A total of 60 drivers and 30 cars – comprising 24 GT3s, five GT4s and one Invitational entry – representing Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche will take to Malaysia’s 3.445-mile, 5.543-kilometre FIA Grade 1 circuit as part of SRO Motorsports Group’s first pan-Asia GT championship event.
It’s an entry list packed with established Asian talent, both in terms of drivers and teams, but also represents the wider GT racing spectrum thanks to a number of international stars and champions eager to showcase their skills far from home.
THE CONTENDERS: GT3
The start of a new era features a bumper GT3 entry list, with 24 cars scheduled to start at Sepang. The sport’s traditional Pro/Am format has proven most popular with 11 different crews entered, while Silver Cup line-ups feature in eight cars and the remaining Am/Ams in five. Pro/Am and Am/Am will receive their own dedicated podium ceremony following the overall classification’s.
With no reigning Blancpain GT Series Asia champions to choose from it’s only right to begin with last season’s GT Asia Drivers’ title winners, FFF Racing Team by ACM, who field a pair of Lamborghini Huracan GT3s. Carrying #1 is a Silver crew with an average age of just 19. Italian racer Alberto Di Folco has spent the past three years racing Lamborghinis, first in Super Trofeo Europe – he won the Pro-Am title in 2014 – before finishing fifth at the wheel of a Huracan GT3 in Italian GT last season. Meanwhile, his 18-year-old Australian co-driver Read has contested the Asian Le Mans Series’ LMP classes for the past two years and makes his GT3 debut in Sepang.
Its second, Chinese Pro/Am crew features very different levels of experience, with former F1 reserve driver and two-time Asian Le Mans Series champion Ho-Pin Tung joining GT debutant Zhu Junhan.
Absolute Racing secured 2016’s GT Asia Teams’ titles with Bentley but switch their focus to solely running Audi R8 LMS GT3s on behalf of Milestone Racing and OD Racing Team. The former reunites GT Asia team-mates Sun Jingzu and Franky Cheng, while Audi R8 LMS Cup graduate Aditya Patel joins forces with Mitchell Gilbert, who finished third in last season’s Porsche Carrera Cup Asia.
The region’s heavyweights just keep on coming in the form of Phoenix Racing Asia, whose pair of R8 LMS GT3s – entered under the Audi Hong Kong and Audi R8 LMS Cup banners – are driven by 2016 GT Asia runners-up Marchy Lee and Shaun Fong, and Alex Au and Malaysian home favourite Alex Yoong, respectively.
Craft-Bamboo Racing claimed the GT Asia Drivers’ crown with Darryl O’Young in 2015, and that combination – plus 2013 GT Asia champion Peter Li – are bound to be victory contenders with their Porsche 911 GT3 R. Its second crew is also Silver rated and pairs ADAC GT Masters front-runner Jules Gounon with former International GT Open champion Joel Camathias.
Another name synonymous with success is 2015/16 Asian Le Mans Series champions Clearwater Racing whose McLaren 650S GT3 will be driven by Richard Wee – who has raced Ferraris for the Singapore squad since 2014 – and reigning Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup champion Rob Bell.
Two BMW M6 GT3s will take the start in Sepang courtesy of another highly successful Asian outfit, FIST – Team AAI. Jun San Chen and Lam Yu comprise one of the GT3 grid’s five all-Am pairings, while the Taiwanese outfit’s Silver line-up – long-time AAI driver Ollie Millroy and factory BMW ace Jesse Krohn – should be overall victory contenders.
The same goes for GruppeM Racing’s two all-European Mercedes-AMG GT3 crews. Jules Szymkowiak claimed two Silver Cup victories and one outright podium at Blancpain GT Series’ Misano opener last weekend, and he’s joined in the first of the team’s entries by former British GT champion Tim Sugden. Ex-Ferrari Formula 1 reserve driver Raffaele Marciello also tasted champagne on his GT debut last weekend and partners Hunter Abbott as stand-in for Maxi Buhk aboard GruppeM’s second car.
