Suzuka braced for biggest Blancpain GT Series Asia entry of the season
26th June 2018
A season-high 31 supercars travel to Suzuka this weekend (June 30-July 1) for the first leg of Blancpain GT Series Asia’s Japanese double header.
Suzuka’s iconic 5.807km, 18-turn figure-of-eight circuit remains one of motorsport’s greatest challenges, as well as a bucket list destination for any driver. Two 60-minute sprint races will provide a stern test for Blancpain GT Series Asia’s teams before the championship completes its mid-season Japanese adventure in Fuji three weeks later.
23 GT3 cars make the trip to Suzuka where FFF Racing Team by ACM’s Martin Kodric and Dennis Lind will be eager to extend their championship lead by claiming a first win of the season. The Lamborghini duo have been extremely consistent thus far but are still searching for a first victory after twice finishing runners-up. Indeed, a podium in Buriram’s second race means they must serve a 10s pitstop success penalty during Suzuka’s opening race on Saturday.
Meanwhile, GruppeM Racing will be aiming to maintain their 100% victory record so far in 2018. The team’s #888 and #999 Mercedes-AMGs both won races in Malaysia and Thailand but have also been inconsistent, while a rotating driver roster ensures that Patric Niederhauser is currently alone in second overall and just four points off the pace. Markus Pommer, with whom he claimed Race 1 victory at Buriram, again joins the Swiss this weekend.
Raffaele Marciello is also back in the #888 entry after AMG commitments at the Nurburgring 24 Hours prevented him from racing in Thailand. However, the Italian will serve the full 15s success penalty in Suzuka’s opener as a result of co-driver Alexander Mattschull winning Race 2 at Buriram alongside super-sub Maxi Buhk.
Consistency has also been key to Nick Foster and Leo Ye Hongli occupying third in the overall standings after four races. They’re joined in the HubAuto Corsa garage by a new face this weekend after Ferrari factory star Davide Rigon was called up to partner Morris Chen in the absence of Tim Slade, who has a clashing Australia Supercars round.
Martin Rump and Franky Cheng are the best-placed Audi crew in fourth while Hiroshi Hamaguchi – along with FFF Racing co-driver Marco Mapelli – will be eager to strengthen his Pro/Am championship lead and overall position on home soil.
Elsewhere, former Porsche Carrera Cup Asia champion Alexandre Imperatori makes his expected Blancpain GT Series Asia debut with KCMG in place of Tsugio Matsuda who will spend the rest of 2018 focusing on his primary Super GT commitments with Nissan.
However, the level of local interest remains significant at Suzuka thanks to several Japanese race-by-race entries joining the likes of ARN Racing and BMW Team Studie.
CarGuy Racing claimed a GT3 victory during their previous outing at Fuji last season and return with the same bright yellow Lamborghini Huracan, which is driven by team owner Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino.
Multiple Super GT300 champion Tetsuya Yamano joins his brother Naoya at Porsche Team EBI, D’station Racing’s 991 GT3 R piloted by the familiar pairing of Satoshi Hoshino and Seiji Ara is also back, and last year’s Fuji winner Naoki Yokomizo joins Tamotsu Kondo aboard Kizashi x Saccess Racing’s fluorescent orange Lamborghini. All four race-by-race crews will be stationary for an additional 7s during their Race 1 pitstop.
There’s also a change at ARN Racing whose clashing Super GT commitments have forced full-season drivers Hiroaki Nagai and Daisuke Ito to miss Suzuka. They’re replaced in the #8 Ferrari by Am Cup duo Shinji Takei and Hideki Nagai, who usually compete in Porsche Carrera Cup Japan. Their minimum pitstop time in Race 1 has increased by 7s as a result of changing both drivers.
Pirelli’s new-for-2018 P Zero DHD2 tyre will also be introduced for the first time this year at Suzuka. Many GT3 teams will have their first chance to try the new compound during a five-hour test session this Thursday before the weekend begins with practice on Friday.
GT4: HOME ADVANTAGE FOR BMW TEAM STUDIE?
Mercedes-AMG has also ruled the GT4 class so far this season, but Suzuka offers BMW Team Studie another opportunity to make good on its undoubted promise. The M4s have already claimed podiums this year but also had the pace to win races before various issues intervened.
The Japanese team and drivers’ local knowledge could prove vital to finally beating GruppeM Racing’s Reinhold Renger and the Team iRace.Win entry shared by Ringo Chong and Gilles Vannelet which, together, have won all four races staged so far.
Jean-Marc Merlin has also switched to a Mercedes-AMG this weekend along with regular co-driver Frank Yu. The reigning GT4 champions currently occupy third overall and will be aiming to cut Renger’s 30-point advantage at a circuit where they won together 12 months ago.
Renger drove solo in Buriram but is joined this weekend by Asian Le Mans Series racer Ryuichirou Ohtsuka, who is one of 18 Japanese drivers entered at Suzuka.
There’s also a change at Taiwan Top Speed where Suzuka specialist George Chou returns to partner Keo Chang. The pair won Race 2 together last season, while Chou also claimed a pole positon and set the class’ existing lap record.
Watch this weekend’s qualifying session and races live on the championship’s Facebook page and website, as well as SRO’s GT World Youtube channel.
