Rounds 3 & 4 of the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia series were held at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. The team were confident going into the weekend, and strong pace meant that Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Alessio Picariello and Darryl O’Young managed to score pole positions for the #88 and #99 cars. In the GT4 class, Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin scored the team’s first victory of the season in Race 1, followed by a top-3 finish in race 2.
#55 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Daniel Au & Melvin Moh
Q1 | P24 – 1:39.751
Q2 | P11 – 1:34.185
#88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Jeffrey Lee & Alessio Picariello
Q1 | P13 – 1:36.095
Q2 | P1 – 1:32.731
#99 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Darryl O’Young & Christina Nielsen
Q1 | P1 – 1:34.322
Q2 | P19 – 1:34.948
#77 Mercedes-AMG GT4 | Frank Yu & Jean-Marc Merlin
Q1 | P3 – 1:44.742
Q2 | P3 – 1:44.954
Race 1 Report
#99 Mercedes-AMG GT3
O’Young took the start for the #99 from pole position after a great qualifying that saw him grab pole in the dying minutes of the session. On the opening lap however, O’Young dropped one position from what was a controversial move by the Porsche exceeding the track limits in turn 1 and turn 2 to get by. In the following laps O’Young had strong pace and managed to stay within striking distance of the leader, but dropped back to P3 before making his stop.
After Christina Nielsen took over the controls of the #99 car, she emerged 7th after the pit window due to the 5 second success penalty from Sepang. The double whammy came when Nielsen picked up a Stop-Go penalty due to insufficient pitstop time, being under by 0.3 seconds, dropping #99 down the field to 13th. She kept her head down and despite the mid-pack traffic, Nielsen managed to set lap times that were equal to the leading cars. However the #99 car eventually crossed the line in 13th place, with unrealized potential and work to do for the second race.
#88 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Jeffrey Lee started the race for the #88 car from 13th place and at the start, was caught up in the opening lap mid-pack scrap, dropping him down to 17th place. Knowing that he had better pace than the cars in front, he set to work chasing down the cars in front. Several laps later as Lee was in a battle for position, there was unfortunate side-to-side contact which resulted in damage to the #88 car. Lee managed to keep the car going, and handed the car to Picariello after a thorough inspection by the crew at the pit-stop.
Emerging 18th after the pit-stop window, Picariello immediately started setting the fastest laps of the race, and sought to close the gaps up. During his stint, Picariello showed his abilities when fighting in close traffic and within 5 laps following the pitstop he had overtaken three cars, and set his sights on chasing down the pack ahead. However the Belgian ran out of time and crossed the line in 14th place.
#55 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Starting from 24th position, Daniel Au had work to do during the race and quickly moved up one position in the opening laps. In the remainder of his stint, the Singaporean drove a clean and measured stint, managing to fight his way up to P10 in the Pro-Am class. Au showed great progress in his racecraft, as he diced for position whilst managing the tyres under pressure. 25 minutes in, Au pitted to hand the car over to Melvin Moh.
Moh emerged 22nd but a stop-and-go penalty dropped the #55 car 2 laps down. Melvin showed great pace in the following laps, but the unfortunate penalty meant that he was unable to recover from the substantial time loss. The Malaysian’s pace was on par with the fastest cars on track, but Moh eventually crossed the line in 23rd position with lots of unrealized potential.
#77 Mercedes-AMG GT4
Frank Yu started in 3rd position in GT4, and on lap one, immediately muscled his way past into 2nd place. It was a heated opening few laps, as the Hong Kong race driver was in a multi-way battle for the lead. Yu ran as low as 4th due to the exchange of positions, but the Hong Kong driver kept his focus, and eventually made his way back up to 2nd just before the pitstop window.
Jean-Marc Merlin emerged 2nd in class after the pit, and with the leader in sight in the distance, he set to work to close the gap. Merlin’s great pace meant he caught up to the leader with 15 minutes to go. The Frenchman’s strong racecraft meant that he managed to find his way past after finding a gap, putting the #77 GT4 in the lead of the category. He came under immense pressure towards the end but kept a cool head and took the team’s maiden GT4 victory in the 2019 season.
Race 2 Report
#99 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Christina Nielsen started Race 2 from 19th position, and she got a great start, decisively placing her car to defend her position. Her quick progress in the opening few laps meant that within the first 10 minutes she had moved up to 17th place. Nielsen drove brilliantly to keep the gaps close to the cars in front, setting teammate O’Young up well for the second stint.
However when O’Young exited the pits he noticed an issue with the handling, forcing him to pit for the team to rectify the issue. The team replaced the wheel which fixed the issue, and O’Young rejoined the race set to work on a recovery drive. However with 10 minutes to go, a Safety car intervention was called and that allowed O’Young to close up the gaps. On the restart, he took advantage of the close proximity and made up several positions, and a strong end to his stint meant that the #99 finished in P9 overall. However a post-race penalty of 15 seconds was issued to the #99 car for stopping 15 seconds short during O’Young’s stop to fix the issue with the rear wheel, resulting in O’Young and Nielsen being classified in 13th place.
#88 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Following a dominant qualifying session which saw Alessio Picariello put the #88 car in pole position by 7 tenths of a second, the team were optimistic for a strong result. He assertively defended the lead on the opening lap and immediately got to work building a gap to the 2nd placed car. Picariello’s great pace meant that he was able to control the race from the front, preserving his tyres whilst opening a gap of up to 7 seconds to the chasing cars.
