OAK Racing Team TOTAL claimed the 2013 Asian Le Mans Series championship following a decisive victory in Sunday’s season-ending Three Hours of Sepang.
Ho-Ping Tung took the Michelin-shod No. 24 Morgan-Judd to a 1-minute and 19-second victory over the title-contending No. 18 KCMG Morgan-Nissan, which was unable to match the French-entered car on the track or in the pits.
The ex-A1 GP star passed pole-sitter Tsugio Matsuda with just over an hour to go and stretched his lead during the final round of pit stops when the OAK crew opted to take only new right side tires.
The strategic call by the French squad helped boost Tung’s lead in the end and guarantee the win and the LMP2 championship for co-driver David Cheng.
“That definitely helped us get ahead,” Tung said. “I had a nice [battle] as well with Matsuda on track a couple of times. I just tried to be smart as it’s an endurance race.
“After three hours, that’s the only result that counts and we made it by a big margin.”
It marked back-to-back championships for OAK in the Asian Le Mans Series, having earned the inaugural series title in a double-header round at Okayama in 2009. It also came on the heels of their LMP2 title in the FIA WEC last weekend in Bahrain.
James Winslow, who held a five-point lead heading into today’s season finale, enjoyed an spirited battle early with Cheng, who was deemed to have jumped the start and surrendered both positions early, prior to a spin on Lap 10.
“Being in third, Craft was able to just check out and pull away while I was battling James for second,” Cheng explained. “He didn’t make it easy. It was one of the toughest fights I’ve had in this LMP2 car all year.
“At the end of the day, I burned up my tires battling with him. Towards the end of my stint, it was a very difficult car to drive. But the team pulled together.. and at the end of the day, we got the job done and that’s what’s important.”
The No. 27 Craft Racing Oreca 03 Nissan of Richard Bradley led early but lost ground when co-drivers Jun Jin Pu and Dan Polley took the wheel, relegating the team to a third place finish overall, nearly two minutes behind.
Post-race, KCMG lodged a protest against OAK for an alleged illegal fuel tank. The series denied the protest but the Hong Kong-based team has issued a further appeal.
Finishing fourth overall, and first in GTC, was the No. 33 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Weng Sun Mok and Toni Vilander.
The Ferrari factory driver took the car to a 26.538-second victory over the No. 77 AF Corse Ferrari of Michele Rugolo, Andrea Bertolini and Steve Wyatt, who clinched the class championship last time out in China.
Vilander took the lead from Bertolini in the second hour and managed to maintain the advantage through the final round of pit stops.
“It was a fair fight from the AF Corse guys,” Vilander said. “When I got behind Bertolini, I could see that I had a little bit more pace. I went into the hairpin and overtook him. After that, I tried to push and get a gap.”
The No. 007 Craft Racing Aston Martin Vantage of Stefan Mucke, Keita Sawa completed the podium in third after leading early in the hands of the AMR works driver.
GTE class honors went to the Team Taisan Ken Endless Ferrari 458 GTE of Akira Iida, Naoki Yokomizo and Syougo Mitsuyama, while the Team Primemantle Aylezo Lamborghini took the class win in GTC-Am, despite an early race puncture and stop/go penalty.