PHOENIX RACING ASIA TOPS QUALIFYING FOR SEPANG SEASON OPENER
10 April 2017
Text/Photos: Motorsport Media
Rnd#1/2 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
8 April, 2017
Phoenix Racing Asia concluded the 2016 season of the GT Asia Series as arguably the team to beat, after claiming second outright in the championship for co-team principal Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong, whilst three-time Audi R8 LMS Cup champion Alex Yoong and team-mate Alex Au claimed the penultimate race of the season.
2017 though presented a very different scenario with the maiden season of Blancpain GT Series Asia scheduled as one of the team’s major commitments, and many wondered whether the new team would be able to continue that success.
By his own admission, Alex Yoong admitted it was a long off-season and that he wasn’t sure with the threat of the new Blancpain GT Series Asia, as to whether he would have the pace to match some of the world’s best GT3 teams, but after qualifying it was pretty clear that despite a field with some immense talent, the Malaysian former Formula One driver topped the timesheets in today’s qualifying session.
“I had a lot of apprehension coming into this weekend because you never know – you go through the winter asking yourself whether you’ll still be quick. We could see yesterday that the pace was there – the cars are very even, I think we have the chance to fight. I had to have a really good lap and I had an excellent lap. I caught a little bit of traffic in the final corner that cost me a little time but I’m very happy, a great way to start the season.”
With the experienced Phoenix Racing Asia team behind him, Yoong was the standout in the second 15-minute session, setting a time almost immediately with what the team felt was the one chance he had on his new Pirelli tyres, Yoong impressive to both turn in an almost flawless lap, and negotiate the track space needed to ensure he wasn’t delayed by traffic.
Earlier Marchy Lee had come very close to making a front row start after setting the second fastest time on his first quick lap, but traffic thwarted any further forward progress, the 2012 Audi R8 LMS Cup champion ultimately classified fourth, whilst Alex Au claimed a sixth row start, Shaun Thong – carrying 25-kilograms* more weight than Alex Yoong – eleventh in the second session.
The action started as soon as the lights went out with a big crash on the main straight, an accident that very nearly claimed the #6 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi of Alex Au. Having started cautiously due to being unable to see the starting lights, Au became caught up in a five-wide battle for position across the line, a situation that ultimately saw two of those five cars hard into the inside concrete barriers.
That immediately brought out a Safety Car, with the field circulating for 15-minutes whilst the damaged cars were removed, Au fortunately able to sneak through unscathed.
On the restart Marchy Lee quickly attacked, moved methodically forward despite an early delay in getting past fellow Hong Kong driver Darryl O’Young who was driving a very defensive and very wide Porsche.
Once through, Lee managed to eke out a string of quick laps to put himself into a strong position ahead of the team’s compulsory pit stop [CPS], handing Thong the #5 Audi Hong Kong machine in position one.
A strong stop by the team saw Thong emerge in a battle for third, but with the team electing to use a tyre strategy that saw both he and Alex Yoong in the #6 car run the tyres with which they started the race, Thong very quickly came under fire from the #999 Mercedes and the #91 BMW who had the advantage of new tyres to track the 21-year old down, ultimately forcing him back to third in the closing stages of the race.
Behind him Alex Yoong had inherited the #6 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi from Alex Au just outside the top ten, and despite the older rubber, the local hero was quickly up to speed and picking his way through the field before an errant Lamborghini turned him around in turn two, slowing his progress and dropping him back down the order.
With the adrenaline well and truly pumping, the Malaysian charged back through the field to set his fastest lap of the race shortly afterwards, climbing to tenth by the time the chequered flag was displayed.
Round two of the championship begins at 11:45am (MYT) on Sunday (9 April), and you can follow it LIVE from Sepang online through http://www.blancpain-gt-series.com
* by virtue of their driver rankings as a ‘Silver-Silver’ rated driver partnership, the #5 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3 carries an additional 25-kilograms of ballast over the ‘Pro-Am’ entries or ‘Gold-Bronze’ combinations like Alex Yoong and Alex Au.
What the drivers had to say:
Marchy Lee (#5 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) “Fifth is not too bad to start the season, but we need to work on our qualifying strategy to start further towards the front. Starting fifth wasn’t bad, but we got caught up by the Porsche early who drove protective lines and that bunched up the pack and allowed the leader to get away.”
Shaun Thong (#5 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) “During the middle of my stint I felt a big drop in the tyre performance so I couldn’t hold out Marciello and Krohn, because once one of them got up the inside I was off-line to defend from the second car. It looked like they were on new tyres [after the CPS] so they had that advantage. I was hoping for a podium, but still fifth isn’t too bad for the first race of the year.
Alex Yoong (#6 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3) “I was going along pretty well, the tyres had stabilized and then I got hit at turn two out of nowhere – he deserves a penalty as far as I’m concerned, it was really stupid because he was much slower than me. We didn’t change tyres, so we didn’t really have the pace of the front runners, so the car was pretty good considering, but I’m pretty annoyed about the contact because I think that cost us two or three places.”
Alex Au (#6 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3) “Two cars jumped me off the start because I had difficulty seeing the lights to know the race had started. I almost got caught up in that start incident – without contact – and saw all sorts of chaos in my rear vision mirror. I found a bit more pace and Alex managed to get into a 2:05 with the rubber we started with, so we should be in a good position tomorrow with two sets of fresh tyres at our disposal.”
Sepang International Circuit, China (8 April, 2017)
Qualifying #1 (15-minutes)
- 86. Mitchell Gilbert (Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 2:04.180
- 37. Anthony Liu (Ferrari 488 GT3) – 2:04.362
- 99. Darryl O’Young (Porsche GT3-R) – 2:04.880
- 5. Marchy Lee (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 2:04.985
- 88. Jules Gounon (Porsche GT3-R) – 2:04.990
- 39. Jiang Xin (Ferrari 488 GT3) – 2:05.667
- 66. Martin Kodric (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) – 2:05.887
- 888. Tim Sugden (Mercedes AMG GT3) – 2:06.016
- 91. Oliver Millroy (BMW M6 GT3) – 2:06.308
- 6. Alex Au (Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 2:07.307
Qualifying #2 (15-minutes)
- 6. Alex Yoong (Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 2:03.248
- 999. Raffaele Marciello (Mercedes AMG GT3) – 2:03.255
- 7. Will Stevens (Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 2:03.462
- 13. Franky Cheng (Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 2:04.075
- 38. Rui Aguas (Ferrari 488 GT3) – 2:04.151
- 2. Ho-Pin Tung (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) – 2:04.171
- 37. Davide Rizzo (Ferrari 488 GT3) – 2:04.299
- 888. Jules Syzmkowiak (Mercedes AMG GT3) – 2:04.371
- 86. Aditya Patel (Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 2:04.505
- 5. Shaun Thong (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 2:04.803
Sepang International Circuit, China (8 April, 2017)
Rnd#1 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia (60-minutes)
- 86. Gilbert/Patel (Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 26-laps
- 999. Abbott/Marciello (Mercedes AMG GT3) +9.062
- 91. Millroy/Krohn (BMW M6 GT3) +18.247
- 888. Sugden/Syzmkowiak (Mercedes AMG GT3) +20.121
- 5. Lee/Thong (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) +26.885
- 39. Xin/Wiser (Ferrari 488 GT3) +28.553
- 88Gounon/Camathias (Porsche GT3-R) +33.952
- 66. Kodric/Stuvik (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) +38.912
- 13. Sun/Cheng (Audi R8 LMS GT3) +39.273
- 6. Au/Yoong (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) +39.417