Great tyre tactics and faultless driving gave Christopher Haase, Robin Frijns and Laurens Vanthoor the win in a wet 2016 edition of the Motul Sepang 12 Hours. The Audi Sport Team Phoenix drivers crossed the line with one lap in hand. That also meant that Laurens Vanthoor and Audi became the first champions in the history of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
At the start of the 2016 Motul Sepang 12 Hours, the weather conditions at the Sepang International Circuit were excellent for racing and that is exactly what some of the best GT-drivers in the world did. Earl Bamber (#911 Manthey Racing Porsche) took a brilliant start, jumping from third to first. Behind him there was a great scrap for second, between the #9 K-PAX Racing McLaren, the #912 Manthey Racing Porsche and the #50 Spirit of Race Ferrari. For almost a complete stint the trio went nose to tail over the Malaysian asphalt.
At this point in the race both the Audi Sport Team Phoenix cars had some problems in matching the speed of the leaders. Christopher Haase (#15 Audi R8 LMS) had started from the pitlane due to an electrical issue, but climbed from dead last to seventh by the end of the first hour.
Except for the #9 KPAX Racing McLaren dropping out of contention due to suspension problems, that hierarchy barely changed during the first couple of hours, with the #50 Ferrari using an alternate strategy to take the lead on a couple of occasions. However, during the fifth hour, the running order completely changed. The first raindrops fell on the Sepang circuit and the Audi cars were the first to shod rain tyres. That moved them both into the top three, with the #15 R8 in first place and the #16 in third.
After some great driving in difficult conditions – the track went from wet to dry and back several times – it looked like the Team Phoenix cars were heading for the double, but a safety car intervention some two hours from the end meant that the #16 car fell back into the claws of their competitors. When the green flags were waved, Earl Bamber took it upon himself to swiftly pass the #50 Ferrari and the #16 Audi to claim second for the #911 Porsche. René Rast brought the #16 Audi home in third.
Christopher Haase, Robin Frijns and Laurens Vanthoor became the well-deserving winners of the Motul Sepang 12 Hours. It was an emotional victory for Vanthoor, for Sepang means the end of his long collaboration with Audi. Theirs has been one of the most successful combinations in the history of GT racing, with titles in the FIA GT Series, the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup and the overall Blancpain GT Series, as well as wins in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the FIA GT World Cup and the Motul Sepang 12 Hours. Now Laurens Vanthoor adds the drivers’ title in the very first edition of the Intercontinental GT Challenge to this impressive list of accomplishments.
The Sepang result also meant that Audi took the manufacturers’ title in the Intercontinental GT Challenge. McLaren took the win in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, Mercedes-Benz took top points in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, but by winning the Motul Sepang 12 Hours – and scoring points with the second car as well – the brand with the four rings jumped to the first spot in the standings with 86 points, beating Bentley by a clear 35 points. McLaren and Mercedes-AMG both scored 49 points.
Laurens Vanthoor (#15 Audi Sport Team Phoenix R8, winner and Intercontinental GT Challenge champion): “This was the last race I drove for Audi, and to win and take the championship is the perfect way to end it. It was so busy during the weekend and during the race, I only realised it was over when I did the in-lap of my last stint. When I got out of the car, I gave it a little tap on the roof. Now, it’s time for a new chapter.”
Earl Bamber (#911 Manthey Racing Porsche, 2nd): “Our Porsche worked very well when it was dry or very wet. But we struggled in the middle of the race, in the damp conditions. It was very slippery, whether it was on the slick or on the wet tyre. We also had to make a brake change during the race, which cost us some time. Thanks to a good strategy we made it back to P2, that was nice.”
René Rast (#16 Audi Sport Team Phoenix, 3rd): “The race did not go very well for us. It seemed we were always in the wrong place at the wrong time. We always pitted just before the Full Course Yellows and lost a lot of time there. We gave it our all and went on a different strategy, because we had nothing to lose. Obviously, I would have loved to have won the championship, but I knew beforehand that it would be difficult to beat Laurens.”
Morris Chen (#35 HubAuto Racing, 1st Pro-Am): “I think our team made some really good strategic calls. We were a bit lucky in the safety car procedure, but all the drivers did the best job possible. This is a very good result for us.”
Peter Kox (#26 B-Quik Racing Audi, 1st GTC): “I think this result was largely down to excellent preparation by the team. They really made a step forward during the last year and the car was great, especially in the dry. We were a bit unlucky that we had a puncture after two laps, but after that we had no issues at all. Personally, I was pretty happy with my lap times in comparison with the GT3 cars.”
Jake Camilleri (#93 MARC Cars Mazda 3 V8, 1st MARC): “I think better consistency made the difference in the end. It was a bit of a seesaw: we had a good start, but then had a bit of an issue, and it seesawed for a while. But then we got into a rhythm and made some consistent stints, although it was not easy to drive in the wet. Sometimes it was just awful, I was happy for it to finish!”
Zen Low (#69 Aylezo Ecotint Racing Ginetta, 1st GT4): “We had some issues during the race, with smoke getting inside the car and windscreen wipers not working, but it was still a very close battle with the other Ginetta. It was always tough to get the tyre choice right, because conditions changed constantly. It was very tough, but the Ginetta was a great car to do the Motul Sepang 12 Hours.”
Douglas Khoo (#65 Viper Niza Racing Seat, 1st TC): “We had to change a sensor on the turbo, but it took us a while before we pinpointed the problem. We had to look for a while, but with the help of the Seat engineers over the phone, we managed to solve the issue. It is great that we managed to get to the end with the Leon, we are very happy about that.”
Kenny Lee (#100 Amuse & SPV Racing Toyota GT86, 1st Touring Car): “Today, our team had a great strategy and we minimised the pitstop time. We managed to create a gap towards the competition and that came in handy when the rain came down hard a couple of hours from the end. In these conditions it is not easy with a little car like ours, we even aquaplaned on the straights, but we could pace ourselves and avoid any drama.”
Stephane Ratel (Founder and CEO of SRO Motorsports Group): “Congratulations to Laurens Vanthoor and Audi for winning both the Motul Sepang 12 Hours and the Intercontinental GT Challenge. Even though we regretted the absence of Bentley and Mercedes-AMG in the final round, with four manufacturers competing in the inaugural season of the Intercontinental GT Challenge we have laid the foundation for a prestigious global challenge at the pinnacle of GT3 racing.”
Source. SRO Motorsports Group