Having fought our way right back into championship contention with a double win at the last round four weeks ago Team NZ Motorsport arrived at Sepang International Circuit last weekend knowing that victory in both 1 hour ‘sprint’ races would be sufficient to secure us the first ever Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup ‘GT Cup’ titles.
In the end that wouldn’t actually prove to be necessary, but the team dug deep, regular drivers Graeme Dowsett and John Curran each drove inch perfect stints to get the job done and we finished up by winning both races. That secured the GT Cup Drivers’ and Teams’ titles without having to worry about what was unfolding around us. It was job well done by everyone.
It really has been a terrific season for Team NZ in the inaugural Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup; we have won five of the six races (the calendar comprised of three rounds each featuring a pair of 1-hour races) and those five victories have come consecutively. Our only blot was a late DNF during the first race of the season – and that zero points score had left us fighting our way back into championship contention all the way to the closing race last Sunday.
We went into the final round in good form having won both races at the previous round to make it three wins on the trot and that meant the deficit in the Drivers’ points classification to the leading Lotus had been narrowed to 6 points and it was certainly ‘game on’. Meanwhile, in the Teams’ championship it was the same story.
Our strategy was very simple, we had to continue that run of winning form – if we won both races the prestigious GT Cup titles would be ours, regardless of what the championship leaders pulled out and so we set about that task.
We were on the backfoot early on though as business commitments meant that John would only arrive from Africa in the small hours of Saturday morning and any flight delays could cause us a big headache. Also our Team Manager Will Bamber was absent due to a prior racing commitment in China so we drafted in Porsche Carrera Cup Asia front-runner Andrew Tang to deputise.
John’s absence prior to the race days meant that with the series regulations calling for the drivers to undertake a qualifying session each we would be forced to skip the Q2 session and start from the back of the grid without a time. As usual the championship points leading rival crew would include Malaysian professional driver and double Sepang 12 Hours winner Dominic Ang on its strength so Graeme and John would have to work extra hard to keep to a consistently fast pace.
In the end John touched down in Malaysia very early on Saturday morning, and his first laps of the weekend would come when he took the car out of the pits to start the second stint of Race 1. The jet lag hadn’t even kicked in at that point!
The after heavy early morning rain the opening race was declared a ‘Wet Race’ and that left Graeme, who started the car, with a very tricky job in the mixed conditions.
He settled into a quick and consistent rhythm during the first stint on a track that had only partially dried out but by the time the pitstops loomed into view Graeme was busy dealing with technical problems although he was still able to place the car for John to takeover. The Irishman capitalised when the classification-leading Lotus went off into the gravel almost immediately after its own pitstop, a very graphic demonstration of the difficult track conditions.
John managed the car as best as he could, while nursing the deteriorating technical issues and taking care on the treacherous track, to reach the finishline to claim the win. That was our fourth victory in a row in the Sprint Cup and it abruptly swung the pendulum in our direction as we now moved into the lead of the Drivers’ and Teams’ championship points’ classifications. But the title fight wasn’t over; we needed to secure the runners up spot in Race 2 to be sure of clinching the title.
Comes Sunday’s race and this time John started the car, the Irishman driving an excellent opening stint to handover to Graeme very well placed to sign out the season with yet another win. However over the closing laps the #77 Porsche developed several problems, which the New Zealander managed superbly, culminating with him having to deal with a sticking throttle during the closing laps. In the end our remaining championship rival dropped out again and that meant the title was actually ours before the checkered flag fell, but we really wanted to sign off with a win and Graeme’s persistence in the cockpit meant we did just that. When he entered the pitlane and cut the stuck on power to coast to stop below the podium, it was a truly elated team that received him.
We thus finish the season with our first ever championship titles, a double haul of the GT Cup Drivers’ and Teams’ trophies, as well as five wins from six races. Probably the smallest team in the series we make up for our lack of resources with a professional result-driven attitude and a sheer desire to win.
We would like to thank Nakd Water, Completion Products, Asia Pacific Spiral, Motosure and Pioneer Consultants who have supported us in the Sprint Cup; their participation has been invaluable.
John Curran: “I came into Malaysia in the early hours of Saturday and it took me a few laps in the car during my stint to settle down, it’s hard to jump straight into the car and do hot laps, but we got the win although I wasn’t sure I was closing the gap down to the Lotus quickly enough before it spun off, but that’s racing, we will take the win. The plan for Sunday was just to bring the car home as we were quite fortunate with the win on Saturday. We had some secondary issues with the car on Saturday that we thought were solved but they came back on Sunday and basically plagued me towards the end of my stint and were really bad for Graeme when he got in. But good races in the end, a great series and a big thank you to Asian Le Mans.”
Graeme Dowsett: “I would like to thank the organisers’ they have done an excellent job, the series has been a lot of fun and we hope to be back. In Race 1 it was a very challenging start, very tricky, but we just had to suck it in and keep the gaps with the Lotus. In Race 2 John handed me a handful of a car and it got worse towards the end, the throttle was sticking, at the end I could have done a full lap of Sepang without touching the throttle! We did well but we had an easy plan to run to although commiserations to the Lotus team, they certainly put all their heart and effort into it and gave us a huge run for our money.”