> Legendary Japanese venue attracts largest entry of the year
> Absolute Racing’s Porsche leads home favourite Yuya Sakamoto
> BMW Team Studie still out front in GT4
> Entry list: Fuji
Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia’s Japanese double header continues at Fuji International Speedway this weekend (July 6/7) when a bumper 31-car entry ushers in the second half of 2019.
Saturday and Sunday’s two 60-minute sprint races will be contested by the largest entry assembled so far this year after new arrivals swelled the GT3 and GT4 classes to 24 and seven, respectively.
Question is: will both championship battles erupt in the foothills of Japan’s highest volcano?
Two weeks on from Suzuka, the championship reconvenes 225 kilometres east at another of the world’s great race circuits with Absolute Racing’s Tanart Sathienthirakul and Philip Hamprecht back on top of the GT3 standings thanks to their victory and third place finish.
Their cause was undoubtedly helped by MG Choi’s tough outing at Suzuka where the former championship leader slipped to third after scoring just eight points. He’s re-joined this weekend by Manuel Metzger after the German missed Suzuka due to clashing Nurburgring 24 Hours commitments.
Suzuka’s thrilling second race resulted in Jeffrey Lee and Alessio Picariello claiming their second wins of the season, which propelled Craft-Bamboo’s leading Pro/Am crew up to fifth in the overall standings. That victory also made it three apiece for Mercedes-AMG and Porsche, who have been represented on the podium’s top step by Sathienthirakul/Hamprecht, Choi/Metzger and Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak/Alex Imperatori so far this year.
The Kryptonite to these German manufacturers’ super start could come via Ferrari and, specifically, HubAuto Corsa’s Yuya Sakamoto. The Japanese driver has gone about his business with quiet, consistent efficiency by finishing all of this year’s races inside the top-six. Competing without a Pitstop Success Penalty on Saturday, unlike many of its nearest rivals, could see the 488 GT3 Sakamoto shares with experienced GT racer Marco Seefried claim its first victory of the campaign.
Seefried makes his championship debut in place of Sakamoto’s regular partner, Andre Heimgartner, who is missing Fuji due to his clashing Supercars commitments in Australia.
Imperatori is also back this weekend after skipping Suzuka in favour of the Nurburgring 24 Hours. He returns to find Panther/AAS Motorsport co-driver Inthraphuvasak now occupying joint third in the overall standings with Choi, as well as comfortably topping the Pro/Am standings, after claiming a third podium in five races two weeks ago. The resulting 10s Pitstop Success Penalty makes a repeat rostrum unlikely this Saturday. Instead, Sunday’s race represents a better chance for the Porsche, whose Swiss driver won at Fuji 12 months ago.
Audi is yet to register a win in 2019 but certainly had the pace – although not the luck – to do so at Suzuka. The Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute entry shared by Martin Rump and Weiron Tan led comfortably after qualifying on pole before a puncture put paid to its chances.
There’s also a new face in Audi Sport Asia Team TSRT’s R8, which now features recent Nurburgring 24 Hours class winner Rahel Frey alongside David Chen.
Local teams have a history of joining the championship for one-off outings at the foot of Mount Fuji, and so it is again in 2019. Saccess Racing’s Lamborghini returns for its annual appearance alongside X Works, which switched to Super GT following two seasons in Blancpain GT Series Asia. 2017 runner-up Shaun Thong is joined by Philip Tang in the team’s Audi.
Likewise CarGuy Racing which is based just a stone’s throw from Fuji Speedway’s front gate. Takeshi Kimura’s squad has entered Lamborghinis and Ferraris since making its championship debut in 2017 and brings the latter this weekend as part of an Am Cup crew also featuring Yusuke Yamasaki.
New entries have also appeared in the GT4 class where Super Taikyu regulars Birth Racing Project make their Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia debut with Mercedes-AMG. Japanese counterparts BMW Team Studie, who lead the class standings after six races thanks to Sunako Jukuchou and Takayuki Kinoshita, have also added a second BMW to their line-up at Fuji where Masahiko Ida joins Shinsuke Umeda.
Studie’s lead pairing will again face serious opposition from Craft-Bamboo’s Jean-Marc Merlin (joined this weekend by David Pun) plus GTO Racing with TTR’s Bryan Lee and Tony Fong who collectively occupy second and third in the points.
Ringo Chong and Setiawan Santoso (Team iRace.Win) cannot be discounted either after scoring their first victory of the season at Suzuka.
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 latest round at Misano last weekend. The German manufacturer now has 6109 points compared with the Italian marque’s 4466.
Unrestricted live coverage of races one and two plus qualifying is available on 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.
Elsewhere, Chinese fans can watch both races with Mandarin commentary live on native streaming platforms such as YouKu, Huya and Douyu.
PITSTOP SUCCESS PENALTIES – RACE 1
15s – #88 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG – Lee/Picariello
10s – #918 Panther/AAS Motorsport Porsche – Inthraphuvasak/Imperatori
05s – #911 Absolute Racing Porsche – Sathienthirakul/Hamprecht
15s – #81 BMW Team Studie – Kinoshita/Jukuchou
10s – Not competing
05s – #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG – Yu/Merlin
ADDITIONAL PITSTOP PENALTIES – FIRST RACE-BY-RACE VISIT
07s – #19 Birth Racing Project Mercedes-AMG – Okumura/Yamawaki
07s – #82 BMW Team Studie – Ida/Umeda
07s – #83 X Works Audi – Tang/Thong
07s – #390 Saccess Racing Lamborghini – Kondo/Sato
07s – #777 CarGuy Racing Ferrari – Kimura/Yamasaki
Friday 5 July
12:40 – 13:25: Free Practice 1
15:55 – 16:40: Free Practice 2
Saturday 6 July
08:00 – 08:30: Official Practice
10:25 – 10:40: Qualifying 1 – GT4
10:47 – 11:02: Qualifying 2 – GT4
11:12 – 11:27: Qualifying 1 – GT3
11:34 – 11:49: Qualifying 2 – GT3
15:45 – 16:45: Race 1
Sunday 7 July
13:05 – 14:05: Race 2