happened from behind with Bamber hitting me,” a disappointed Estre explained.
“It’s a shame, the start was good, but overall, we are just too low on top speed and we can’t overtake, sadly the only place you can really overtake here is the straight and when your straight line speed is not good, you can’t do anything.”
That left Parente to inherit seventh place, a result he would hold to the flag.
“I wasn’t so happy with my start in the main race through the first two corners, but under brakes I chose the right path and avoided what was going on in front of me, then it was all fairly straight forward from there,” he reflected.
“To be honest it was frustrating, and I’m going to just say it – it was super unfair, because sector one and sector three, we had absolutely no chance compared to other manufacturers. Normally I never complain or ever comment about the BoP (Balance of Performance) but I think that anyone that understands motorsport saw it, but anyway, considering all the time we lost in sector one and sector three, I’m happy with my performance this weekend, I couldn’t do any more.
“The setup with the car, the engineers – perfect, no mistakes, everything went very smoothly, just that we had no chance to fight with the other guys – straight-line, power uphill was horrible, but the car was fantastic through the second sector. It was great to drive in Macau, it’s always a massive challenge, but just ridiculous not be able to fight with the guys up in front.”
Couto meanwhile was charging through from rear of field, making it up to eleventh before a safety car period to remove the stricken Vuttikhorn Porsche on the run up to Materity Bend. Sadly all was not over for the local hero, the McLaren once more coming to a stop whilst behind the safety car, with the throttle issue again stopping the car on track, this time with contact from behind after Jacky Yeung was unable to avoid the McLaren in his Bentley.
Ultimately though Couto retained his 11th placed finish after the race was declared the lap before his problem, with Parente classified seventh.
A tough weekend it might have been, but the team had excelled under the challenging conditions, despite the huge disparity in straight-line speed, Estre perhaps summing up the weekend perfectly.
“I love Macau,” he reflected with a smile. “I would put the Nordschleife [Nurburgring] as my number one circuit in the world, but this one as second, it’s really tough, but it’s really cool..!”
For the FFF Racing Team by ACM, the focus now turns to the final event on the 2015 calendar, the annual 12-Hours of Sepang which is scheduled for the Malaysian Formula One venue on 11-13 December where the team are looking to enter two McLarens in the once-around-the-clock event.
2015 Macau Grand Prix
SJM Macau GT Cup – FIA GT World Cup (22 November, 2015)
1. 1. Maro Engel (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy SLS AMG GT3) – 14-laps
2. 7. Rene Rast (Audi Sport Team Pheonix Audi R8 LMS GT3)
3. 97. Stefan Mucke (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
4. 2. Renger van der Zande (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy SLS AMG GT3)
5. 55. Darryl O’Young (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
6. 6. Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Pheonix Audi R8 LMS GT3)
7. 25. Alvaro Parente (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)
11. 5. Andre Couto (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)
DNF. 15. Kevin Estre (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3) – 0-laps
SJM Macau GT Cup – FIA GT World Cup – Qualifying Race (21 November, 2015)
1. 1. Maro Engel (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy SLS AMG GT3) – 12-laps
2. 6. Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Pheonix Audi R8 LMS GT3)
3. 2. Renger van der Zande (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy SLS AMG GT3)
4. 97. Stefan Mucke (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
5. 7. Rene Rast (Audi Sport Team Pheonix Audi R8 LMS GT3)
6. 99. Richard Lyons (Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3)
9. 25. Alvaro Parente (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)
10. 15. Kevin Estre (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3)
20. 5. Andre Couto (FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren GT3) – 11-laps
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
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
Source. Motorsport Media
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