10 April 2017

Text/Photos: Motorsport Media

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Rnd#1/2 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia

Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia

9 April, 2017

Phoenix Racing Asia came into the maiden season of the European-founded Blancpain GT Series Asia as one of the likely title favourites and after two hotly contested 60-minute races in the intense Malaysian heat, Audi Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong emerged from race two with a podium finish and a strong haul of championship points to be equal third on the points table.

After qualifying on pole position with the fastest lap on Saturday morning, Phoenix Racing Asia’s three-time Audi R8 LMS Cup champion Alex Yoong led the field away but was quickly under fire from WEC star Rui Aguas in a Ferrari 488, the Portugese driver using a different tyre strategy to attack early, but it didn’t last, the experienced Malaysian campaigner almost immediately back at the front of the pack.

Behind him Shaun Thong’s start was thwarted by an errant Lamborghini, China’s Ho-Pin Tung spinning on the exit of turn two, leaving Thong nowhere to go and forcing contact with another of the Lamborghini’s as he negotiated his way around the melee, fortunately with little damage, but the 21-year old quickly found himself negotiating the grass as he fought for a way to rejoin the pack.

Despite the setback, he focussed on moving forward and latched onto the tail of the top ten ahead of the compulsory pit stop [CPS], the team using strategy to get them out of a battle with the #1 Lamborghini which was stalling Thong’s forward progress.

A slick stop saw Lee rejoin in position seven, before charging back into contention by virtue of a new set of Pirelli slicks fitted during the stop.

Stopping very late in the CPS pit window, Yoong had been consistently the fastest driver in the field (he set the fastest race lap of the race on lap four), handing team-mate Alex Au a six-second lead, but no sooner had the #6 team established that lead, than they lost the advantage during the pit stop after a delay with a tyre change and a subsequent setback with traffic in pit lane, losing eight seconds in the process.

Rejoining a couple of positions ahead of his hard-charging team-mate – the two of them sporting new Pirelli tyres – Au was quickly into a solid rhythm but he could do nothing to stop the #5 Audi Hong Kong Audi from taking a position away, Lee hotly pursued by two charging Mercedes drivers.

Whilst he was happy to allow the Phoenix Racing Asia team leader through, Au was not quite so accommodating with the two charging Mercedes, his 15-minute battle over the closing laps defending and battling wheel-to-wheel was one of the highlights of the race.

Sadly though for the #6 Phoenix Racing Asia the action wasn’t over just yet, Au turned around in a battle for position in the dying stages after contact with Jeffrey Lee. Au had initially been ahead of Lee on the road, but an error at turn seven saw him run wide, allowing Jeffrey Lee back through for position, Au recovering to take the Taiwanese driver at turn 11, but just a couple of corners later, they made contact, spinning Au down the order.

Up front though Marchy Lee was continuing to charge and had worked his way through to second, but behind him, race one winner Mitch Gilbert in the #86 Audi was coming fast, the Australian through with two minutes to go, Lee completing the second round of the season with third outright and a solid haul of points that puts the #5 Audi Hong Kong team equal third on championship points.

For Lee, Yoong and Thong, their next commitment is back at Sepang for the opening round of the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup (6-7 April), whilst for Alex Au, he will join Marchy Lee for the opening round of the 2017 China GT Series a week later in Beijing.


What the drivers had to say:

Marchy Lee (#5 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3)
“I think it was a good weekend, not a perfect weekend, but for a 40-year old in these conditions, I don’t think I did a bad job, especially with the number of cars I passed. Alex did a great job off the front, but it’s hard starting mid-pack, especially with that extra 25-kilograms – it mightn’t sound much but it has a big impact on the performance of the tyres.”

Shaun Thong (#5 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3)
“I didn’t have the best start, and one of the Lamborghini’s had to avoid an accident and as a result we made contact and I ended up on the grass and lost a few positions. There was minimal damage apart from the positions which were difficult to recover in my stint. I think we could have done better in this race, but finishing off with the bottom step of the podium is the best we can do today.”

Alex Yoong (#6 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3)
“It’s a bit disappointing to finish at the tail of the top ten, but from my point of view the car was good. I think you could see from my stint that the car was strong, I handed Alex a six second lead, and it kind of unraveled from there. Alex [Au] did a good job battling with the two Mercedes but that’s what he needs – more racing – so he’s doing China GT this year too so that should give him some more valuable experience. Age means nothing to me, it just makes me more determined because I think [maybe] it could be my last race so I want to make every lap count, and that could be dangerous for my rivals!”

Alex Au (#6 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi R8 LMS GT3)
“I expect a thank you from Marchy [Lee] because I let him through then was thrown into the fire with these two AMGs locked onto my rear bumper for about five laps [laughs]. After they got through I made a mistake in turn seven and ran wide. I rejoined behind Jeffrey Lee and did a switchback at turn nine, and in turn 13 I didn’t leave a lot of space but took my normal line, and he came in and tagged me and spun me around – the right rear was a little off after that.”

Ernst Moser (Co-Team Principal Phoenix Racing Asia) “I think we showed we are competitive and that our experience is capable of delivering us results. We had an issue in the stop for the #6 car which we need to investigate, because I think having two cars in the top five was certainly possible today.”

Sepang International Circuit, China (9 April, 2017)

Rnd#2 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia (60-minutes)

  1. Davide Rizzo/Anthony Liu (Ferrari 488 GT3) – 27-laps
  2. 86. Patel/Gilbert (Audi R8 LMS GT3) +26.697
  3. 5. Thong/Lee (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) +29.355
  4. 999. Marciello/Abbott (Mercedes AMG GT3) +36.247
  5. 888. Syzmkowiak/Sugden (Mercedes AMG GT3) +42.926
  6. 1. Di Folco/Read (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) +47.187
  7. 88. Camathias/Gounon (Porsche GT3-R) +48.867
  8. 7. Stevens/Lee (Audi R8 LMS GT3) +50.736
  9. 6. Yoong/Au (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) +52.010
  10. 39. Wiser/Xin (Ferrari 488 GT3) +53.515