With just three point-scoring races left in the 2015 GT Asia Series, race two at Shanghai was always going to provide a foundation from which the title challengers could build a championship advantage heading into relatively unchartered waters in Thailand in four weeks time.
As it was, all of the title contenders made the podium, but it was Craft Bamboo Racing who emerged as the serious contenders for their first GT Asia Series driver’s title thanks in no small part to the abilities of rising young English star Daniel Lloyd.
Starting race two in the fading light at Shanghai due to delays in previous events, Lloyd charged off the line to open an almost 14-second lead ahead of the compulsory stop to negate the additional pit stop penalty that the team incurred from victory in race one, allowing team-mate Darryl O’Young to leave pit lane as the race leader, a position he further cemented by extending the advantage over the closing laps.
Rivals Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo battled the championship points leaders coming into Shanghai – Keita Sawa and Adderly Fong – the two teams going at it wheel-to-wheel through much of the race, before the Ferrari ultimately prevailed to take second position.
With track position vital, teams did everything in their power to get temperature in their tyres before the rolling start, but by virtue of claiming pole on Friday, race one winner Daniel Lloyd controlled the field, moving across slightly on Adderly Fong to ensure he had the best run into the right-hander. Behind him Anthony Liu closed in to find a way past Fong who ran wide enough to allow the Ferrari driver an opportunity to attack.
That attack came on the back straight, with Liu muscling his way through to second, in the process forcing Fong onto the infield grass. Behind them Piti Bhirom Bhakdi maintained position four from the fast starting Andrew Kim and Jiang Xin in the second of the Spirit of Race Ferraris.
Jeffrey Lee too started strongly in the J-Fly Bentley to move onto the tail of Xin, ahead of reigning champion Mok Weng Sun and Frank Yu in the Interush Aston Martin.
Sadly for Lee an electrical issue stalled his progress on lap three allowing the fast starting Hiroshi Hamaguchi to move through and well into the top ten after starting rear-of-field, the Japanese driver attacking former team-mate Mok into turn 11 which pushed the Ferrari driver sideways, but stalled Hamaguchi, forcing the FFF McLaren driver to start his assault all over again.
With Lloyd punching out a succession of fastest race laps, and Liu and Fong locked in combat over second, the action was further back in the pack where Jiang Xin put his strong local knowledge to good use to move into P4 after mounting serious pressure on Piti during the opening laps, as behind them series rookie Andrew Kim kept a watching brief in the JV Global Bentley.
By lap seven, Lloyd was seven seconds up the road, and fully aware of the consequences of the Craft Bamboo team negating their 12-second time penalty for winning race one. Behind him Fong did everything he could to get around Liu in the BBT Ferrari, the Hong Kong driver ultimately pushing through under brakes at the end of the main straight, only to lose the position back on the run up to the final turn.
Fong displayed his frustrations by flashing the lights of the big Bentley down the main straight, but he didn’t have to wait long, Liu suffering from a lack of grip on the run into turn one, allowing Fong to move up the inside and take the position away into turn two.
Fong charged and started to make an impact on Lloyd’s lead, the leading pair electing to pit at the very end of the compulsory pit stop [CPS] window, whilst Liu hit the pits early to hand the car to Rizzo and make a tyre change to ensure they maximised their pace over the closing laps.
By the time Lloyd hit pit-lane, his lead was out to more than 14-seconds, handing O’Young an advantage that would be difficult to counter. Ultimately Keita Sawa had nothing for the Craft Bamboo Aston, the popular Japanese driver forced to defend across the closing laps as Rizzo closed in in the BBT Ferrari, the Italian making his way past twice before finally making it stick at turn 14 in the closing laps.
Behind the leaders there was plenty of action, notably the great battle between factory drivers Andy Meyrick in the #7 Bentley, and Alvaro Parente in the #55 McLaren, the two international stars battling over position ten over the closing laps, Parente ultimately getting the better of the battle to cross the line eighth with Meyrick tucked in behind him.
After a great opening stint by Jiang Xin, team-mate Max Wiser completed a strong weekend for the Spirit of Race Ferrari team with fourth, ahead of the hard charging Carlo Van Dam who assisted team-mate Piti to more valuable championship points.
Sixth was a lonely but satisfied Duncan Tappy, the Englishman arguably the standout for Bentley in China, with Richard Lyons only furthering his reputation as one of the quickest drivers in the world, by claiming his second fastest lap of the race as he worked his way through the pack over the closing laps, his 1:47.777 comfortably quickest, but more than six tenths slower than his race lap record from 2014.
2014 Shanghai race two winner Matt Griffin brought the #12 Clearwater Racing Ferrari home in P10 after receiving a late race drive through penalty for leaving pit lane mere tenths of a second too early during their CPS, with Ho Pin Tung eleventh in the Absolute Racing Audi R8 ultra he shared with Philip Ma.
For the #1 Clearwater Ferrari more frustration in a weekend they’d much rather forget, a broken tie-rod forcing Mok into retirement on the final lap, perhaps as a result of contact from their much-loved former team-mate Hamaguchi..
Sadly Zen Low and Fairuz Fauzy were unable to complete the full race distance, the Malaysian team enduring a tough weekend with the OD Racing Lamborghini which started with a tyre failure on the roll-around lap of race one, and ended after contact with Sean Fu’s McLaren in the closing stages of the same race. Running with their secondary engine after the primary unit was damaged during the KL street race, the team admitted they were always likely to have a tough time, with availability of parts to repair the car after race one an issue which in the end forced them to run a conservative pace just to make it to the flag, an outstanding effort under the circumstances.
Heading to Thailand for the two final races of the season, on a circuit that few in the GT Asia Series paddock have ever seen – much less competed on – Darryl O’Young returns to the top of the championship points standings, four points up on the Sawa/Fong Bentley team, and 15 clear of Sepang 3-Hour winners Liu and Rizzo who were served a 30-second penalty post race one for their contact with Frank Yu.
The outright race might have been the focus of much of the attention, but the battle for GTM class honours and valuable championship points was no less impressive, with a first-time winner ultimately claiming victory despite a weekend of challenges they could never have expected.
In the end it was Golden CMT RT Ferrari 458 Challenge drivers Kenneth Lim and James Cai who claimed victory, the duo having missed much of practice and all of qualifying with a gearbox oil leak and an ECU electronics issue, before Lim was involved in the incident that claimed the #15 McLaren of Rod Salmon in race one.
Cai was very nearly involved in a second incident in the dying stages of race two, as the hard charging Dylan Derdaele in the opening race winning Gulf Racing JP Porsche 991 Cup Car made contact with the Ferrari in an effort to move past for the lead, ultimately suffering a tyre failure which forced their retirement allowing second placed Jerry Wang to all but claim the GTM title heading into Thailand’s final event, the Audi driver needing to score just one more point to be the 2015 champion.