When teammate Jeffrey Lee jumped into the car, swift pitwork from the crew meant he emerged after the window still in the lead. However with 10 minutes to go and defending hard into the hairpin, contact was made from a car trying to overtake him on the outside which resulted in heavy damage and a puncture. Lee managed to bring the car back and despite the team quickly fixing the damage, Lee had dropped down the order and eventually crossed the line in 16th.
#55 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Starting mid-pack was going to be tricky, but Melvin Moh kept the #55 car out of trouble as several cars tangled ahead. After the exchange of positions on opening laps, Moh was in 13th place, and did a great job to keep on pace with the leading cars whilst preserving the tyres well for a push just before the pit-stop window.
When Au jumped into the car, he found himself in 14th position and right in the mid-pack after the pit window. The Singaporean GT driver settled into a groove, setting several personal best laps. However he was unfortunate to lose control of the car upon coming up on slower traffic, dropping himself down several positions. Au managed to recover quickly, and crossed the line in 18th position after a great effort all weekend.
#77 Mercedes-AMG GT4
Jean-Marc Merlin got a great start for the #77 car, avoiding the drama ahead and was on the back of the leading BMW. He pushed hard during the entirety of his stint to keep sight of the leader. Despite immense pressure from behind, Merlin set consistent lap-times and kept the gap close to the car in front. Merlin pitted from 2nd place at exactly halfway through the race and handed the car to teammate Yu.
When Yu emerged from the pits, he was still within striking distance of the leading car. He continued to apply pressure on the leader, ready to take an opportunity and his consistent driving meant that he kept the gap right up to the safety car intervention with 10 minutes to go. At the restart of the race however, Yu was hit from behind which resulted in damage to the rear, dropping him down to 4th position. However sheer tenacity meant that Yu managed to keep pushing and made his way back up to 3rd despite the damaged rear diffuser. The #77 crossed the line in P3, giving the team 2 podium results in 2 races from the weekend.
Craft-Bamboo Racing continues to show strong pace despite several issues during the weekend, and the team now sits 2nd in the overall GT4 standings, and 4th in the GT3 team’s championship. The team are keen to carry this strong form into the following race but have work to do to ensure that the drivers are consistently fighting at the front of the field at the next round in Suzuka, Japan, on 22-24 June 2019.
Daniel Au | Driver #55 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“Overall it was a good outing, I feel like I managed to improve in lots of areas in my driving; getting more experience with the increasing amounts of seat time with every passing race weekend. It was not easy by any stretch, with variable weather conditions all weekend but that meant that it gave me a chance to learn more about the car. I’m definitely looking forward to the next round in Suzuka with Melvin, and we will do our best again!”
Melvin Moh | Driver #55 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“I expected more from the weekend after starting strongly on Friday. However we struggled with overall grip for qualifying and only managed to qualify 11th in Q2. We changed some things for race 1 and it was pretty good pace wise but we encounter a problem towards the end. Race 2 was pretty difficult as we faced the same problems again like qualifying. On another note, Daniel drove great this weekend and we both now look forward to the next race in Suzuka.”
Jeffrey Lee | Driver #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“It was a bit unlucky for us this weekend, with two incidents in two races meaning that we dropped positions and didn’t realize our true potential. However Alessio showed that the car has good pace, and we know that there is work to do to ensure that we are consistently at the front.”
Alessio Picariello | Driver #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“From my side I’m really satisfied with the weekend. I love this circuit and I’m always been strong here and I’m happy that I was even stronger with the Mercedes-AMG this weekend. From a pace perspective it was close to perfect; fastest in both practice sessions, pole position by a mile and a great stints during my second race and was in complete control. Thanks to the team for giving me a great car all weekend. Results wise it was a little frustrating; two seperate incidents and bad luck meant that our strong pace was unrealized, but the championship is long and we will work hard to get back to the front.”
Darryl O’Young | Driver #99 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“It was a tough weekend in Buriram, with some ups and downs and obviously the highlight was the pole position which was a strong lap and put us in the best position for the race. Unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalise on this. I feel that altogether as a team, the engineers, me, and Christina are making good progress, but things just didn’t come together this weekend and two races where we didn’t score points due to small infringements. We’ll keep pushing to realize our true pace at the next round in Suzuka.”
Christina Nielsen | Driver #99 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“Definitely felt that there were lots of improvements but we also ran into some challenges. But overall there is a clear direction with the team on what we need to work on next, and the good thing is that we noticed improvements from the previous round. It’s a championship with a strong field and to be running at the top for a podium spot you’ll need to have an incident-free weekend. Anyway I really enjoyed this track, and I’ve only heard good things about Suzuka so I’m looking forward to going there next!”
Frank Yu | Driver #77 Mercedes-AMG GT4
“Really happy about the weekend! Going into Thailand we thought that we would be a bit disadvantaged by the BOP but we beat them fair and square in the first race, and I feel like Jean-Marc and I drove well. After the race my engineer confirmed that we had maximised the performance of the car which was great to hear. In the second race it was a bit difficult with the extra pit-time and we finished 3rd. Going to Suzuka next, we’re not far away from being the fastest but it’s not easy and we will work hard to fight for more wins!”
Jean-Marc Merlin | Driver #77 Mercedes-AMG GT4
“It was a great feeling to be back on the top-step of the podium with Frank, finally achieving our win that we were after since the first round. I think we’re in a strong position for the championship, and hopefully the BOP will improve for the next round and I’m looking forward to going to Suzuka next!”