There was plenty of optimism in the FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren operation heading into the inaugural GT Asia Series Sepang 3-Hour in Malaysia, with the team back to full strength after a pre-race testing accident in Japan set the team on the back foot for the previous round in Fuji.
Malaysia not only represented a new event for the series regulars, but for the FFF team, it also represented a return to a circuit on which they had completed a lengthy sequence of pre-season tests.
“It’s nice to be back at a circuit where we have a lot of data to assess prior to, and during practice,” team Manager Alf Boarer admitted. “Usually practice is all about getting data and working through it as quickly as we can, but this time we can start ahead of the game, and spend some time getting our new drivers up to speed.”
For Sepang, Sean Fu was out of the seat with business commitments internationally, allowing FFF Racing team by ACM ‘junior’ driver Ronald Wu to slot in beside his mentor Andrea Caladrelli in the #5 car, whilst Australian drivers Nathan Antunes and Rod Salmon returned to take over the reigns of the #15 car.
Joining round three winners Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Tonio Liuzzi in the #55 car, the three teams fired into unofficial practice with some impressive lap times.
From unofficial practice it was pretty clear the standing 2:05.789 qualifying lap record was in jeopardy, with Ferrari WEC star James Calado quickest in session one, but in great news for the FFF team, Liuzzi was next quickest, just four tenths behind, Caldarelli and Antunes making it three McLarens in the top six..!
Session two saw Hamaguchi, Salmon and Wu complete much of the session, with a similar strategy adopted on Friday during opening official practice.
By the close of Friday’s two 60-minute sessions, the FFF team were right in the thick of the battle with Caldarelli leading the McLaren charge in sixth, with Liuzzi and Antunes not too far behind, although all three were suffering in the high temperatures and intense humidity which had a big impact on the turbo cars, whilst the drivers were facing cabin temperatures of well over 60 degrees.
By Saturday morning qualifying conditions had cooled off a little, allowing Caldarelli and Wu to claim a second row start, the duo the best of the McLaren teams on a grid that was set by the combined times of both drivers.
Former Sepang winner Hamaguchi showed the wealth of that experience to claim fifth alongside Liuzzi, the pair just half a second off the pace of their team-mates, whilst Salmon and Antunes claimed a seventh row start.
Wu and Hamaguchi started strongly, sticking with the lead pack across the early laps, before the more experienced Hamaguchi started to pull away and battle with the leaders.
Unfortunately his run at the front was to come to an early end, the Japanese driver beached in the gravel on track after spinning on circuit, the team discovering later there had been a mechanical issue with the right rear of the car. He hobbled back to pit lane where the team effected repairs, but he was soon back again, this time permanently with a gearbox failure.
“McLaren have been doing some development work on the car, and had issued us with a revised torque map to extract some more speed from the car for Sepang, but it came with a caveat that there might be some gearbox issues as a result,” Hamaguchi admitted.
With the #55 car out, focus turned to the #5 and the #15, with both Caldarelli and Antunes now embedded in the two FFF McLarens, although both were battling changeable conditions after heavy showers forced all teams into pit-lane outside the compulsory pit stop [CPS] window in order to change to wet weather tyres.
Off the back of a solid opening stint by series debutante Ronald Wu, Caldarelli was charging back up the order, well inside the top ten and one of the fastest cars on the circuit, before he too succumbed to problems, the Italian and his young Hong Kong driver team-mate out with an electrical failure after 46-laps.
That left the fight to the Australian pairing of Salmon and Antunes, and whilst quick early, the duo struggled across the closing laps with a failing fuel pump. The team did an incredible job of keeping the car under power, to record a finish, albeit seven laps down.
“It was a frustrating weekend for all concerned,” Andrea Caldarelli admitted post-race. “We showed we had good pace, but clearly fate was conspiring against us this weekend, because it was a litany of little mechanical issues that stopped us from making the podium.
“Again the cars were fast, and all six drivers were doing what they needed to do, despite the challenging conditions, to ensure we were in the fight with the leaders, but when mechanical issues impact your day, it doesn’t matter how good a job you’re doing as a driver, you can’t overcome that.
