12-months ago, a little known combination made their debut in the GTA Asia Series and won both rounds of the season opener at Korea International Circuit, a result which allowed lead driver Anthony Liu to take his title challenge all the way to the final round in Macau.
12-months on the GT Asia Series regulars were well aware of the abilities of the two BBT Ferrari drivers, but after qualifying towards the tail end of the top ten, they could well have been forgiven for letting the 2014 result slip their minds, a situation which ultimately played into the hands of the Chinese-based team who went on to win their third straight Korean round.
"To be honest we expected maybe third," Liu admitted matter-of-factly, but I could see the leaders fighting for position ahead of me, and before long I was on their tail, and neither of them made it difficult to move into the lead."
…there was a Bentley between us [Fong] that moved at the last minute and gave me a chance to attack.
Whilst victory went to the reigning Korean round winners, qualifying was all about a battle of the titans, with long-time rivals Clearwater Racing and Craft-Bamboo Racing going head-to-head in both qualifying sessions.
Clearwater's star recruit James Calado showed that he would be a serious challenger for pole, but in the end Craft-Bamboo's practice pace-setter Richard Lyons was too good, the Ulsterman setting a stunning 2:06.667 lap time to Calado's equally impressive 2:06.688 – the difference, just two one hundredths of a second..
Craft-Bamboo continued the assault in Q2 with Darryl O'Young's team-mate Jonathan Venter claiming the first pole of his career, the Aston Martin Racing Evolution Academy driver just a tenth slower than his experienced team-mate, and a quarter of a second up on Absolute Team Bentley's Adderly Fong who was actually quicker than his team-mate before drama struck.
Pushing hard to find that elusive few tenths to take pole from Venter, Fong caught the tail of Sean Fu on the run into turn ten, hitting the rear of the McLaren hard as they braked into the right hander. Both cars were able to continue back to the pits, but the Bentley team were ultimately faced with an engine change after it became clear the car had injected carbon-fibre shards into the airbox, so whilst no damage was obvious, the team elected to take the safe option. Sadly, despite a herculean effort from the Absolute Racing crew, they fell two laps short of their goal, Sawa forced to join the field two laps into the race.
Typically the opening race of the season provided plenty of action on the run into the tight left hand opening turn. The drag race between Calado and Lyons actually saw the Ferrari driver with the advantage on the run into the left-hander, but Lyons had the line and took the lead on the long run down to turn three, mindful that he was also providing a great slip-streaming opportunity to Calado.
Calado didn't miss the opportunity, putting himself into a position to attack, the Ferrari driver pulling alongside on the run down to turn four, with Caldarelli drafting both cars before diving down the inside into the tight left-hander. That left Lyons with nowhere to go, the Craft-Bamboo driver forced off the circuit on the exit, losing positions to Calado and Bentley's Duncan Tappy in the process.
Behind them there were already casualties, with the fast starting Craig Baird forced off and into retirement with broken right rear suspension at turn three, whilst Darryl O'Young was also caught out in a similar incident suffering left rear suspension failure forcing the VLT Aston Martin into the pits and retirement.
Up front though it was Cadarelli who was making the most of his opportunity, the FFF Racing Team by ACM driver holding the lead for a number of laps, before first Calado and then Lyons attacked ahead of the compulsory pit stop [CPS], Calado doing it hard with the Italian making the McLaren difficult to overtake.
Behind the leading trio Duncan Tappy was doing a great job to hand the car to Jacky Yeung in P4, the reigning GTM class champion completing the race in position six, in the process using the opportunity to gain valuable laps and improve his personal best lap time.
Both Calado and Lyons stayed out until just prior to the CPS window closing, Calado handing Mok a handy lead, although unlike Clearwater, the Craft-Bamboo team went for strategy, sending Yu out on the same – warm – tyres with which Lyons started the race. That worked perfectly as Mok took the cautious approach on cold tyres, losing his advantage to the Aston, Yu moving through almost immediately into the lead.
From there an epic battle began between the two with drag races on the long straights and braking duels into the slower corners. The two long-time rivals were clearly enjoying their battle but giving each other reasonable racing room, however what they were doing was slowing down their lap times to the tune of three or four seconds a lap, and that was starting to have a bearing on the outcome.
