Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Christina Nielsen and Darryl O’Young achieve their second podium of the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia after an incredible fight through the field starting from 14th position in Race 2. In the #88 car, Alessio Picariello scored his third straight pole position, but despite setting the fastest lap in Race 2, was unable to achieve another win after an unlucky safety car intervention followed by track limit drive-through penalty for the #88 entry near the end of the race ended their challenge. Melvin Moh had put the #55 entry in a competitive position after a great stint, handing the car to teammate Daniel Au in 4th place before his fight with the chasing pack.
In the GT4 class, newcomer for the Fuji weekend was David Pun, who made his mark by together scoring a victory on his debut after a great drive with Jean-Marc Merlin in Race 1. Jean-Marc Merlin adds another win to his tally, showing his strong and consistent form this year.
#55 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Qualifying 1 | P24 – 1:49.063 – Daniel Au
Qualifying 2 | P4 – 1:40.860 – Melvin Moh
#88 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Qualifying 1 | P14 – 1:44.165 – Jeffrey Lee
Qualifying 2 | P1 – 1:40.510 – Alessio Picariello
#99 Mercedes-AMG GT3
Qualifying 1 | P8 – 1:42.778 – Christina Nielsen
Qualifying 2 | P14 – 1:41.354 – Darryl O’Young
#77 Mercedes-AMG GT4
Qualifying 1 | P2 – 1:51.060 – Jean-Marc Merlin
Qualifying 2 | P2 – 1:51.378 – David Pun
#55 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Daniel Au & Melvin Moh
Daniel Au took the start from 24th position, and was cautious and able to avoid chaos further up front. Smart driving from Au meant that he made his way up to P20 on the opening lap. Despite this being his first time at Fuji Speedway, a great clean stint meant that he kept the gaps close right up to the first pit-stops.
When teammate Melvin Moh took over the controls of the #55 entry, a series of fast out-laps meant he leapfrogged several cars during the put-stop window and he found himself in 19th position. Moh continued to push hard, and set his sights on closing up the gaps. His consistent front-running pace meant that he was able to overtake several cars and eventually crossed the line in P17.
#88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Jeffrey Lee & Alessio Picariello
Taiwanese GT Driver Jeffrey Lee started from 14th position, and got off to an aggressive start, attacking the cars in front. However, unfortunate contact on the opening lap exchanges on lap 2 spun him around. Lee recovered quickly and got to work fighting through the field, and battled his way back up to 18th within the first 10 minutes. While fighting for position, another unfortunate contact dropped him back down the field.
Despite the damage, Lee was able to continue and pitted from P20. When teammate Alessio Picariello took over the controls of the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3, his immediate pace meant that he was in P18 after the pit-stop window. Despite being on front-running pace, Picariello’s compromised track position meant that he was stuck behind the leader one lap down. He eventually crossed the line in 16th place, after making his way past two cars in the closing stages of the race.
#99 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Christina Nielsen & Darryl O’Young
Christina Nielsen got off to a great start from P9, attacking around the outside of turn 1. However, at turn 2, an Audi turned in and spun her around, dropping the #99 car down to last place. She recovered quickly and set sights on making her way through the field. Nielsen pace meant that she had fought through to 16th position within the first 10 minutes. During her stint, her progress through the field resulted in her being in P11 by the pit-stop window.
Hong Kong race driver Darryl O’Young took over the controls of the #99 car and was immediately on the pace, setting a series of fast out-laps. O’Young was then involved in a great battle for position with the #888 Mercedes, dicing within close proximity lap after lap. After an enthralling closing few laps in his stint, O’Young crossed the line in 13th position, scoring valuable points for the GT3 Silver Cup.
#77 Mercedes-AMG GT4 | David Pun & Jean-Marc Merlin
The experienced Jean-Marc Merlin started the #77 car’s race from 2nd in class, and did well to avoid contact on the opening lap battles. Merlin then applied pressure on the leader, but despite several attempts to overtake, he was unable to find a way past the car in front. Merlin drove a clean stint to put the #77 car in contention for the lead and handed the car over to David Pun.
A combination of a fast pit-stop from the Craft-Bamboo Racing crew and a series of good out-laps from David Pun meant that the #77 Mercedes-AMG GT4 jumped the leader during the pit window. With the BMW on his tail, Pun kept his head cool and drove a great stint, not losing time when letting the faster GT3 traffic through. Due to his consistent and mature drive, Pun crossed the line and took victory on his debut in the championship!
#55 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Melvin Moh & Daniel Au
A great qualifying session saw Melvin Moh put the #55 car in 4th position, and at the start Moh was aggressive in an attempt to attack for position. Moh was momentarily in second place after going around the outside of the leading cars, but did not manage to pull off the move. Moh’s consistent pace meant that he stayed with the front runners during his entire stint, ready to pounce at any opportunity.
However, Moh was not able to find a way past, and pitted right at the end of the pits window from 3rd position to hand the car over to Singaporean Daniel Au. Au emerged in front of a pack of pro drivers, and found himself fighting for position in a multi-way battle. Unfortunately during this battle, Au had a spin, losing several places and dropped down to 12th position. A few laps later, contact with a Ferrari while fighting for position meant that the #55’s contest was ended prematurely.
#88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Alessio Picariello & Jeffrey Lee
Belgian ace Alessio Picariello started from pole position and got started whilst under immense pressure from the field behind. Picariello immediately got to work setting the pace from the front. After the opening laps, he had built a big gap due to his fast, consistent speed. Despite his advantage, he continued to push hard and extended his advantage to an impressive10 seconds from second place before the pit stop.
