OD Racing’s Mitch Gilbert and Aditya Patel kept their Blancpain GT Series Asia championship hopes alive by claiming a second victory of the season at Zhejiang earlier today in a race that featured all three title contenders finishing inside the top-four.
Aidan Read and Alberto Di Folco claimed theirs and FFF Racing Team by ACM’s maiden series podium with second, while Hunter Abbott cut Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong’s title advantage to a single point after he and Maxi Buhk completed the overall rostrum. With it, they also took Pro/Am honours and helped secure the GT3 Teams’ crown for GruppeM Racing and Mercedes-AMG.
Meanwhile, in GT4, Jean-Marc Merlin and Frank Yu now have one hand on the class title after the Craft-Bamboo Racing duo converted pole position into victory. Just finishing tomorrow’s season finale will be enough for them to be crowned champions.
GT3: Title Contenders Show Their Class
The three remaining title-contending crews started second, fourth and seventh, and all once again proved their credentials in the weekend’s opening hour-long race which began behind the Safety Car due to rain. A second was necessary almost immediately after racing began in earnest to clear away Jiang Xin’s crashed Ferrari, but when the action resumed all three were on the attack.
Indeed, laps seven and eight witnessed a spate of passing moves thanks to championship leader Lee who relieved Devon Modell and Tim Sugden of sixth and fifth in quick succession. Sensing his rival’s progression, Patel also chose lap eight to take the lead from pole-sitter and debutant Chris Dreyspring, who then dropped to third in the same move thanks to Read’s opportunist pass.
With the fast-starting Lee now sat behind fourth-placed Abbott, Patel was able to bolt clear at the front and, in the process, negate his and Gilbert’s five-second pitstop success penalty. The Malaysian thus re-joined still ahead of Di Folco, who’d taken over from Read, and Shaun Thong whose Audi Hong Kong co-driver Lee stopped later in the pit window.
That helped the Audi initially leapfrog Abbott’s team-mate Buhk before the German reversed the positions with 23 minutes remaining. The gap between them fluctuated thereafter but neither could catch Di Folco who remained out of reach en route to his and Read’s best result of the season.
But there was no stopping Gilbert who extended his initial slender lead to 5.6s by the chequered flag. The result sees he and Patel reduce their championship deficit to 15 points, while Lee and Thong now lead Abbott by just one ahead of tomorrow’s season finale.
Behind the top-four were GruppeM’s second pairing of Sugden and Jules Szymkowiak, the latter remaining close to Thong throughout the second stint without ever having a chance to pass. They, like Abbott and Buhk, shared in GruppeM’s title-winning campaign.
Sixth went to Milestone Racing’s Jingzu Sun and Franky Cheng after the latter made progress late on, while Alessio Picariello’s rapid stint also moved the J-Fly by Absolute Racing Audi he shares with Jeffrey Lee from outside the top-10 to seventh. A similarly strong performance from Martin Rump helped the Estonian and Rick Yoon finish eighth ahead of Modell and Andre Heimgartner’s Porsche as well as the Lamborghini driven by Dreyspring and Sandy Stuvik, which struggled over the second half of the race after pitting from third.
The Am Cup title battle will also go down to the final round after CMRT Eurasia’s James Cai and Kenneth Lim defeated X-One Motorsports’ Andrew Haryanto. Five points now separate the leading Lamborghini and Aston Martin, while Lin Yue is another eight further back.
GT4: Merlin and You Almost there
While GT3 appears wide open, Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin took a giant step towards winning this year’s GT4 title after claiming class victory. The pair led from start-to-finish despite Kan Zang and Ringo Chong’s best efforts aboard the HubAuto Racing Porsche, which looked particularly threatening in the opening stint.
The top-four cars circulated together early on as Yu tried his best to fend off Zang. Merlin maintained that theme throughout the second 30 minutes en route to his fifth win of the year and, crucially, another 25 points.
Byron Tong and Eric Lo were the Craft-Bamboo pair’s nearest rivals before the start but were knocked out of championship contention after finishing fifth. Taiwan Top Speed Racing’s Keo Chang is therefore the only remaining contender, although he and co-driver Jeremy Wang, who completed the class podium today, must win tomorrow and rely on Merlin/Yu retiring if there’s to be a dramatic late twist in this year’s championship battle.
Blancpain GT Series Asia’s 60-minute season finale begins at 10:50 tomorrow. Watch it live on the championship’s website and Facebook page, SRO’s GT World Youtube channel, and across China via a wide variety of domestic streaming platforms.
Aditya Patel, #86 OD Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3: “We knew it would be a battle starting second, but Dreyspring didn’t have the sort of pace we were expecting. Aidan [Read] was also right there behind me so it was important to get past quickly. I managed to drive around the outside, but that also helped Aidan who then hassled me for a few laps before I found my rhythm and gained the time that allowed Mitch to come out still leading. It keeps our title hopes alive, tomorrow we want to go out there and do the same job. Okay, we’ve got the five-second penalty that comes with winning, but you never know what can happen.”
Frank Yu, #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR: “We’re close, but we must still work for it tomorrow. We’re two points short of the title so we only need to finish tomorrow’s race. For a change, Jean-Marc [Merlin] and I have agreed to sit back and watch these guys fight it out. I only had one job today and that was to hand the car over to Jean-Marc still in the lead, because Zhejiang is a tough place to pass. So I was just taking it easy, even if Kan [Zang] did a really good job hustling me. It was a really good fight, he was really quick but there was no contact whatsoever. It was fun the whole way.”