OD Racing’s Mitch Gilbert and Aditya Patel kept their Blancpain GT Series Asia championship hopes alive by claiming a second victory of the season at Zhejiang on Saturday in a race that featured all three title contenders finishing inside the top four.
Aidan Read and Alberto Di Folco claimed theirs and FFF Racing Team by ACM’s maiden series podium with second, while Hunter Abbott cut Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong’s title advantage to a single point after he and Maxi Buhk completed the overall rostrum.
With it, they also took Pro-Am honours and helped secure the GT3 Teams’ crown for GruppeM Racing and Mercedes-AMG.
The three remaining title-contending crews started second, fourth and seventh, and all once again proved their credentials in the weekend’s opening hour-long race which began behind the Safety Car due to rain.
A second was necessary almost immediately after racing began in earnest to clear away Jiang Xin’s crashed Ferrari, but when the action resumed all three were on the attack.
Indeed, laps seven and eight witnessed a spate of passing moves thanks to championship leader Lee who relieved Devon Modell and Tim Sugden of sixth and fifth in quick succession.
Sensing his rival’s progression, Patel also chose lap eight to take the lead from pole-sitter and debutant Chris Dreyspring, who then dropped to third in the same move thanks to Read’s opportunist pass.
With the fast-starting Lee now sat behind fourth-placed Abbott, Patel was able to bolt clear at the front and, in the process, negate his and Gilbert’s five-second pitstop success penalty.
The Malaysian thus re-joined still ahead of Di Folco, who’d taken over from Read, and Shaun Thong whose Audi Hong Kong co-driver Lee stopped later in the pit window.
That helped the Audi initially leapfrog Abbott’s team-mate Buhk before the German reversed the positions with 23 minutes remaining.
The gap between them fluctuated thereafter but neither could catch Di Folco who remained out of reach en route to his and Read’s best result of the season.
But there was no stopping Gilbert who extended his initial slender lead to 5.6s by the chequered flag.
The result sees he and Patel reduce their championship deficit to 15 points, while Lee and Thong now lead Abbott by just one ahead of tomorrow’s season finale.
Behind the top-four were GruppeM’s second pairing of Sugden and Jules Szymkowiak, the latter remaining close to Thong throughout the second stint without ever having a chance to pass.
They, like Abbott and Buhk, shared in GruppeM’s title-winning campaign.
The Am Cup title battle will also go down to the final round after CMRT Eurasia’s James Cai and Kenneth Lim defeated X-One Motorsports’ Andrew Haryanto.
Five points now separate the leading Lamborghini and Aston Martin, while Lin Yue is another eight further back.
While GT3 appears wide open, Frank Yu and Jean-Marc Merlin took a giant step towards winning this year’s GT4 title after claiming class victory.
The pair led from start-to-finish despite Kan Zang and Ringo Chong’s best efforts aboard the HubAuto Racing Porsche, which looked particularly threatening in the opening stint.
The top-four cars circulated together early on as Yu tried his best to fend off Zang. Merlin maintained that theme throughout the second 30 minutes en route to his fifth win of the year and, crucially, another 25 points.
Byron Tong and Eric Lo were the Craft-Bamboo pair’s nearest rivals before the start but were knocked out of championship contention after finishing fifth.
Taiwan Top Speed Racing’s Keo Chang is therefore the only remaining contender, although he and co-driver Jeremy Wang – who completed the class podium today – must win tomorrow and rely on Merlin/Yu retiring if there’s to be a dramatic late twist in this year’s championship battle.
Blancpain GT Series Asia’s 60-minute season finale begins at 10:50 a.m. local time on Sunday.
RESULTS: Race 1