Hunter Abbott has been crowned Blancpain GT Series Asia’s inaugural champion after fourth place in Zhejiang’s season finale was enough to claim the title by a single point from OD Racing’s Aditya Patel and Mitch Gilbert who became the first crew to win both races over the same weekend.
Sixth place for Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong saw the Audi Hong Kong crew drop from first to third in the final standings, three points behind Abbott, after their race was compromised on the opening lap by Jules Szymkowiak. But they still end the season as Silver Cup champions after edging out Patel and Gilbert.
CMRT Eurasia’s James Cai and Kenneth Lim overcame their five-point deficit to win GT3’s Am Cup crown, while second place was more than enough for Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Jean-Marc Merlin and Frank Yu to wrap up the GT4 championship after finishing behind Ringo Chong and Kan Zang this morning.
GT3: HISTORY BUT NO TITLE FOR DOUBLE WINNERS PATEL & GILBERT
The season finale couldn’t have been more finely poised before starting behind the Mercedes-AMG Safety Car – required as a result of the very wet conditions – thanks to the three remaining championship contenders all incurring a mix of benefits and disadvantages. Gilbert lined up on pole but would have a 10-second success penalty to serve during the driver change with Patel, Abbott and co-driver Maxi Buhk started fifth and would be stationary for an additional five seconds, and Lee and Thong were starting eighth but racing handicap-free.
Mitchell let his advantage slip almost immediately once racing began in anger after two laps when Martin Rump pounced on the Malaysian’s mistake at Turn 1 to take the lead. The Estonian was in a league of his own thereafter and had built a 16-second gap by the time he pitted after 30 minutes.
Further back, Lee and Thong’s championship hopes unravelled when the latter was tapped into a spin by GruppeM Racing’s Szymkowiak after initially taking seventh from the #888 Mercedes-AMG, which received a 30-second post-race penalty as a result. That dropped the Audi to the back of the GT3 field, and although Thong would recover to 11th before the pitstops, he and Lee were never likely to finish ahead of Abbott whose co-driver Buhk had moved up one place to fourth before pitting.
Rump’s incredible first stint allied to Gilbert’s 10-second success penalty resulted in Rick Yoon inheriting a 22-second lead by the time Patel jumped aboard with 25 minutes remaining. The mix of driver gradings and particularly challenging conditions meant the Indian was always likely to catch the Audi’s Am driver even before Yoon spun away the lead with 13 minutes left on the clock.
All eyes were now on Abbott, whose five-second success penalty saw him re-join in fifth. That quickly became fourth after dispatching Jeffrey Lee, whose J-Fly by Absolute Racing co-driver Alessio Picariello ran third throughout the opening stint. Maintaining those positions would see the GruppeM driver beat Patel and Mitchell by a point, and although Chris Dreyspring’s advancing VSR Lamborghini provided some cause for concern, Abbott was never under any real threat.
Patel took the chequered flag 2.5s clear of Devon Modell and debutant Andre Heimgartner’s Craft-Bamboo Porsche, which looked completely at home in the treacherous conditions. The latter endured a tough start to his stint after dropping to 13th but produced an eye-catching performance thereafter to battle through to fifth before pitting. Modell re-emerged in third and slowly but surely homed in on Patel while also taking advantage of Yoon’s spin.
The KCMG by Champion Racing Audi claimed a first long-overdue podium, although Abbott was right on Yoon’s tail at the chequered flag, while Dreyspring and Sandy Stuvik’s VSR Lamborghini was only 3.6s further back.
Marchy Lee’s efforts, added to those of Thong’s, resulted in their R8 completing the top-six after a battling performance in the second stint helped Audi Hong Kong’s entry pick up three places. However, it still wasn’t enough to win this year’s title.
Aidan Read and Alberto Di Folco backed up their Race 1 podium with seventh in the second after finishing ahead of Alexs Au and Yoong, while Tim Sugden and Szymkowiak were classified ninth ahead of Lee/Picariello.
