Blancpain GT Series Asia opens a second season of competition in Sepang this weekend with a 29 car entry comprising 21 GT3s and eight GT4s.
Sepang’s list includes several previously unannounced entries including the return of reigning double champions GruppeM Racing whose pair of Mercedes-AMG GT3s feature two brand new driver line-ups: Nico Bastian and Patric Niederhauser join forces aboard 2017’s championship-winning #999 car, while AMG factory ace Raffaele Marciello partners French amateur Brice Bosi in the #888 Pro/Am entry.
Marciello starred at Sepang during a one-off outing with GruppeM last season and returns for five of this year’s six rounds. Fellow AMG factory driver Maxi Buhk will stand in for the Italian at Buriram, while Markus Pommer is expected to take Bastian’s place in Thailand as well as Suzuka, Fuji and Ningbo.
Audi again holds the numerical GT3 advantage courtesy of six full-season entries. While Absolute Racing oversee three of them, it’s European powerhouse Team WRT who feature the best placed of last season’s R8 drivers: Aditya Patel and Mitch Gilbert. The OD Racing pair claimed three victories, including one at Sepang, in 2017, and will be hoping to go one better this time around after ending the year as runners-up by a single point.
Other Audi entries also feature drivers of interest, with Sepang’s Race 2 winner Anthony Liu joining Josh Burdon at Absolute Racing and home favourite Alex Yoong returning with Phoenix Racing Asia to partner Pro/Am co-driver Lim Keong Wee.
Craft-Bamboo Racing finished 2017 strongly and again spearhead Porsche’s challenge with three proven podium finishers in the form of Sandy Stuvik, Aidan Read and Darryl O’Young, who claimed the team and manufacturer’s first series victory at Shanghai.
Meanwhile, Ferrari’s challenge is carried by two of 2017’s race-by-race entries who are stepping up to full-season campaigns. Japanese squad ARN Racing certainly impressed on home soil at Suzuka and Fuji where their 488 GT3 proved one of the quickest cars on show. They’re joined on the entry list by HubAuto Corsa who switch from Porsche to Prancing Horse this year after becoming Blancpain GT Series Asia’s first full-time team from Taiwan.
Three Lamborghinis also feature courtesy of FFF Racing Team by ACM and AMAC Motorsport, the latter becoming the championship’s first Australian representatives, while Honda and Aston Martin both also comprise an Am Cup entry apiece thanks to Arrows Racing and reigning class champions CMRT Eurasia, respectively.
But one of the biggest talking points this weekend will be the performance of Nissan’s 2018-spec GT-R NISMO GT3, two of which have been entered by the manufacturer’s new customer squad, KCMG. Platinum-graded Super GT legend Tsugio Matsuda leads the team at Sepang.
GT4 will be more diverse this year in Blancpain GT Series Asia thanks to eight full-season entries comprising four different manufacturers.
Porsche though still enjoys the upper hand in terms of numbers, with three Cayman GT4 Clubsport MRs lining up at Sepang. Among them are reigning champions Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin, who won in Malaysia 12 months ago en route to the Drivers’ title with Craft-Bamboo Racing.
They’re joined on the grid by two BMW Team Studie M4s and another pair of Mercedes-AMG GT4s, the latter of which has been entered by reigning GT3 champions GruppeM Racing.
McLaren were the only manufacturer to prevent a Porsche whitewash in 2017, and the same combination that triumphed during a one-off outing at Fuji, Clearwater Racing’s Mok Weng Sun and Richard Wee, are back for a full-season assault aboard their 570S GT4.
Pre-season testing begins today before free practice officially kicks off the campaign this Friday. That’s followed by further practice plus qualifying and Race 1 on Saturday before the weekend’s second 60-minute contest wraps up this year’s season opener on Sunday.