The big winner in that scenario was Anthony Liu, the 2014 season runner-up was the fastest driver on circuit, and within four laps of his stop he was onto the tail of the leaders.
At that point the lead had changed a number of times, but sensing the approaching red and yellow Ferrari, Mok made one final move stick and he began to push to keep the gap to Liu but the Chinese driver was ultimately took quick, crossing the line for the team's third consecutive victory in Korea.
Mok came across the line comfortably second, with Yu third, Adderly Fong separating the two after catching the lead group in the closing laps and beginning to un-lap himself. Fourth was Jiang Xin in the FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren, and the two Bentley Team Absolute cars of Jeffrey Lee and Jacky Yeung. Sean Fu crossed the line in seventh place, inheriting a position after an error by team-mates Tonio Liuzzi and Hiroshi Hamaguchi during the CPS, the team pitting just as the window closed.
In the battle for GTM honours, it ultimately came down to consistency with two rookie teams battling over position, but in the end it was Absolute Racing's Jerry Wang who prevailed, the Audi driver turning in some personal best lap times to claim the win over the Gulf Racing JP entry of Keiichi Mori and Hisashi Kunie.
Davide Rizzo – 1st BBT Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 : "My first goal was to give the car to Anthony in one piece, but I knew that turn one always brings some contact, so I tried to stay out of that. I knew I had the pace to run with the leaders, but I also managed to pass a couple of people and give Anthony the car to finish the job."
Anthony Liu – 1st BBT Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 : "I was expecting third. I don't know what happened in the end, two laps after I got in the message came across that I was in third place and 15-16 seconds behind the leader and then the second lap they updated me on my pace and it seemed possible to go after the win, so I just went for it. Frank and Weng provided in an interesting battle, and there was a Bentley between us [Fong] that moved at the last minute and gave me a chance to attack."
James Calado – 2nd Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 : "The start was a little more aggressive than I was expecting. To be honest I thought the thinking might be more about keeping it on the road, but I don't think that was the mentality at all, including myself, I'm always looking to go after first place. It was a good battle, no contact, but I ran a bit wide at turn three, then settled into a rhythm. It was a very good race for us at Clearwater. Our realistic goal for the weekend was to finish on the podium, and we did that, so it was a great result for us."
Mok Weng Sun – 2nd Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 : "On my out lap I was probably a little bit too cautious on the cold tyres. I saw Frank catching me, and he came up on me so quickly that I thought there was no way I was going to block him, so he got by me on that first lap. After that it was a hell of a lot of fun for the next seven or eight laps, and he drove incredibly. The guys on the radio were giving me the gap to Anthony behind and I knew he was going to catch us, so I had to get by Frank, but it wasn't easy [laughs]. It took probably a little bit too long in the end."
Richard Lyons – 3rd Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 : "The start was really good, it was just a case that you have two long straights, one after the other, which was always going to be hard. I knew if I got into the lead coming down the first straight I was going to be slip-streamed which would force me to defend position on the run into turn three, and I got swamped and had to watch for cars down the inside, and the outside. In the end I went wide. I couldn't turn across on the car on the inside, and I knew James was on the outside and I didn't want to make contact because it's the first race of the season, so I did the conservative thing and fell back into position and then had to get the head down."
Frank Yu – 3rd Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 : "Before I jumped in the car I was trying to bribe my team to get a new set of tyres, but sadly negotiations didn't go in my favour. We were P2 when Richard gave me the car, and I knew that Weng was putting on a new set of tyres, so I knew I had to pass him in the first couple of laps, and I thought that then I could block him for the next half an hour or so [laughs]. So I made a move on him..
"It was interesting to then see the difference between the cars. The Aston was very quick in all the fast corners, and the Ferrari was very good on the straight and under braking as well, but whilst we were having fun up front, no one told us about Anthony [Liu] – I think the engineers were too frightened to say anything because we were rubbing, really rubbing.. then suddenly I saw the Bentley and I knew they were one lap down and not to worry about it, but right behind it was Anthony.
"By then my tyres were suffering a little because of the battle with Weng, so I did the right thing and didn't give Anthony a hard time because I knew I wasn't going to be able to hold him off for another three laps."
With race one now completed, focus now turns to the final 60-minute race of the weekend at 1:30pm [KST].
Race #1 (60-minutes)
1. 37. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (BBT Team Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) – 27-laps
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