Four Ferrari 488 GT3s – two entered by Spirit of Race and another pair by BBT and T2 Motorsport – add yet more variety to Sepang’s grid. Reigning FIA WEC champion Rui Aguas teams up with Singaporean Nasrat Muzayyin, and Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo reprise the successful partnership that helped them claim third in GT Asia last season. Jiang Xin and Massimiliano Wiser comprise the Italian marque’s third Pro/Am crew, while Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific race winners David Tjiptobiantoro and Greg Teo Bee Tat should prove a very competitive Am/Am proposition.
But that’s not all.
Aston Martin make it eight different GT3 manufacturers confirmed for Blancpain GT Series Asia’s maiden race weekend, with a single V12 Vantage entered by CMRT’s James Cai and Kenneth Lim.
Hong Kong squad KCMG has tasted success inside and outside of Asia, and enters a pair of Audi R8 LMS GT3s at Sepang. Its full-season ‘Champion Racing with KCMG’ Pro/Am entry of Rick Yoon and Martin Rump, who finished third in last season’s Audi R8 LMS Cup, is joined in Malaysia by a second R8 for Japanese Am crew Naoto Takeda and Takuya Shirasaka, who will compete at four of 2017’s six events.
The German marque’s seventh and final entry – the most of any GT3 manufacturer at Sepang – comes from its factory team, WRT, which has claimed multiple Blancpain GT Series titles and race victories, including the 2015 Motul Sepang 12 Hours. Its Pro/Am line-up pairs works driver and former F1 racer Will Stevens with highly experienced Taiwanese driver Jeffrey Lee, who has campaigned Audis in a variety of championships since 2011, including en route to second in the 2015/16 Asian Le Mans Series.
Elsewhere, former single-seater drivers Martin Kodric and Sandy Stuvik form Vincenzo Sospiri Racing’s exciting young Silver Lamborghini crew, while X-ONE Racing’s Huracan GT3 is piloted by 2016 Super Trofeo Asia Am class top-two Andrew Haryanto and Vincent Wong.
GT3’s 24th and final entry features home hero Fairuz Fauzy, who is best known for finishing second in 2009’s Formula Renault 3.5 Series and subsequently becoming Lotus/Caterham Formula 1 reserve driver. He’s joined aboard Arrows Racing’s Pro/Am Porsche 911 GT3 R by experienced GT racer Philip Ma.
THE CONTENDERS: GT4
SRO’s GT4 category continues to grow in stature around the world and will be used in a pan-Asia GT championship for the first time this season. Five all-Am GT4 crews will race in Malaysia, all of which have opted for Porsche’s Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR.
HubAuto Racing were the first to confirm their Blancpain GT Series Asia plans back in December on the same weekend as they won the Motul Sepang 12 Hours’ GT4 class. Ringo Chong and Alan Yeo are on driver duty in Malaysia this weekend.
Taiwan Top Speed Racing’s Cayman will be driven by former GT Asia competitor Keo Chang and his ex-Taiwan Speed Festival rival Jeremy Wang, whose CV also includes recent Blancpain Super Trofeo Asia outings.
Meanwhile, team founders Tony Fong and Terrence Tse share their TTR Team SARD-entered Porsche. Both have significant experience of racing across Asia, with Fong appearing at Macau and the Sepang 1000km, as well as numerous CTCC Challenge events over the past 15 years. He was also the 2014 HKAA 1600cc Stock Car Challenge champion, a title Tse relieved him of one year later. Tse has also appeared in TCR Asia, Formula Renault Asia and Clio Cup China, and competed in Sepang’s 1000km race, as well as the Guia touring car event at Macau.
Craft-Bamboo Racing’s 911 will share garage space with its GT4 machine, which features a driver crew with previous experience of racing for the Hong Kong squad. Frank Yu was part of the line-up that finished fourth in last season’s GT Asia GT3 Teams’ standings, but makes the move to GT4 aboard the same car with which he claimed third in the 2016 Dubai 24 Hours. Co-driver Jean-Marc Merlin partnered Yu in a Craft-Bamboo-prepared Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 at the 2015 Bathurst 12 Hour, but is perhaps best known for his Porsche exploits, having competed in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and Le Mans 24 Hours aboard a Porsche 911 RSR. Last season he raced in the European Le Mans Series’ LMP3 class.
