LIBERATI, AMICI AND LAMBORGHINI ARE 2016 GT ASIA SERIES CHAMPIONS
30 October 2016
GT Asia Series Shang Peng Race of Shanghai
Shanghai International Circuit, China
Rnd#11/12, 2016 GT Asia Series – 19-20 October, 2016
Text/Photos: Motorsport Media
- FFF Racing Team by ACM claim Rnd#12 win and 2016 GT Asia Series title
- Alex Yoong and Alex Au claim maiden GT Asia victories in Rnd#11
- Edoardo Liberati and Andrea Amici claim title from Shaun Thong and Marchy Lee
After 12 dramatic rounds, the 2016 GT Asia Series has come to its conclusion with two young Italian stars claiming the crown after a final event that perhaps fittingly, provided plenty of intrigue.
Ultimately it came down to the final race of the season in wet and tricky conditions, for FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini stars Edoardo Liberati and Andrea Amici to claim the title, and with it, the first ever championship victory for the new Lamborghini Huracan GT3.
For title rivals Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo, their final couldn’t have been any worse.. Needing to reduce the deficit to the points leaders by just nine points coming in, their event started perfectly with both Liu and Rizzo claiming front row starts in qualifying.
Sadly from there things went sideways starting from the opening lap of race one, with Rizzo tagged by outgoing champion Darryl O’Young – from there it was a matter of playing catch-up as the advantage swung back in favour of the two young Italians who were battling their own issues. Rizzo stormed back though the pack to catch the leaders, but made heavy impact with the rear of the GruppeM Porsche under brakes in near zero visibility, forcing the team’s second retirement of the year. The AF Corse supported BBT team regrouped to repair the car for race two, three hours later, with Liu starting strongly before a spin at turn three – again on the opening lap – saw him tagged by the pack as they tried to avoid him. Starting once more from the rear of the field, the two Ferrari drivers charged back through the field to finish sixth.
Whilst the BBT team endured their toughest event of the season, Phoenix Racing Asia delivered another strong result with Alex Yoong and team-mate Alex Au claiming their maiden wins in GT Asia in Round 11, whilst team-mates Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong closed out the season with two podium finishes to advance to second in the championship on debut.
Along with their outright championship victory, Liberati and Amici were also crowned the Pro-Cup champions for the 2016 season, whilst Shaun Thong finished his debut season in GT Asia as the Am-Cup champion.
Bentley Team Absolute – by claiming four wins in the 12-round season – were crowned GT Asia Series Teams champions, whilst Bhurit Bhirombhakdi and Kantasak Kusiri claimed the GTC Class crown.
After a predominantly wet day for practice and qualifying, teams were met by more rain ahead of the two final rounds of the season as typhoon season hit south-east Asia, adding another level of intrigue to the season finale.
Whilst it was relatively clear on the grid ahead of round one, there was no question that it would be a wet race, the spray off the start as teams hit the main straight for the penultimate race of the year an indication of just how difficult the race would be.
Pole-man Alex Yoong made the best of the start to lead into turn one, with Shang Peng Racing’s Richard Lyons in close pursuit.
Off the outside of the front row, BBT’s David Rizzo was always going to have a difficult start to the race, but he hung onto the two leaders through turn one and into turn two, giving Darryl O’Young plenty of room to his inside, but the reigning champion lost the rear of the #91 VLT Porsche on the run into turn two, spinning into the path of the luckless Rizzo.
A number of cars were forced to take avoiding action, but fortunately there was no more contact, Rizzo rejoining at the rear of the field whilst O’Young was left stranded across the ripple strip on the outside of turn two forcing a Safety Car intervention.
That allowed the field to regroup, whilst O’Young returned to pit lane with the rear bumper off the car, but he too ultimately rejoined the field to continue the race.
On the restart Yoong again led the field away with Lyons in close pursuit, the big vocal crowd cheering above the sound of the cars as the Shang Peng Porsche passed down the main straight each lap. Behind them Adderly Fong had made the most of the opening lap melee to move into third with new FFF Racing recruit Marco Mapelli and Fong’s Bentley team-mate Duncan Tappy close behind.
