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The inaugural Blancpain GT Series Asia Drivers’ and Teams’ champions will be crowned in China this weekend when the 2017 campaign comes to a close at the new 16-turn, 3.2km Zhejiang Circuit.
After 10 rounds spread across four countries, three crews – Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong; Mitch Gilbert and Aditya Patel; and Hunter Abbott – all head into the season finale with a mathematical chance of claiming the GT3 Drivers’ title, while the Teams’, Am Cup and GT4 Drivers’ crowns will also be decided over the course of two 60-minute races.
Heading the list of title candidates are Lee and Thong who turned a 33-point deficit into a four-point advantage last time out at Shanghai. Victory in the opening race – their second of the campaign – followed by a solid fifth place in the second helped the Audi Hong Kong duo top the standings for the first time this season and avoid a pitstop success penalty at Zhejiang this Saturday.
Their impressive weekend was in stark contrast to Abbott who arrived in Shanghai with a chance of lifting the Overall title. But that was before a wheel nut issue and damage due to contact resulted in zero points scored across both races, the first time this season that the #999 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG has failed to register. Such was his advantage that the Briton did at least claim the Pro/Am title with a weekend to spare, but having headed the points all season he’ll now be desperate to reclaim the Overall lead when it matters most.
At least Abbott – who’s once again joined by Maxi Buhk – won’t have a pitstop success penalty to serve. The same can’t be said for the final championship-chasing crew, Gilbert and Patel, who kept themselves in contention with a double Shanghai podium. Third in Race 2 means they’ll remain stationary for an additional five seconds on Saturday, a frustrating delay that could prevent the OD Racing pair from reducing the 28-point deficit to fellow Audi runners Lee and Thong. With a maximum of 25 points available per race, that’s something they can’t afford to happen if they’re to remain in contention come Sunday.
Meanwhile, GruppeM Racing are just two points away from sealing this year’s Teams’ title after an impressive season for both of its Mercedes-AMG GT3s. Nearest two-car rivals Craft-Bamboo Racing are 85 points behind with 86 still to play for, meaning its Porsches must finish one-two in both races to retain any hope of denying GruppeM the crown. Audi Hong Kong, who actually occupy second in the standings despite fielding just one entry, would only reduce its current 66-point deficit by 50 if Lee and Thong won both races.
GT3’s Am Cup is much closer, though, with just 12 points separating Andrew Haryanto from three pursuing crews. With KCMG’s Naoto Takeda and Takuya Shirasaka unable to race in Zhejiang, the focus switches to FFF Racing Team’s Shanghai winners Zhu Junhan and Lin Yue who are 10 points behind the Indonesian. James Cai and Kenneth Lim’s CMRT Eurasia Aston Martin completes the list of title protagonists two points further back in fourth.
GT4 also remains wide open, even if Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin vaulted back to the top of the pile with a first victory in four races at Shanghai. The Craft-Bamboo Porsche is 12 points clear of Eric Lo and Byron Tong’s EKS Motorsports Cayman Clubsport MR, which sits another point ahead of Keo Chang. At 41 points adrift Ringo Chong retains a mathematical but outside chance of being crowned Blancpain GT Series Asia’s inaugural GT4 champion.
This weekend’s one new entry concerns Phoenix Racing Asia’s #16 Audi R8 LMS GT3. Malaysian driver Melvin Moh began his career in Asian single-seaters before switching to GTs, while his Singaporean co-driver Lim Keong Wee has recent Lamborghini Super Trofeo experience. The entry is not eligible to score championship points this weekend.
In a change to this year’s previous events qualifying will take place on Friday afternoon with the GT3 and GT4 classes split before the opening race runs as normal on Saturday. The championship’s 12th and final round then brings the curtain down on 2017 on Sunday morning.
Press Release: SRO