When he handed the car over to teammate Jeffrey Lee, smart work in the pits meant that the gap had extended to 14 seconds, giving the #88 car a comfortable gap to the car behind. However, a late safety car period closed the gaps up, negating any advantage that Lee had to the pro drivers behind. When the race resumed, Lee was left to defend from the chasing pack. While battling for position, Lee had an off-track excursion which resulted in an arguable drive-through penalty. The safety car and drive-through penalty meant that the #88’s challenge ended, and Lee eventually crossed the line in 16th position.
#99 Mercedes-AMG GT3 | Darryl O’Young & Christina Nielsen
Darryl O’Young started the race from 14th position and his experience meant that he avoided contact during the fierce mid-pack scramble on the opening lap. In the following laps, a multi-way battle meant that O’Young moved up two positions, and continued to apply the pressure on the cars in front in order to maintain the gaps to the field.
O’Young then pitted at half distance to hand the car over to teammate Christina Nielsen with a close gap to the cars in front. After the pit-window, Nielsen’s immediate front-running pace meant that she found herself in P9. In the closing stages, a safety car period played right into Nielsen’s hands and the gaps were closed right up. Nielsen’s determination meant that she was immediately on the attack, pulling off overtakes on every lap. With 2 laps to go, she found herself on the rear bumper of the 3rd placed car, and in a bold move, placed her car perfectly to go past. Nielsen then brought the car home in style, taking the #99 entry’s second podium finish of the season.
#77 Mercedes-AMG GT4 | David Pun & Jean-Marc Merlin
The Race 1 winners started from second place, and David Pun’s aggressive start meant that he got into the lead on the opening lap. With the BMW right on his tail, Pun was involved in an enthralling battle for position. Despite his best attempts to hold off overtaking attempts, Pun got overtaken towards the end of his stint and dropped down to P2. He was all over the back bumper of the leader, putting them under immense pressure.
When Pun handed the car over to Jean-Marc Merlin, slight problems in the pit stop meant that Merlin emerged in 3rd place after the pit-stop window. He kept a consistent pace, and a late safety car period meant that the gaps were closed right up. However, at the restart, Merlin made contact, unfortunately leaving him with damage and the Race 1 winners crossed the line in 5th positon.
Daniel Au | Driver #55 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“It was a tough weekend, Melvin handed the car over to me in 4th place and I went out but had a spin, and later on a contact ended our challenge. We’ll come back stronger next round in Korea!”
Melvin Moh | Driver #55 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“I think it was a good weekend here in Fuji; we’ve made a big step forward from Suzuka. From practice onwards we had good pace and this was shown in Qualifying as I managed to put it in 4th position. Our average pace in Race 1 was comparable to the front runners, and in race 2 I wanted to avoid the contact at the start but our pace was good and I could stay with the leaders. It was unfortunate that Daniel had the contact which ended our race, but I think we’re getting better with each round and I’m looking forward to the next one in Korea!”
Christina Nielsen | Driver #99 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“It was a challenging weekend but we ended up with a car that was really nice to drive, and the team did a great job with the strategy. It’s hard to get a good balance with the tyres and we were able to get on top of this, and we were able to stay out of trouble and it’s a good feeling to be back on the podium.”
Darryl O’Young | Driver #99 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“I think it’s been a very positive weekend, we’ve tried to fight back from a tough outing last time. Overall our pace has improved and we made no mistakes over the weekend and it’s helped us to get a good result in the end. We were a little bit unlucky in Race 1, but in Race 2 I could keep the gap to the front pack and then handed the car to Christina. She had a good stint and battled her way up to 3rd. The team did a great job with the strategy and decision making which gave us this result!”
Alessio Picariello | Driver #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“Again it was a good qualifying, my third pole position in a row this year! In Race 1 we knew it was going to be tough with the 15 second success penalty and it was all about damage limitation. We made some changes before Race 2 and I have to say my relationship with the engineers from the team is improving every weekend; every change we make puts us a step forward. I didn’t have to push at all during my stint and still built a big gap. During Jeffrey’s stint he was pushed wide while fighting with the pros and it was tough to take the drive-through penalty but there are plenty of positives to take to the next round in Korea.”
Jeffrey Lee | Driver #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“All weekend we had good pace, and this meant that a great stint from Alessio gave us a comfortable lead in Race 2. When the safety car came out it looked like a repeat of Suzuka negating my advantage, making me have to defend for the lead again. However the decision for the drive through was unfair in my opinion, as I was fighting for position and did not gain any advantage by being pushed off the circuit. But we hold our head high and look forward to the next round.
David Pun | Driver #77 Mercedes-AMG GT4
“I’m really thrilled about taking victory at my first time out here in Fuji. The team did an incredible job all weekend, with Bruce and the mechanics preparing the car perfectly with superb balance. Jean-Marc did an amazing stint which gave me the lead, which turned into a win in Race 1. All weekend I felt that I made no mistakes, and I really enjoyed the fight with the Japanese BMW. Overall I feel that I learnt a lot this weekend, and I look forward to more in the future!”
Jean-Marc Merlin | Driver #77 Mercedes-AMG GT4
“Was a great weekend for us in Fuji, David was very impressive and for us to take the win on Saturday shows our pace in the GT4 class. In race 2 we were a bit unlucky; we had contact with a faster GT3 car at the safety car restart. A little disappointed that we couldn’t do more in Race 2 but I think that this is a good thing to expect to fight at the front of every race, and we go to Korea with high hopes!”
Source. Craft-Bamboo Racing