Team NZ Motorsport enjoyed a winning start in the Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup, after emerging from yesterday’s hectic 1-hour race at Sepang International Circuit with victory in the GT Cup, that success coming our way after a faultless afternoon’s work from both our drivers as well as the entire crew.
The Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup is a brand new initiative from the ACO, the organisers of the Asian Le Mans Series – and judging by the weekend’s action it’s set to become a big hit. Reserved for LMP3, CN and GT Cup category cars it’s also contested exclusively by ‘Bronze’ and ‘Silver’ level drivers. For Team NZ those metrics really checked all the boxes – as did the late May starting point for the new series thanks to the fact we had to rejig our 2016 programme following the Bathurst 12 Hour in February which, while netting us a stunning podium finish, also necessitated a major post race overhaul for our #77 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup.
In fact that work left us with a race against time to be on track in Sepang last weekend and we were only able confirm our entry into the Sprint Cup once the car was built up again, loaded and we knew the exact shipping schedule. The timetable was still very tight – the container with the car and all our pit equipment only arrived in the paddock on Thursday morning and that left us with a real race against time to prepare the #77 car, forcing us to skip valuable practice time.
However come Race 1, held last Saturday afternoon, and we were in great shape although the drivers certainly needed some time in the cockpit to blow off the cobwebs having been off the racetrack for some months, in John’s case since Bathurst in February while Graeme could trace his previous race back to the Sepang 12 Hours last December.
At was the green lights John made an excellent start and moved quickly up from the back of the grid and into P2 within just half a lap, before going one better and taking the GT Cup lead on the second lap.
From there on John and later Graeme when he took over for the second stint were never out of the battle for the top two positions until a technical fault sidelined us during the closing laps of the race. It was an agonising way to end the afternoon after an awful lot of hard work from everyone coupled to superb race pace and slick work by the crew, but there was still Race 2 coming up the next day and time to chase a podium.
However Sunday’s second and final race of the inaugural weekend would more than make up for our ‘DNF’ in Race 1 as we wrapped our Sprint Cup debut up in real style.
From the fourth slot on the grid John quickly made up places at the start and was soon battling for P1 with the fastest of the trio of Lotus cars in this race, the #28 Evora driven during the opening stint by professional driver Dominic Ang; in fact the Malaysian’s a former double winner of the Sepang 12 Hours.
Ang appeared to be managing an issue with his car as his laptimes were a little bit erratic and John, who was driving superbly, lined the Lotus up in his sights, outbraved him into Turn 1 and swept through to grab the race lead midway through his stint. The Irishman then started to pull out an advantage of a few seconds although his highly experienced rival tenaciously clung on and didn’t allow the gap to grow very far.
By mid distance John had got his part of the job done by keeping up a manageable gap that our race strategy had targeted, that’s because Ang in the #28 Lotus would hand over to a driver that Graeme could more than match in terms of pace and the New Zealander could thus complete the work in the #77 car and pitch for P1.
However Graeme would need to keep full concentration, he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes, no detours off the racing line or missed gears as he had to patiently focus and grind through the final half hour stint in the blistering heat of an early afternoon at Sepang.
Graeme got the job done superbly and received the #77 car at the pitstop with only a slender small deficit to Antony Chan, who was now in the #28 car. The Team NZ driver dug in, pulled out PBs laptimes, passed the race leader, and by the time the checkered flag was waved at the end of 1 hour of racing, which equated to 26 laps, he had eased out a 8.808 second cushion at the front as he gunned the black and silver Porsche across the line to sheer delight from our pitwall.
It was a superb afternoon’s work by both John and Graeme, both reeled off their fastest ever laptimes at Sepang, and that was backed up by equally slick work from the crew. It was rewarding for the team to actually have three faces on the winners’ podium as Will also stepped up, this time to collect the Team Managers’ trophy.
Nakd Water, Completion Products, Asia Pacific Spiral, Motosure and Pioneer have supported us this week and their contributions have been invaluable in us winning.
“The strategy in Race 2 in order to catch the fastest Lotus as Dominic [Ang] was going to be out for the first stint, as was I, so even though Dominic was going to be starting ahead of us the plan was to keep him not too far ahead and manage the gap so that Graeme who is a couple of seconds a lap faster than the other driver in that Lotus could then catch him during his stint. So really if I could keep Dominic in sight then Graeme could seal the deal.
“As it turned out I think Dominic seemed to have technical issues as he was very fast some laps and slower some other laps. So I passed him like he was stopped and a lap later he’s sitting right on my rear bumper. So that was the strategy and of course to keep it all on track.
“I’m absolutely happy with the win, it’s a great result for the whole team. I don’t think this morning we expected a P1, I thought we could do a P2, so P1 is definitely more than we expected. The only disappointment though is that we lost an opportunity to get points yesterday in terms of the championship, so with more cars coming in at the next round it’s going to be tighter, so we could have done with getting more points early in the season.”
“Today went a lot better, John and I both improved our laptimes, the conditions were more or less the same so it’s a good comparison to make. So that extra time on track yesterday helped a lot and then having the time to go through the data in between the races helped me to improve but I still have got a lot more room for improvement to come.
“It was an excellent result to get first place, I’m very happy to get this, the car was good, the team did a really good job and I think a few other people were a bit surprised we could pull through with a win after having so little time on track.”
Source. FastTrack Media