As it did 12-months ago, the Okayama round of the GT Asia Series proved to be an entertaining event, with the first race at the popular Japanese circuit elivering plenty of intrigue, right from the opening lap of qualifying through to the final lap of the opening race.
Ultimately it was Absolute Team Bentley’s day, with 2015 Okayama winner Adderly Fong and new co-driver Andrew Kim claiming the top spot in both Q1 and the 50-minute race, whilst in the second qualifier, pole was claimed by Fong’s 2015 team-mate and co-winner of the Okayama round, Keita Sawa. Whilst you could argue that the performance of the Absolute Team Bentley cars in season 2016 has made them favourites at every stop on the calendar to date, the result perhaps disguised just how close the field was, and just how dramatic the race became as the laps wound down.
In the end the podium saw Fong and Kim joined by Lamborghini’s Edoardo Liberati and Andrea Amici – the Italians carding their third podium of the season in as many rounds – and the first visit by a Porsche team to the GT Asia Series podium this season. Unusually it was not the Craft-Bamboo Racing operation who dominated the 2013 running at Okayama that stood on the third step, but the satellite team of Tim Sugden and GT Asia Series rookie Jono Lester.
Andrew Kim’s brilliant drive in the second leg of the race also provided him the win in the Pro-Am Cup, ahead of Phoenix Racing Asia’s Alex Au and his Audi team-mate Shaun Thong. Despite the recent domination of the silver-silver graded drivers in GT Asia, the Pro-Am drivers held the top four spots in the closing stages of the race, before some late race contact dropped a number of them down the order, but the field was so close at Okayama, that the podium positions were never guaranteed.
After a brilliant opening race at Okayama, the GT Asia Series field regrouped for a second round at the former Formula One venue on Sunday, and the legions of fans who attended the circuit and watched the event unfold live online, were not disappointed!
Ultimately victory went to Phoenix Racing Asia’s Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong, but not before one of the greatest races in recent GT Asia Series history, which included some of the best overtaking moves we’ve seen.
In a weekend of surprises, it was perhaps no surprise that the teams that have proven strongest over the opening rounds of the season were the ones standing on the podium – points leaders Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo joined by Absolute Team Bentley’s winners from 24-hours prior, Adderly Fong and Andrew Kim.
Sadly for pole-sitter Keita Sawa and Jonathan Venter, the South Korean back-to-back winners suffered an horrendous weekend. Turned around in the first corner of the opening race, they suffered a rare mechanical failure in race two – perhaps as a result of the opening race contact – initiating a Safety Car intervention in the process, and that paved the way for a dramatic final 15 minutes.
In the Pro-Am battle the top points again went to Shaun Thong, who managed to close the gap slightly to Anthony Liu, whilst Andrew Kim’s third place saw the South Korean as the biggest mover in the category, closing in on the two leaders to put himself right into contention for the title.