Zhejiang produced perhaps the most intriguing Blancpain GT Series Asia qualifying session of the season earlier today after Chris Dreyspring claimed pole for VSR on debut and GT3 title contender Mitch Gilbert scored his second of the season after beating Martin Rump by just 0.009s.
GT4 was The Craft-Bamboo Racing Show thanks to Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin, who took a pole position apiece. The pair will have an opportunity to further extend their championship lead tomorrow, and even potentially clinch the title if other results go their way.
In a change from tradition, Zhejiang’s tight and twisty layout prompted championship organisers, SRO Motorsports Group, to separate the GT3 and GT4 classes during qualifying, ensuring that no laps would be compromised. That led to four 15-minute sessions instead of the usual two.
Lamborghini Super Trofeo racer Chris Dreyspring was a late addition to VSR’s #66 line-up but made an immediate impression by claiming pole position in his maiden Blancpain GT Series Asia qualifying session. The 19-year-old German snared top spot for Saturday’s race by beating championship contender Aditya Patel by 0.422s, while Aidan Read secured FFF Racing Team by ACM’s best grid slot of the season in third.
Dreyspring took provisional pole on his first flying lap courtesy of a 1m26.323s lap and retained it thereafter, while behind several drivers squabbled over the remaining front row slot. Patel yo-yoed between second and fourth throughout but finally deposed Read on his final flying run to qualify as the highest placed title hopeful. The Indian and his OD Racing co-driver Mitch Gilbert, who have a five-second pitstop success penalty to serve tomorrow, must beat championship leaders Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong if they’re to remain in contention come Sunday.
Read held on to third ahead of GruppeM Racing’s Hunter Abbott, who starts Saturday’s race four points behind but three places ahead of Lee, who could only claim seventh aboard his Audi Hong Kong-entered R8 LMS GT3.
Tim Sugden was just 0.009s behind the sister Mercedes-AMG in sixth and 0.054s ahead of Devon Modell’s Craft-Bamboo Porsche which looked like a top-three candidate for most of the session. Alex Au lines up one place and just 0.030s behind Lee on row four.
GT3 Am honours went to class leader Andrew Haryanto who will once again race the X-One Motorsports Lamborghini solo this weekend.
Elsewhere, Craft-Bamboo grabbed the GT4 title battle by the scruff of its neck thanks to Frank Yu whose 1m36.598s lap was enough to beat Zang Kan’s HubAuto Racing Porsche by 0.378s. Keo Chang, who currently lies third in the standings, starts in the same place tomorrow and ahead of Tony Fong and Byron Tong.
After analysing Dreyspring’s qualifying performance, SRO has adjusted the #66 VSR Lamborghini’s grading accordingly. The German and his co-driver Sandy Stuvik will now compete as a Silver Cup entry.
GT3 & GT4 Q2:
The second GT3 session witnessed a fantastic scrap between a quartet of Audi R8 LMS Cup front-runners, but it was ultimately Mitch Gilbert who prevailed after sealing pole by the narrowest margin in the championship’s short history.
Just 0.009s separated the OD Racing Audi from Martin Rump’s KCMG by Champion Racing R8 LMS GT3 after the Malaysian set the fastest time of the day: 1m25.720s.
Alessio Picariello, who had taken three poles in four attempts prior to today, was first to set a representative time before Rump – fastest in second practice – marginally lowered his time. The Belgian responded but was still an agonising 0.085s shy when Gilbert went fastest of all.
His second pole of the year backed up Patel’s earlier front row slot and could prove crucial should the OD Racing pair remain in contention come Sunday.
Franky Cheng’s Milestone Racing entry was next and less than two tenths down on pole, while the #999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG was once again fastest non-Audi, this time thanks to Maxi Buhk. The German lapped just 0.201s slower than Gilbert and only 0.007s shy of Cheng.
Spirit of Race’s Max Wiser completed the top-six ahead of Alex Yoong and Jules Szymkowiak. But championship leader Shaun Thong, who might see his advantage eroded during Saturday’s race, could only manage ninth. VSR’s Stuvik completed the top-10, while the first 14 cars were separated by little more than one second.
GT4 once again belonged to Craft-Bamboo after Jean-Marc Merlin backed up his co-driver’s Race 1 pole by qualifying fastest for Sunday’s final round of the season. The Frenchman’s best of 1m36.998s was 0.742s clear of primary championship challenger Eric Lo and a similar margin ahead of Ringo Chong.
Mitch Gilbert, #86 OD Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3: “To be completely honest I didn’t really know what was going on! I knew it was close because everyone kept swapping around, and I then assumed everyone was going to improve right at the end after I’d pitted. Waiting was the worst bit! Aditya also did well so we’ve pretty much done the best we can up to this point if we want to remain in the championship fight. We’ve got to try and win the race, and Marchy [Lee] and Shaun [Thong] do seem to be struggling a bit.”
Jean-Marc Merlin, #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR: “We are definitely where we want to be, so it’s ours to lose now. On track, in terms of performance across a crew, it looks like we are the quickest, so now it’s a case of making it work better than we did in Shanghai. Historically the quicker drivers seem to start the second race but Frank, who was about a tenth faster in practice, opted to start the first. Securing a good result will make us a lot more relaxed for the second, and especially if it rains.”