2019 China GT Sepang Round 2 Race Report
Alessio Picariello and Jeffery Zee edge out Chris van der Drift and Li Chao in GT3 thriller in Sepang.
It was drama from the off, as an accident occurred on the main straight between the two AMG’s of Xu Jia and Jazeman Jaafar. Third placed Xu was tagged from behind by Jazeman at green, sending the Chinese driver spinning into the pit wall and triggering the afternoon’s first safety car just a few seconds after the start.
Saturday’s winner Nick Yelloly had already stormed into the lead from P6 before the race was neutralised. Once the safety car pulled in on lap five, the Briton set about building a lead, but this would vanish just before the pit window opened when the race director called the race’s second safety car period to rescue a beached GTC entry.
Yelloly’s co-driver Junsan Chen inherited the lead after the driver change, but the gap to the chasing pack was marginal. He was quickly caught by the #88 Craft-Bamboo Racing AMG of Alessio Picariello - a man on a mission to avenge his own safety car-related misfortune on Saturday. It did not take long for the Belgian to pass Chen and take the lead, setting the race’s fastest lap in doing so.
Picariello would then have another scare as the race’s third safety car was deployed three laps before the race end, and he soon had his mirrors full of the Team JRM Porsche 911 GT3 R of Chris van der Drift, who overhauled the chasing pack after taking over from Li Chao and was catching the Belgian at a rate of over a second a lap. By the time the safety car pulled in, however, the New Zealander was not quite close enough to mount a serious challenge, finishing the race just 0.6 seconds behind the victorious Picariello.
Junsan Chen occupied the final podium place for FIST-Team AAI with Nick Yelloly, ahead of the sister BMWs of Betty Chen and Jody Fannin, and Ivan Lee and Kevin Chen.
Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Jazeman Jaafar and Frank Yu finished sixth in a race that was compounded by one setback after another. The incident at the start had left the #77 with a puncture, and the Malaysian was hit with a drive-through penalty for his troubles. He was given another drive-through later in the race for overtaking before the control line during the safety car restart.
Min Heng and Lin Nan finished seventh, after the YCRT duo had changed vehicle shortly before the race after discovering an issue with the previous entry. Song Bo completed the top eight in his Xtreme Motorsports Audi.
“We were hard done by on Saturday because of the safety car but this is racing. Alessio did a fantastic job and it’s good to finish the weekend with a win,” said Jeffrey Lee.
“I had a problem with the steering, so the car was really difficult to drive,” Alessio Picariello commented. “I couldn’t feel it at first because I had fresh tyres, but you feel it a lot more afterwards. It was difficult to match Chris’s pace and after the safety car I only had two clean laps. I’m very happy for the team and the result as it’s my first race in this car, and it gives me a lot of confidence for the future.”
Evan Chen strolls to victory in his Arrows Racing Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo Evo to make it two wins of two in Sepang.
The young Taiwanese driver started from P2 and kept a cool head amongst the much quicker and more aero-efficient GT3 cars. He came home a full lap ahead of the next GTC runner of YCRT’s Zhang Dasheng and Zhou Bihuang, whose #918 had a tougher time navigating the mixed GT3 and GTC field.
Arrows Racing’s Miguel Kong and Kelvin Wong picked up the final podium place after Daniel Lu and Jacky Wu’s YCRT Porsche spun.
“I started among all the GT3 cars that are much lighter, have better aero and better brakes, so at the start I kept looking into my mirrors to see if they were catching me, but the first few corners went very smoothly and the pitstop was pretty good, but in the second stint I had a tougher time matching the pace of the pro drivers,” said Evan Chen.
Pole-man Rainey He enjoyed a very strong start, looking as if he could maintain a good gap to the rest of the field. However, his tyre performance dropped off quicker than he expected, and was quickly caught by the rapid Ginetta of Sennan Fielding and AMG of Will Bamber.
After snatching the lead from He’s #6 Phantom Pro entry, Fielding was able to keep Bamber’s D2 AMG at bay with a slight pace advantage. The top three would lead the pack home by over 20 seconds before the pit stops.
Bamber’s teammate Liao Yang jumped into the lead after the driver change, but Sunny Wong soon came hot on his heels after taking over from He. Before long, Wong made a textbook move on Liao, going up the inside of the D2 driver into the iconic Sepang T15 hairpin to seal a second victory for the new Mercedes team.
Behind, Alex Fontana in the sister Phantom Pro Racing car began to lap up to three seconds per lap quicker than the frontrunners on fresh tyres after taking over from teammate Chris Chia. The Swiss cut through the field and claimed the final place on the podium just 0.8s behind Liao.
The #87 entry of Liu Kai and Wei Tianyi took fourth despite a 10 second penalty for speeding in the pit-lane.
Rounding out the rest of the classified finishers were #618 Asia Sonic Racing’s Yves Volte and Stanley Yang, #51 FIST-Team AAI’s Oscar Lee and Yao Yuanhao, #12 TopGun GT’s Dominic Ang and Anthony Chan, #3 Phantom Pro Racing’s Yang Xi and Yan Chuang, #10 Racing Team 69’s Simon Chan and Jeffrey Zee, #98 TopGun GT’s Robert Webb and Eric Wong, and #619 Asia Sonic Racing’s Wu Pei and Zhang Fangxuan.
“I had a really good start.I thought I could leverage the tyre advantage but the performance dropped really quickly and some of the other cars were lapping even quicker than qualifying pace, and we came out of the pits about 10 seconds behind the leader. But Sunny was really quick, and managing to overtake Liao Yang in the end was really impressive,” said Rainey He.
Teammate Sunny Wong added, “I have to thank Rainey for protecting the tyres so well so I could push hard in my stint. For me, I had to be quick while ensuring the car stayed on track. I think I was pretty lucky, so thanks to the team for a great performance.”