Thursday 28 June
09:00 – 12:00: Test
14:00 – 16:00: Test
Friday 29 June
13:00 – 13:45: Free Practice 1
17:05 – 17:50: Free Practice 2
Saturday 30 June
08:10 – 08:40: Official Practice
09:55 – 10:10: Qualifying 1
10:20 – 10:35: Qualifying 2
14:20 – 15:20: Race 1
Sunday 1 July
10:50 – 11:50: Race 2
PITSTOP SUCCESS PENALTIES
GT3: Race 1
15s – #888 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Mattschull/Marciello
10s – #19 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – Kodric/Lind
05s – #23 KCMG Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 – Liberati/Strauss
GT4: Race 1
15s – #666 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 – Renger/TBC
10s – #72 Team iRace.Win Mercedes-AMG GT4 – Chong/Vannelet
05s – #82 BMW Team Studie BMW M4 GT4 – Urata/Chen
GT3 – 2m03.611s – Max Wiser – Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 – 2017
GT4 – 2m19.496s – George Chou – Taiwan Top Speed Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 – 2017
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Blancpain – Innovation is our tradition
Since 1735, Blancpain has been contributing to the development of mechanical watchmaking, while conserving the traditional skills of its founder
From the creation of components through to watch design, Blancpain is distinguished by its ability to develop exceptional movements. Through its various models, Blancpain preserves its heritage of precision and elegance, while also displaying an innovative and occasionally provocative spirit. Its range encompasses the sportive Levolution line, the legendary Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch, as well as the classic Villeret collection, the high complication from Le Brassus collection and the Women models.
Over the past nine years, Blancpain has emerged as a pre-eminent force in the field of motorsport and established a leading profile among automobile manufacturers, drivers, and spectators. The Manufacture has become an international benchmark in GT racing through its partnerships such as the Blancpain GT Series Europe (including the Blancpain Endurance Series and the Blancpain Sprint Series), the Blancpain GT Series Asia, the Blancpain Sports Club and the British GT Championship. Watchmaking and automotive mechanics meet and mingle, as Blancpain thrives on being in the heat of the action by serving as official timekeeper.
Pirelli – Official Tyre Supplier
Pirelli is a tyre manufacturer and world leader in the automotive industry. It has an exclusive relationship with over 50 racing series worldwide, including Formula One.
Pirelli has a long and illustrious history in endurance racing, and has also claimed a huge variety of class wins in GT racing all over the world. The design of the new Pirelli GT tyres meets the needs of GT racing while maintaining the performance characteristics that endurance drivers have appreciated in the past.The slick tyres used for GT racing are branded Zero: just like the slicks that have become a central feature of Formula One. The name P Zero is used in the highest categories of motorsport such as GT racing.
SRO Motorsports Group – The architect of modern GT racing
Over the past 25 years SRO has specialised in the promotion and organisation of motorsport series around the world.
Inextricably linked with GT racing’s revival in the early 1990s, currently SRO predominantly promotes series that adhere to the successful GT3 and GT4 regulations. Indeed, these rules – a common framework allowing manufacturers, teams and drivers to compete equally with one another – have helped to establish SRO as the global leader in customer GT racing.
Today, SRO’s influence and organisation can be seen around the world. Its flagship continues to be the European-based Blancpain GT Series, which features both the Sprint and Endurance Cups. Its annual highlight remains the iconic Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The same Pirelli tyres and Balance of Performance parameters governing the Blancpain GT Series have also been adopted in the United States by the Pirelli World Challenge (of which SRO is a shareholder), while SRO expanded its successful platform East in 2017 by establishing Blancpain GT Series Asia.
In addition, the world’s best GT races from all four corners of the globe are brought together under the Intercontinental GT Challenge. The 2018 edition features four events – the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the inaugural Suzuka 10 Hours, and the California 8 Hours of Laguna Seca.
SRO is also strong domestically. The multi-class British GT Championship, over which it has presided since 2005, pairs GT3 with GT4 machinery. The FFSA French GT Championship, for many years run by SRO, returned to the fold in 2017, and was added to the existing GT4 European Series. GT4’s incredibly successful first season in France provided SRO with the blueprint and confidence to expand the class’ European footprint further. Three new regional series to support the flourishing GT4 class are added in 2018: GT4 Nordic European Cup, GT4 Central European Cup and GT4 Belgium Cup.
In addition, SRO’s world-renowned Balance of Performance regulations are licensed by other series running GT3 and/or GT4 machinery, such as Super GT in Japan, the Australian GT Championship, the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship in the USA, the ADAC GT Masters and the VLN in Germany and the China GT Championship. SRO also works closely with the FIA when organising its prestigious Macau FIA GT World Cup race.
While Macau caters solely for professional teams and drivers, SRO also understands the important role amateurs play in GT racing’s global success and sustainability. That is why it operates the SRO Race Centre by MMC – a high-level technical centre at Circuit Paul Ricard in southern France – and Curbstone Track Events, which provide the ultimate track driving opportunities on world-renowned circuits. Many of its clients have subsequently graduated to the Blancpain GT Sports Club, the first competitive stepping stone towards gaining the confidence and racecraft required to compete in a Pro/Am environment.
SRO Motorsports Group is chaired by company founder and CEO Stephane Ratel and has offices in London, Paris, Liège and Hong Kong. Its dedicated team of full-time and freelance staff work with the support of numerous national sporting authorities and sanctioning bodies to offer teams, drivers and manufacturers the world’s best professional, Pro/Am and amateur GT racing platforms.