From opening practice at Okayama, it was clear that the two scheduled 50-minute races were going to deliver some of the best racing the GT Asia Series had ever produced. There were mere hundredths of a second separating teams in qualifying, and one of the most competitive fields of local and international drivers ever assembled in the series six year history, a perfect recipe for some close and unpredictable racing.
Ultimately race one saw a survival of the fittest, with former race winner Hiroshi Hamaguchi and team-mate Tonio Liuzzi claiming victory for McLaren – the first for the new FFF Racing Team by ACM operation. Their effort was flawless, whilst around them almost everyone else struck trouble. Bentley had dominated both legs of qualifying, and the opening stanza of race one leading a 1-2 into the pits-stops, but victory eluded them.
In some ways that served to make up for what had been a messy start. GTM Class points leader Jerry Wang had suffered a gear selection issue on the roll-around lap, and had pulled off on the run to turn one, whilst mid-pack there had been some contact with some of the teams which saw tyres changed on the grid as the field was placed back into its original order. The delay saw the race shortened to 45-minutes, which put additional pressure on the Pro drivers who would take over after the compulsory pit stops and have a shorter run to the flag. There were no dramas during the second start with Adderly Fong leading into turn one ahead of Venter, Anthony Liu and the impressive Richie Wee.
Further back, former champion Dilantha Malagamuwa had worked his way onto the tail of Jeffrey Lee in the J-Fly Racing Bentley, the Sri Lankan driver doing everything he could to work his way past, but nine laps in, Lee put two wheels on the grass on the run into turn ten and spun. Sadly Malagamuwa was unable to avoid the Bentley, making heavy contact which ultimately forced them both into retirement. Malagamuwa had tried to complete a lap back to pit lane, but noticed the oil warning light come on half way around, forcing him to stop on the run down to turn five, ultimately enforcing a Safety Car period two minutes ahead of the compulsory pit stop [CPS] window opening.
With teams unable to effect their CPS whilst the Safety Car was on circuit, they were forced to wait until the green flag was waved once more, which saw an immediate stream of teams in for their driver changes. For the leading four cars though, they continued on, with Fong the last to pit, handing the car over to Sawa. The Japanese driver rejoined just ahead of Darryl O’Young in the VLT Craft-Bamboo Aston, and whilst it looked like O’Young might just be able to replicate his South Korean victory, Sawa was clearly intent on taking Bentley’s first Asian win on his home turf. In the end he broke clear of the bright yellow VLT Aston, but it wasn’t O’Young that he was concerned about, with the second Craft-Bamboo Aston of Richard Lyons closing in quickly. Lyons was charging over the closing laps, breaching what seemed an impossible margin to close onto the tail of his team-mate. O’Young moved across, sensing that Lyons might have an opportunity to take Craft-Bamboo to victory, but whilst he got to within a car length, Sawa held on for an emotional victory. Lyons led home a Craft-Bamboo 2-3, with O’Young under fire from a trio of rapid Ferrari 458s led by Matt Griffin. Points leaders Davide Rizzo and Anthony Liu were fifth, the Italian driver holding Carlo Van Dam at bay over the closing laps.