Elsewhere, Black Swan Racing took its Porsche 911 GT3 R to fourth in the Pro-Am category, whilst the D’station Racing cars both encountered early issues, with the #7 entry forced to retire.
Friday’s free practice sessions for the third round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge saw the #991 Craft-Bamboo Racing car, driven by Laurens Vanthoor, Kévin Estre and Mathieu Jaminet underline their pace by going quickest in FP1, backing that up by posting the fifth fastest time in the night running.
In qualifying, however, it was the Dirk Werner, Frederic Makowiecki, Romain Dumas-driven Manthey-Racing #911 machine that emerged as the quickest Porsche, earning a strong sixth place, albeit less than half-a-second quicker than Craft-Bamboo Racing in 17th.
With Vanthoor on-board the #991 car for the start, the Hong Kong-based team quickly made up places, as it challenged the top-10 before the first round of stops.
Behind him, the #7 D’station Racing Porsche driven by Sven Muller, Tomonobu Fujii and Earl Bamber also climbed the order, but after less than three hours the team was forced to retire the car when it stopped on track due to an engine problem.
The sister #77 car of Satoshi Hoshino, Tsubasa Kondo, Jono Lester also ran into trouble early on and had to make a lengthy stop in the garage, before rejoining several laps down.
Manthey-Racing remained the best-positioned Porsche entry at the start, but after its impressive getaway Craft-Bamboo Racing followed close behind, only to be pushed into a spin at the final chicane. This, coupled with a poorly timed safety car, left the team with work to do as they dropped towards the rear.
Its driver trio quickly got the #991 Porsche 911 GT3 R back into contention though, and was on the verges of the top-10 once again in the latter stages.
Manthey-Racing looked set to finish ahead of them in ninth place, but in the final 30 minutes Werner lost the rear and span, falling back behind Darryl O’Young’s squad.
In Pro-Am, the #54 Black Swan Racing car driven by Tim Pappas, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller enjoyed a solid race, finishing fourth in class.
Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 GT3 R #991): “This race was tough and, above all, very hot. You win a 10-hour race with consistency, but this time we weren’t consistent enough. Compared to qualifying, we gained some positions but it definitely wasn’t enough.”
Laurens Vanthoor (Porsche 911 GT3 R #991): “Driving here in Japan was a fantastic experience. The fans are truly unique and the track is great fun to drive on. However, the temperatures and the extreme humidity were exhausting. Hopefully it’ll be a bit cooler next year.”
Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche 911 GT3 R #991): “It was a rollercoaster ride, but ultimately we missed out on a top-10 finish. For anything more than a fast lap we didn’t have the pace to match the frontrunners. Moreover, the extreme heat made tyre management more difficult. I’m pleased that Porsche gave me the chance to race at Suzuka. In spite of the result, it was a great experience.”
Darryl O’Young, Director of Craft-Bamboo Racing, added: “It was a tough race from beginning to end. We showed strong pace from practice, but with some issues in qualifying we couldn’t place the car in front for good track position. From then on it was a constant fight, the drivers and crew did a perfect job throughout, but at the end we could only get back to 11th. Disappointing, but many positives to take from the race and grow together with Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific.”
Alexandre Gibot, Head of Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific, said: “While it wasn’t the easiest of races for us, we were happy with how the team performed, and the pace was definitely there. All Porsche teams gave it their all, qualifying was very close between everyone and Craft-Bamboo Racing just fell short of being in the top-10, which would have given them more chance in the race. Manthey-Racing performed well and Black Swan Racing did a very good job in the Pro-Am class. The event itself was great and we look forward to returning stronger next year.”
Next for Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific will be the Cayman GT4 Trophy Thailand – Thailand Super Series from the Bira International Circuit (31 August-2 September).