After a successful season that saw a runner-up finish in the GTC standings, Craft Racing’s Frank Yu has returned to the Asian Le Mans Series but under new circumstances, with an expanded operation and a new focus on the prototype ranks in the second-year championship.
The Hong Kong-based businessman joined forces with WTCC outfit Bamboo Engineering in April to form Craft-Bamboo Racing, which sees the multinational squad field a Ligier JS 53 Evo in the new-for-2014 CN class.
Yu is joined behind the wheel of the car this weekend by Kevin Tse and 2012 European Le Mans Series champion Mathias Beche, who drives for Rebellion Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
“It’s my first time in a downforce car and I’m really enjoying it,” Yu told Sportscar365. “CN is a very good category for Asian Le Mans. The budget is not astronomical; it’s quite affordable, actually. We’re hoping that the field will grow by the time we get to Fuji.”
While the entry-level prototypes are a popular platform throughout Europe, competing in series such as the SPEED EuroSeries and French VdeV Championship, the CN class makes its debut on the Asian continent this weekend, as part of a build up period to the launch of LMP3.
“In Asian Le Mans, CN cars will have a three-year life but I’m sure a lot of teams will switch straight to the P3s when they’re available [next year],” Yu said.
“We’re going to run our CNs for at least two years because by the time the P3 is ready and is tested will be the end of the season next year anyways. We’ll look at switching to P3 in 2016.”
Craft-Bamboo’s Ligier is just one of two CN cars here at Inje this weekend, although more cars are expected for next month’s round at Fuji Speedway, including the likelihood of a second car from the Malaysian-based effort.
“This weekend we just want to give the drivers and the championship a chance to see what the CNs will do,” Yu said. “Obviously it’s a brand-new class so nobody knows what it’s about. I think it’s a good kind of demonstration race this weekend.”
Yu, who also competes full-time in the GT Asia Series with a pair of Aston Martin Vantage GT3s, sees the Asian sports car racing scene rapidly growing, with the next few years likely to be a crucial turning point.
“I think this year is the point of taking off,” he said. “Last year people were starting to recognize that motorsport is on the way up. This year, we’re looking at the bottom of the exponential curve.
“I think year after year, we’ll just build on that. If you look at some of the championships this year… China has a lot to do with it because of the manufacturers and the money, but it’s definitely on the way up.”
With Craft having previously been run by Mark Goddard’s Eurasia Motorsport outfit, Yu and Craft-Bamboo CEO Richard Coleman assembled a brand-new Asian operation during the off-season at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia.
“It was a big challenge before the start of the season,” Yu said. “But I was always confident that the [Craft/Bamboo] merger would provide a really good platform.
“Our first race together was GT Asia in Korea and the team was spot on. By the second round, we won the race.
“Here, everything is perfect. It’s taken a lot less time for the team to gel and work well in Asia. I’m extremely happy.
“A lot of our mechanics and the manager from Europe are really happy to be working in Asia. The culture is so much different but the level of competition is so high. Everybody’s enjoying it and are happy.”
In addition to the second Ligier, Yu hasn’t ruled out running the team’s new Morgan-Judd later in the season. The LMP2 car was initially on the full-season entry list but withdrew late due to funding issues.
The team’s two Aston Martins, however, are unlikely to feature in the Asian LMS due to their GT Asia commitments, as well as efforts in Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race at the end of August and next year’s Bathurst 12 Hour.
Yu said Craft-Bamboo could also return to the Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai in January, depending on the logistics.