EKS Motorsports’ Cayman, driven by Hong Kong pairing Eric Lo and Byron Tong, completes the GT4 entry for Sepang. Both drivers are best known for their Clio Cup China exploits, with Lo claiming the 2012 crown before Tong finished as runner-up a year later.
A sixth Cayman, also entered by EKS Motorsports and driven by Swen Herberger/Nazim Azman, will also compete at Sepang, albeit outside of the GT4 class and general classification owing to the latter’s FIA grading.
CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Sepang stages the inaugural event of Blancpain GT Series Asia’s maiden season on April 8/9. Here’s what you need to know about the championship:
Blancpain GT Series Asia is a multi-class GT championship predominantly catering for GT3 and GT4 cars. GTC cars can also compete, as well as Invitational entries (at SRO’s discretion).
Each of the championship’s six race weekends feature two one-hour races: one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. Two 15-minute qualifying sessions – one to decide each race’s grid – are staged on Saturday. Practice takes place on Friday and Saturday.
To maintain a level playing field each driver’s ability has been graded one of four different colours by motorsport’s world governing body, the FIA: Bronze (amateur), Silver, Gold and Platinum (professional).
Drivers’ Championship points count towards an overall GT3 classification, as well as:
Pro/Am – one Bronze driver paired with a Platinum, Gold or Silver
Silver Cup – all-Silver crews reserved for that class
Am/Am – all-Bronze crews
Only Am/Am pairings are eligible to compete in GT4, with points counting towards a single class championship.
Points also count towards the overall GT3 and GT4 Teams’ Championships. A team can enter a maximum of three cars under the same licence but only its top two finishers will score points towards the Teams’ Championship.
GT3 and GT4 cars compete on-track simultaneously but fight for their own class victory. There are overall GT3 and GT4 podium ceremonies, plus separate rostrums for GT3 Pro/Am and Am/Am. Points are awarded to the top-10 overall GT3 and GT4 finishers, plus those entered in Silver Cup, Pro/Am and Am/Am.
Each car is shared by two drivers. A mandatory time-controlled pit-stop and driver change takes place between 25 and 35 minutes of each hour-long race.
The top-three overall finishers in GT3 and GT4 receive a ‘time success penalty’ to be served during the following race’s pit-stop. Sunday’s top-three finishers will serve their success penalties during the first race of the following event.
These time penalties are:
1st 10sec – 2nd 7sec – 3rd 5sec
Each driver contests one of two 15-minute qualifying sessions that decide the grid order for Saturday and Sunday’s races. The pair’s highest rated driver must take part in race two’s qualifying session.
Blancpain GT Series Asia weekends also typically feature three practice sessions.
Points are awarded to the top-10 finishers overall and in class:
1. 25pts – 2. 18pts – 3. 15pts – 4. 12pts – 5. 10pts – 6. 8pts – 7. 6pts – 8. 4pts – 9. 2pts – 10. 1pt
The inaugural Blancpain GT Series Asia season will comprise 12 races spread across six rounds in four countries.
R1/2 Apr 08/09 Sepang, Malaysia
R3/4 May 20/21 Chang International Circuit, Thailand
R5/6 Jun 24/25 Suzuka, Japan
R7/8 Aug 19/20 Fuji Speedway, Japan
R9/10 Sep 23/24 Shanghai, China
R11/12 Oct 21/22 Zhejiang, China
Friday 7 April
12:15 – 13:00: Free Practice 1
16:05 – 16:50: Free Practice 2
Saturday 8 April
08:15 – 08:45: Official Free Practice
10:40 – 10:55: Qualifying – Race 1
11:05 – 11:20: Qualifying – Race 2
15:10 – 16:15: Race 1 (1 hour plus lead lap)
Sunday 9 April
11:45 – 12:50: Race 2 (1 hour plus lead lap)
Source. SRO Motorsports Group