As for the title contenders, that provided a different picture. Edo Liberati was back in seventh, with Rizzo trying hard to regroup from tenth position, whilst Phoenix Racing Asia’s two-time race winner Shaun Thong was looking to recover from multiple contacts on the battle through the opening two turns on lap one.
Tragically for the Rizzo/Liu combination, their tough start to the final event of the year came to a dramatic end on lap four, Rizzo forced to walk away from the car at turn 14 after contact with the rear of the GruppeM Racing Porsche, the damage to the front of the #37 BBT Ferrari ensuring their immediate retirement.
“Visibility was near zero, and I was pushing hard to recover from the hit by O’Young at turn two, and as I came to where my braking point was at the end of the straight the mist cleared to reveal the tail of the Porsche, and I had nowhere to go,” a disappointed Rizzo admitted afterwards.
Ultimately overtaking was limited ahead of the compulsory pit stop, with constantly changing conditions forcing drivers to focus much of their attention to staying on the circuit, whilst visibility too became worse as the rain started to intensify.
Yoong led Lyons down pit lane towards the end of the compulsory pit stop window, handing the car to Alex Au, whilst Lyons handed the reigns of the #88 Shang Peng Porsche to Frank Yu who actually left pit lane as the race leader, Au not far behind.
Behind the leaders the Andrew Kim and Vutthikorn Bentleys held third and fourth, with Li Chao an impressive fifth.
Up front though a fairy-tale result looked to be on the cards for Craft-Bamboo’s Frank Yu who was looking comfortable in the testing conditions in the Shang Peng Porsche, a win providing event sponsor Shang Peng with the perfect result, whilst for Yu’s team-mate Richard Lyons it was an opportunity to share in what would be his maiden victory in the Series, but sadly despite looking strong, a slight spin into turn one allowed Au to move the #6 Audi into the lead with 15 minutes to go.
Yu regrouped quickly but in the process, fell behind Andrew Kim however within a couple of laps he had closed onto Kim’s tail, forcing his way past in a drag race down to the final corner. From there he set his sights on race leader Au as behind him Marchy Lee was on a big charge through the field to be onto the tail of the leading trio over the closing laps.
For Franky Yu he started to close down the 15-second lead of Au, but just two laps from home the #88 Shang Peng Porsche spun on the exit of turn two, in the process dropping back to fourth place as Marchy Lee closed in on Andrew Kim, the Audi driver though not able to make the second step of the podium despite being the fastest driver on the circuit across the closing laps.
Up front though the victory – by an impressive 23-seconds – went to Alex Au with Andrew Kim across the line second for Bentley Team Absolute, whilst Marchy Lee made it a Phoenix Racing Asia 1-2 with third place, the gold Audi Hong Kong machine finishing just two seconds behind Kim despite starting more than 30-seconds further back after the compulsory mid-race stop.
For the title contenders, there was no great news, although for the points leading #55 Lamborghini, they were gifted fifth placed points despite their seventh place finish, with team-mates Mapelli and Mul and the #96 Porsche not recording points as non-series registered entrants.
Despite the advantage though, the title was still to be decided in the final race of the season, although for Liu and Rizzo, their only hope of championship victory was a third win for the season, and a DNF for the FFF Lamborghini.. it looked to be an almost impossible task, but you can never guarantee anything in motorsport..
With rain continuing to fall ahead of the final round of the 2016 season, teams were expecting more of the same as they rolled out onto the grid in front of the big vocal Shanghai crowd. The important news though was not the weather, but rather the re-emergence of the #37 Ferrari which had been repaired in the three hour break between races, with the AF Corse supported BBT crew working feverishly to rebuild the front end of the car, and to look at it, it looked pristine as it sat on the front row of the grid with Liu behind the wheel.
The local heroes though had their work cut out for them, the championship result relied on only one scenario.. victory to the #37 Ferrari and a failure to finish for the #55 Lamborghini. Under those conditions, and only those conditions, the two teams would finish the season equal on points, but by virtue of their two previous 2016 round wins, Liu and Rizzo would be classified champions with Liberati and Amici sharing only one win for the year. It was a big ask for the two Ferrari drivers, but a challenge they were willing to take, although unknown to them, the final event of the season would feel very much like ‘Groundhog Day’..