11th went to Kenneth Lim and James Cai’s CMRT Eurasia Aston Martin which overturned its five-point pre-race deficit to beat Andrew Haryanto to this year’s GT3 Am Cup crown and class victory.
GT4: CHONG & ZANG TAKE FIRST WIN BUT IT’S MERLIN & YU’S TITLE
Avoiding retirement was all Jean-Marc Merlin and Frank Yu required in order to claim this year’s GT4 title, and the Craft-Bamboo pair did just that by finishing second behind Ringo Chong and Kan Zang who recorded a first class victory of the season for HubAuto Racing.
Merlin took it steady in the tough conditions during his opening stint and was content to let the likes of Chong and Eric Lo squabble for the class lead. Yu re-joined in fourth but was running third when Lo’s EKS Motorsports co-driver Byron Tong crashed heavily at the start of the final lap. That promoted the Craft-Bamboo Porsche to second, while the #10 Cayman was still classified third.
All of Blancpain GT Series Asia’s title winners will be presented with their 2017 championship trophies during SRO Motorsports Group’s glittering awards ceremony and 25th anniversary gala in Paris on November 24.
The 12-round 2018 campaign begins at Sepang in Malaysia on April 14/15.
Mitch Gilbert, #86 OD Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3: “We won three times, and I don’t think anyone would have expected us to do as well as we have. Certainly not us! At the end of the day it was a good weekend – two wins and we came within a point of the championship, so what can you say? Congratulations to Hunter [Abbott] who’s been excellent all year. In motorsport that’s not always easy. The weather was terrible and all I wanted after the start was for the stint to end, get out of the car and let Aditya finish the job. The Audi was pretty strong but I couldn’t quite keep pace with Martin [Rump] so I tried to remain within touching distance. Okay, 16 seconds isn’t really touching distance! But we’ve done a good job this weekend and throughout the season. Winning both races is a great way to end the year.”
Hunter Abbott, #999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I can’t quite believe it, actually. Shanghai was very stressful and a total disaster with the two DNFs – we had a healthy lead before that and I was pretty down about it. But we re-focused ourselves before coming here in the hope of making up the points deficit, which thankfully we were able to do. I must thank the team who have been fantastic all year, as well as Maxi [Buhk] who’s obviously played a major role, but also Maxi Goetz and Raffaele Marciello who filled in and helped us score important points when Maxi was unable to race. It’s been a great year and the racing’s been fantastic. Hopefully we can do it all over again in 2018.”
Ringo Chong, #89 HubAuto Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR: “It was crazy; the rain was shocking! It was really difficult out there but I knew that if I could just keep the car on the track then Kan would be able to get in and work his magic. He drove very hard to win this race. I’ve loved racing in Blancpain GT Series Asia this year because the friendship amongst all of us is very real, even if we then try our hardest to beat one another on track. This first victory, right at the end of our season, feels great.”
Jean-Marc Merlin, #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR: “I don’t have a big ego but it is difficult to drive when your only goal is to finish! It felt like a really long stint because of that and the rain, and I just concentrated on not making any mistakes. I had a good position pretty early in the stint and from then it was just managing the GT3 traffic. This year has been great, and not just because we’ve won the title. I got to learn more about sprint racing after years as an endurance guy. In endurance small mistakes usually don’t cost too much, but in sprint a small mistake can have bigger consequences. In Asia, I think it’s the best series to enter so I will try to come back next year.”
GT3 Drivers’ Overall: Hunter Abbott (GruppeM Racing, Mercedes-AMG)
GT3 Silver Cup: Marchy Lee & Shaun Thong (Audi Hong Kong, Audi)
GT3 Pro/Am Cup: Hunter Abbott (GruppeM Racing, Mercedes-AMG)
GT3 Am Cup: James Cai & Kenneth Lim (CMRT Eurasia, Aston Martin)
GT3 Teams’: GruppeM Racing (Mercedes-AMG)
GT4 Drivers’: Jean-Marc Merlin & Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing, Porsche)