Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong blew the Blancpain GT Series Asia Drivers’ title wide open by claiming victory in this weekend’s opening race at Shanghai on Saturday.
The Audi Hong Kong crew took the chequered flag 2.5 seconds clear of fellow championship hopefuls Mitch Gilbert and Aditya Patel, while Alex Au and Alex Yoong completed the podium after an action-packed hour of racing in wet and dry conditions.
The top two pairings kept themselves in title contention thanks to a combination of results and misfortune for championship leader Hunter Abbott whose GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG suffered a left-rear wheelnut issue that dropped the car out of the points.
It means Lee and Thong are now just eight points behind with 75 still available over the season’s remaining three races.
Pre-race talk was dominated by tire discussion and the choice between wets or slicks given the drying track. And it was those conditions that played a role in the first corner antics that helped shape the race as well as its ultimate outcome.
Sandy Stuvik lined up on pole but was just behind the fast-starting Leo Ye as the pack approached Turn 1. Trying desperately to hold position, the VSR driver opted for a shallower line by diving for a gap down the inside which forced the fast-starting HubAuto Racing Porsche wide.
That allowed Nick Foster – up from sixth on the grid – to undercut both and briefly take the lead. However, it was short lived and, by the exit of Turn 2, his Craft-Bamboo Porsche was facing the wrong way.
The resulting point-blank clout from Bentley Team Absolute’s Andrew Kim put paid to both drivers’ races.
Stuvik and Ye weren’t finished though and made contact again before the Safety Car was required to enable Foster’s stranded Porsche to be towed away. All of that saw Aidan Read, who originally started seventh, somehow leading when racing resumed.
The FFF Racing Lamborghini’s advantage lasted only a lap-and-a-half before Stuvik, who’d taken the restart third behind Darryl O’Young, pounced and pulled away.
Further back Gilbert and Lee, who had dropped down the order during the first corner confusion, were making inroads of their own, and it wasn’t long before both Audis were closing in on Stuvik.
They caught the Lamborghini just before the pitstop window opened after 25 minutes, and although the lead did briefly change, it was the Huracan that pitted first from the front.
While Mitchell and Lee continued nose-to-tail, Stuvik’s co-driver and championship debutant Yuki Nemoto was setting faster laps after switching to slicks. And by the time the leaders followed suit, the Lamborghini had built a healthy advantage.
Lee and Thong’s five-second pitstop success penalty ensured they were a little behind Patel after the stops shook out, but were still close enough to take advantage when the Indian misjudged the final corner, ran wide on to the still-wet astroturf and completed a full 360-degree spin.
Thong’s rapid pace meant he was then soon catching Nemoto. However, just like Patel, he was handed the position on a plate when Stuvik’s lap one incident with Ye, which resulted in the Porsche spinning, was punished with a drive-through penalty.
From there it was plain sailing for the Audi Hong Kong-entered R8, which was never threatened by the pursuing OD Racing example.
Audi’s podium clean sweep was completed by Yoong and Au largely thanks to the latter’s storming first run. The Audi R8 LMS Cup entry started eighth and lost further ground amidst the first lap shenanigans before carving through to end the opening stint fourth.
Yoong was then frequently amongst the fastest drivers on track and picked up third when Nemoto served Stuvik’s drive-through penalty.
Elsewhere, Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Jean-Marc Merlin and Frank Yu extended their GT4 championship lead over Byron Tong and Eric Lo by beating the EKS Motorsports pair to victory.
Yu started second behind Ringo Chong, instantly jumped into the lead and then slipped to third after running wide in the tough early conditions.
There he remained over the course of his stint before benefitting from the top-two of Keo Chang and Ringo Chong both receiving penalties before the pit window opened.
Merlin still emerged from his pitstop behind the Taiwan Top Speed car but, after a few laps of acclimatising to the conditions, closed in and passed debutant Jeff Lu.
By that stage pressure was also building from behind courtesy of EKS Motorsports title rival Eric Lo who then lost time after contact with Lu, who was back in the pits as a result shortly after.
All of that allowed Merlin to take a comfortable win ahead of the EKS Motorsport Porsche and HubAuto Racing Cayman driven by Chong and James Wong.
The result sees Merlin and Yu extend their lead over Lo and co-driver Byron Tong to ten points.