Off the line for the final time in 2016, Liu grabbed P1 immediately from title rival and pole-sitter Amici to lead the field into turn one, but almost immediately Amici charged, and looked up the inside on the run into turn two.
Liu was forced wide, cutting across the grass on the exit of the long right-hander before the kink at turn three, but he ran across the slippery ripple strip on the exit and spun in front of the closely following pack.
Contact was inevitable, with race one winner Alex Au just clipping the rear of the Ferrari as he approached the apex of turn three, although fortunately without serious damage to either car, but in a case of deja-vu, the #37 Ferrari wasn’t the only to spin, Toy Bhirombhakdi in the #91 VLT Porsche also turned around on the exit of turn two.
Sadly the young Craft-Bamboo driver had clipped the rear of Vutthikorn’s Bentley as the field tried to avoid the inverted Ferrari, spinning both cars off the circuit.
Up front though Amici held the lead, the young Italian looking to put the championship result out of question as he charged away from Marchy Lee and Keita Sawa who had taken advantage of Joreon Mul going wide on the run into turn one in the #15 Lamborghini.
Further back in the field Anthony Liu was charging, the Chinese driver quickly regrouped after his turn two spin to be on the tail of Alex Au for eighth position by the completion of the opening lap, the Ferrari driver putting his new Michelin wets to great use to charge through to fifth ahead of the compulsory pit stops.
Up front though nothing could stop Amici, the young Lamborghini Junior Driver charging away from the field to be up by more than six seconds after five laps, and by more than ten seconds by the time he hit pit lane at the mid-point of the race to hand over to team-mate Liberati to complete what would be the most important 30-minutes of his racing life.
With most teams electing to stop early in the window, Liberati was one of the last to leave pit lane, his lengthy pit stop compensation time (based on driver gradings and past podium successes) holding the #55 team longer than most, before he rejoined to slot into the battle for the lead behind team-mate Mapelli.
The last driver to make the change though was two-time 2016 race winner Marchy Lee, the Audi driver hanging out until the dying stages of the pit window to extend his lead with a sequence of stunning laps to give team-mate Shaun Thong a chance to fight for the front at the completion of the stop, the young Hong Kong-based driver splitting the two Lamborghinis as he exited pit lane.
From there it was just a matter of completing the final leg of the race until the flag, Thong almost immediately coming under fire from Liberati who needed just to finish to record the championship win, but the young Italian pushed hard to try for a FFF Racing 1-2 in the final race of the season, poking his nose up the inside of Thong a number of times over the final laps before ultimately settling for third.
Up front though the win went to Marco Mapelli on debut for the FFF Lamborghini operation, whilst Thong prevailed to hold out Liberati for second, in the process elevating the #5 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi to second in the championship.
Liberati crossed the line to complete an almost perfect finish for the FFF team, his result giving the two Italians a podium finish in every single stop on the 2016 GT Asia Series calendar, and with it, the 2016 championship crown.
Fourth across the line was Jonathan Venter who withstood the charging Alex Yoong across the closing laps, whilst Davide Rizzo crossed the line in sixth place in the battered #37 BBT Ferrari, the Italian lamenting what might have been.
Seventh was Richard Lyons in the Shang Peng Porsche, whilst Adderly Fong completed his season in eighth ahead of outgoing champion Darryl O’Young.
Sadly the GruppeM Porsche of Zhang Dasheng and Li Chao was forced into retirement mid-race with a technical issue, whilst Vutthikorn’s tough end to the season continued with retirement on the opening lap from suspension damage sustained in the opening corner contact from Bhirombhakdi.
So at the end of what had been an incredible season which had seen eight different winning combinations (from 12 rounds), wins for four different manufacturers, and some of the best GT racing witnessed anywhere in the world this year, the 2016 GT Asia Series has come to its conclusion with promises that 2016 is just a snapshot of what 2017 has to offer.. See you next season!