Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia returns with a new (and longer!) name and 30-car entry for this weekend’s opening round at Sepang International Circuit.
25 GT3s, five GT4s and eight manufacturers will tackle two 60-minute sprint races.
The championship previously known as Blancpain GT Series Asia now comprises one-third of SRO Motorsports Group’s new global sprint racing platform, which also has outposts in Europe and America, designed to encourage manufacturers to support their customer teams and drivers not only the pursuit of regional success but also for the outright Blancpain GT World Challenge crown, which is collectively contested over 18 events.
Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG have both nominated their full quota of four drivers, which must include a mix of amateurs and professionals, this weekend.
Blancpain GT World Challenge Nominated Drivers
David Tjiptobiantoro – T2 Motorsports
David Russell – HubAuto Corsa
Yuya Sakamoto – HubAuto Corsa
Rio Haryanto – T2 Motorsports
Jeffrey Lee – Craft-Bamboo Racing
Xu Wei – Anstone Racing
MG Choi – Solite Indigo Racing
Christina Nielsen – Craft-Bamboo Racing
The Asian series sees new regulations introduced for the 2019 season designed to encourage greater regional representation, this mandates at least one Asian driver or resident per GT3 Pro/Am and Silver Cup entry, while only drivers from across the region and Australasia are eligible to contest GT3’s Am Cup and the GT4 class.
New champions are guaranteed across every class after three of the biggest teams, FFF Racing, GruppeM Racing and KCMG, were awarded official manufacturer contracts for SRO’s major international championships as recognition of their Blancpain GT Series Asia success.
GT3 features seven manufacturers plus 14 Pro/Am, six Silver and five Am/Am crews.
Absolute Racing finished third in 2018’s Teams’ standings and bring a total of six cars, split equally between Porsche and Audi, to Sepang.
The latter’s manufacturer-backed entry includes two Audi Sport Asia drivers, Martin Rump and Weiron Tan, while another, Cheng Congfu, shares a Pro-Am class R8 LMS GT3 Evo with Sun Jingzu. Absolute’s third Audi, running under the Singha Plan-B banner, comes courtesy of Thai duo Bhurit Bhirombhakdi and Kantasak Kusiri.
The Chinese team’s Porsche contingent is also a strong one thanks to two Intercontinental GT Challenge stars: Dennis Olsen teams up with Yuan Bo, and Alex Imperatori partners Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak aboard the Panther/AAS Motorsport entry. Meanwhile, Carrera Cup Asia graduates Tanart Sathienthirakul and Philip Hamprecht comprise a Silver Cup pairing.
HubAuto Corsa were second in last season’s Drivers’ standings and return with two more Ferraris after claiming victory at the California 8 Hours on Saturday. Morris Chen and Andrew Haryanto form a potent Am Cup duo alongside the team’s previously announced Silver-graded drivers Yuya Sakamoto and David Russell.
But it’s all change at Craft-Bamboo Racing, which has become a Mercedes-AMG Performance Team during the off-season. Jeffrey Lee and Alessio Picariello reprise their successful Pro/Am partnership, albeit with a different team and manufacturer, while Daniel Au and Melvin Moh make their full-season debuts. Elsewhere, Christina Nielsen will become the first woman ever to contest the championship’s GT3 class when she partners Darryl O’Young.
There’s no shortage of single-car teams either, although perhaps the most intriguing concerns multiple Australian Supercars champions Triple Eight who make their championship debut with Mercedes-AMG this weekend. Prince Jefri Ibrahim of the Johor Royal Family will be gunning for a strong result on home soil alongside compatriot Jazeman Jaafar.
Former F1 driver and 2019’s only full-season Platinum-graded driver, Rio Haryanto, makes his GT debut with David Tjiptobiantoro this weekend aboard T2 Motorsports’ Ferrari. The Indonesian’s progression from slicks-and-wings will undoubtedly be a talking point as the season unfolds.
Two new Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evos also make the trip courtesy of Vincenzo Sospiri Racing, which last contested the championship in 2017, and last season’s Am Cup runners-up AMAC Motorsport.
Another new-for-2019 model, McLaren’s 720S GT3, provides further variety courtesy of ABSSA Motorsport whose Japanese counterparts ARN Racing have switched from Ferrari to Porsche.
Arrows Racing’s Honda NSX GT3 Evo represents the fifth new-generation model entered at Sepang.
There has been a boom in Chinese teams joining the Series – joining Absolute Racing are China GT front-runners JR-M who demonstrated their potential with Li Chao and Chris van der Drift at Shanghai last September. Anstone Racing duo Xu Wei and Naoki Yokomizo have also committed full-time following a one-off appearance together on home soil, while debutants Audi Sport Asia Team TSRT’s David Chen is considered one of the fastest young Chinese GT drivers around.
Korean squad Solite Indigo Racing also returns with its Mercedes-AMG after scoring breakthrough podiums at 2018’s season finale. MG Choi and Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup class runner-up Gabriele Piana comprise the team’s new Silver Cup line-up.
Two more 2019-spec Porsches, both run by Modena Motorsports but one entered under OpenRoad Racing, plus B-Quik Racing’s new Am Cup-eligible Audi, which is receiving technical support from Absolute Racing, complete Sepang’s entry list.
GruppeM Racing’s Intercontinental GT Challenge switch ensures a new GT4 class champion will be crowned this year.
Or does it?!
2017 title winners Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin are back aboard the same Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMG with which they contested selected rounds last season. The pair would probably start as favourites were it not for BMW Team Studie’s Takayuki Kinoshita and Sunako Jukuchou who won five times en route to second in 2018’s points.
Team iRace.Win has upped its GT4 commitment to a pair Mercedes-AMGs, one of which features race winner Ringo Chong who, unlike in previous years, will benefit from having the same full-season co-driver, Setiawan Santoso, at every round. The other pairs Naomi Zhang with Alan Yeo.
Meanwhile, Tony Fong and Brian Lee also switch to Mercedes-AMG after spending 2018 with Porsche. Could that be the catalyst for their maiden Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia victory this weekend?
The championship’s live stream coverage is unrestricted worldwide with qualifying and race coverage with English commentary live this Saturday and Sunday on Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia’s Facebook page and website, plus SRO’s GT World Youtube channel.
Meanwhile, live timing from every session can be found on blancpain-gt-world-challenge-asia.com/live.