The second of this season’s six rounds takes place at Chang International Circuit, a venue that also plays host to MotoGP and Super GT each season. Its 4.55-kilomotre, 12-turn layout is located 410 kilometres northwest of Bangkok in the capital of Buriram Province, which translates as the ‘city of happiness’.
But which of the 60 drivers will be happiest come Sunday? Here’s how things stand ahead of races three and four…
Fittingly, Asia’s biggest multi-class GT series arrives at Buriram with a local driver leading the overall standings. Tanart Sathienthirakul made history at Sepang when, with the help of co-driver Philip Hamprecht, he became the first Thai ever to claim overall victory. That accolade has also helped Absolute Racing’s #911 Porsche crew occupy top spot by a single point with two of this year’s 12 races completed.
Absolute’s rapid start at Sepang also sees it leading the Teams’ standings. However, its other 911 GT3 R – which claimed both pole positions last time out – features a new face this weekend in the form of Jono Lester. The Kiwi, who won twice with HubAuto Corsa in 2018, takes Dennis Olsen’s place following Yuan Bo’s re-grading.
There’s also a change to Sepang’s most consistent performers, Solite Indigo Racing, whose Mercedes-AMG occupies second in the Drivers’ Championship thanks to a podium and fifth place finish. Manuel Metzger’s pre-season injury meant Gabriele Piana was drafted in to partner MG Choi in Malaysia, but – with the German now fully recovered – the Korean team can build a title assault around the same crew that scored back-to-back rostrums at Ningbo in 2018.
Indeed, Indigo head into Saturday’s first race without the additional 15-second Pitstop Success Penalty Sathienthirakul and Hamprecht incurred for winning Sepang’s second race. They’ll also be buoyed by Mercedes-AMG’s recent form at Buriram, which includes as many wins in its last three races.
Another Mercedes-AMG duo competing Success Penalty-free on Saturday are Sepang’s Race 1 winners Jeffrey Lee and Alessio Picariello. The best placed of Craft-Bamboo Racing’s three senior class pairs also claimed pole at Buriram in 2017 courtesy of the rapid Belgian.
That no single team dominated in Sepang means six crews find themselves within nine points of the championship lead before turning a wheel this weekend. Pole position last season ensures HubAuto Corsa’s Ferrari – currently fourth in the standings – should be a threat, while Sepang podiums for Panther/AAS Motorsport’s Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and Alex Imperatori plus Craft-Bamboo’s Darryl O’Young and Christina Nielsen suggest they’ll also be in the mix after serving respective 10 and five-second Pitstop Success Penalties.
Three more Thai drivers of the six entered at Buriram could also feature prominently. Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing’s Audi is sure to be a crowd favourite thanks to local duo Bhurit Bhirombhakdi and Kantasak Kusiri, while Piti Bhirombhakdi is armed with ABSSA Motorsport’s new McLaren 720S.
Elsewhere, Vattana Motorsport makes its Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia debut on home ground in Buriram where Chonsawat Asavahame and Akihiro Asai will be battling another Thai team – B-Quik Racing – plus three more entries for Am Cup honours.
There was no stopping BMW Team Studie at Sepang where Takayuki Kinoshita and Sunako Jukuchou claimed both class victories. Full marks and no clear cut rival sees the Japanese duo enjoy a 20-point advantage over three chasing crews.
Team iRace.Win’s Ringo Chong and Setiawan Santoso were the only other line-up to twice climb the podium in Malaysia. However, their two third place finishes generated the same point totals as Brian Lee and Tony Fong (GTO Racing with TTR), and Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin (Craft-Bamboo Racing) who each finished second and fourth.
All three of those Mercedes-AMG entries, plus iRace.Win’s second, will have noted the same model’s performance at Buriram 12 months ago when Reinhold Renger won twice.
A sixth GT4 entry – Racing Spirit Thailand – joins the championship this weekend when Preeda Tantemsapya and Munkong Sathienthirakul bring their Porsche to the party.
BLANCPAIN GT WORLD CHALLENGE
Manufacturers contesting SRO’s three sprint championships in Asia, Europe and America score points towards the global Blancpain GT World Challenge by nominating four drivers on each continent.
Mercedes-AMG moved further clear of rivals Ferrari during Europe’s opening round at Brands Hatch last weekend. Two victories for the German manufacturer has helped it amass 3,670 points to the Italian marque’s 2,122.
Unrestricted live coverage of races one and two plus qualifying is available on http://www.gt-world-challenge-asia.com this weekend, while the same coverage will be streamed live on the championship’s Facebook page and SRO’s GT World Youtube channel.
PITSTOP SUCCESS PENALTIES – RACE 1
15s – #911 Absolute Racing – Sathienthirakul/Hamprecht
10s – #918 Panther/AAS Motorsport – Inthraphuvasak/Imperatori
05s – #99 Craft-Bamboo Racing – O’Young/Nielsen
15s – #81 BMW Team Studie – Kinoshita/Jukuchou
10s – #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing – Yu/Merlin
05s – #111 Team iRace.Win – Chong/Santoso
Friday 10 May
12:30 – 13:15: Free Practice 1
15:15 – 16:00: Free Practice 2
Saturday 11 May
09:00 – 09:30: Official Practice
11:15 – 11:30: Qualifying 1 – GT4
11:37 – 11:52: Qualifying 2 – GT4
12:02 – 12:17: Qualifying 1 – GT3
12:24 – 12:39: Qualifying 2 – GT3
15:30 – 16:30: Race 1
Sunday 12 May
11:45 – 12:45: Race 2
Source. SRO Motorsports Group