“For us, we will go away and freshen all three cars and do some more development work. We have to remember that this is just our seventh event with the new team and the new McLaren, and already we’re race winners and have three cars capable of running in the top six. Once we overcome some of these teething problems, I think we might surprise a few people.”
Rnd#7 – 2015 GT Asia Series
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia (4 September)
Combined qualifying (2x 15-minutes)
1. 99. Darryl O’Young/Daniel Lloyd (Craft-Bamboo Aston) – 4:09.277
2. 37. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (BBT Ferrari 458 GT3) – 4:09.988
3. 88. Frank Yu/Richard Lyons (Craft-Bamboo Aston Martin) – 4:10.108
4. 5. Andrea Caldarelli/Ronald Wu (FFF Racing McLaren GT3)?- 4:10.150
5. 55. Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Tonio Liuzzi (FFF Racing McLaren GT3) – 4:10.633
6. 12. Richard Wee/Hiroki Katoh (Clearwater Racing Ferrari) – 4:10.694
7. 11. Piti Bhirom Bhakdi/Carlo Van Dam (Singha Ferrari 458) – 4:09.579
8. 1. Mok Weng Sun/James Calado (Clearwater Racing Ferrari) – 4:22.021
9. 8. Adderly Fong/Keita Sawa (Absolute Bentley GT3) – 4:11.338
10. 27. Dominic Ang/Adrian D’Silva (Nexus Infinity Ferrari 458 GT3) – 4:13.368
14. 15. Rod Salmon/Nathan Antunes (FFF Racing McLaren 650S) – 4:15.936
1. 37. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (BBT Ferrari 458 GT3) – 72-laps
2. 8. Keita Sawa/Adderly Fong (Absolute Bentley GT3)
3. 99. Darryl O’Young/Daniel Lloyd (Craft-Bamboo Aston)
4. 1. Mok Weng Sun/James Calado (Clearwater Racing Ferrari)
5. 11. Carlo Van Dam/Piti Bhirom Bhakdi (Singha Ferrari 458)
6. 77. Duncan Tappy/Jacky Yeung (Absolute Bentley Continental) – 71-laps
7. 27. Dominic Ang/Adrian D’Silva (Nexus Infinity Ferrari 458 GT3)
8. 86. Zen Low/Fairuz Fauzy (OD Racing Gallardo GT3) – 70-laps
9. 7. Jeffrey Lee/Andy Meyrick (Absolute Bentley GT3)
10. 88. Frank Yu/Richard Lyons (Craft-Bamboo Aston Martin)
16. 15. Rod Salmon/Nathan Antunes (FFF Racing McLaren 650S) – 65-laps
DNF. 5. Ronald Wu/Andrea Caldarelli (FFF Racing McLaren GT3)?- 46-laps
DNF. 55. Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Tonio Liuzzi (FFF Racing McLaren GT3) – 10-laps
2015 GT Asia Series – Championship Points
GT3 (after round seven of 11)
1. Adderly Fong/Keita Sawa (95-points), 2. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (93), 3. Darryl O’Young (91), 4. Piti Bhirom Bhakdi (70), 5. Jonathan Venter (63), ?6. Mok Weng Sun (61),
7. Carlo Van Dam (60), 8. Jacky Yeung/Duncan Tappy (52), 9. Richard Wee (51), 10. Richard Lyons/Frank Yu (42), 12.Hiroshi Hamaguchi/Vitantonio Liuzzi (38), ), 15. Sean Fu (25), 17. Andrea Caldarelli (17), 22. Andre Couto (8), 23. Rod Salmon/Nathan Antunes (7)
The FFF Racing team by ACM is proudly supported by Epicuro, FrontiArt, Alpinestars and Info Agency.
About FFF Racing Team by ACM; FFF Automobile is a global leader in the Chinese Automotive market and is managed by Fu Songyang. The other – ACM – is owned by Andrea Caldarelli. The Italian, a world-renowned racer, has successfully competed in Asia and Europe in a career that has ranged from single-seaters to GT cars.