Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour entry as the only overseas participant has been a “journey” to put together, according to team director Darryl O’Young.
Craft-Bamboo, which is based in Hong Kong but has its main shop at Sepang in Malaysia, is on-site for its second Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli race since the COVID-19 pandemic started, after entering the Indianapolis 8 Hour last October.
O’Young previously described Craft-Bamboo’s Indianapolis effort as “symbolic” during a second difficult year for Asian motorsport, as travel restrictions and freight delays severely limited the region’s racing activities on an international level.
Seven months on at Bathurst, Craft-Bamboo has continued to face challenges to get on the grid, such as tight arrival times for freighted equipment and the need to assemble a group of local mechanics at short notice to replace full-timers who could not travel.
The team is fielding a Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo at Bathurst for Maro Engel, Daniel Juncadella and Kevin Tse, who is the designated Bronze-rated driver alongside two AMG factory aces.
“We have a crew and a couple of mechanics at the shop, but they couldn’t get visas to come to Bathurst,” O’Young told Sportscar365.
“That’s been a big issue for us. IGTC has been largely key management from the team, and a couple of key mechanics. And besides that, it’s been a lot of staff from outside the company.
“In Indy, we used a lot of U.S. mechanics. Coming here we had to find a lot of Australian crew.
“It’s tough because it’s not the best way to go racing, because it takes extra work, preparation and training in how we do things.
“In a week it’s probably like having two race events for us, the amount of work.
“The visa process… we’ve just been pounding it out. Certain countries could come to Australia and certain countries couldn’t. Even Bathurst has been a journey, to say the least.
“We were aiming for our key guys to be in. When you apply for visas two months in advance, you’d think they’d come through. Certain countries like the UK and Germany came back very fast, but others like Asian countries are a bit more complex.
“We’re happy that half our crew is here. Sad for the rest of the crew that couldn’t make it, but overall we’ve prepared quite well for this event.
“We’ve had a bit more time with the car and prepared for how we want to do it. It feels like we’re in a really good place. Bathurst is a race we’ve done for many years.”
O’Young suggested that Craft-Bamboo is “getting used to” the personnel-related challenges that come with taking an Asia-based team abroad for major sports car races.
It gained some experience of competing internationally during the pandemic when it tackled Indianapolis, utilizing local support from Texas-based Lone Star Racing.
“At Indy we put together a team that hadn’t worked together before, and we were fighting for the lead toward the end of the race,” O’Young said.
“It can be done, and it just comes down to strong management and preparation from the team organization side.
“The mechanics know how to race; as long as we can give them strong leadership and organization, we can put a good weekend together. It’s not ideal, but it’s better to be here than not.
“We would love for racing to go back to normal. It’s not that it’s impossible to do, but it’s really a lot more work to put together a single endurance race at the current moment.”
The Mercedes-AMG that Craft-Bamboo is running at Bathurst only arrived on Tuesday, although the team’s Sepang-based engineers were able to work on it before shipping.
However, the tight Tuesday arrival occurred even with a “large amount of leeway” on the shipment timing, according to O’Young.
He estimated that, anecdotally, shipping costs have risen by about 30 percent since before the pandemic, with a roundtrip freight movement on a 40-foot container from southeast Asia to Australia now costing around $50,000 USD.
“Overall, it’s a bit nerve-wracking,” O’Young admitted.
“A lot of anxiety coming to races now. Is our team able to get here? Is the car able to arrive on time? But nothing is normal in racing these days.
“Even if we say, oh, Europe is back to normal, logistically and with staff and supply chains… everybody has got challenges.”
Quarantine also continues to be a factor for some Craft-Bamboo members who have traveled to Bathurst. Hong Kong-based O’Young, for example, will isolate for seven days after returning home from Australia. After Indianapolis, he faced a 21-day quarantine.
“It’s a great indication that it’s starting to free up for us in Asia,” he said, regarding the shorter isolation spell.
“It’s a good sign. But I don’t expect this year to be back to normal. We’re hoping ‘23. But I remember saying that for ‘22 and ‘21. We’ll see how time progresses.
“Overall we’re just very happy to be here. Luckily we have a lot of guys from our races in Asia, who are from Australia. We have a lot of connection with Australia.”
Cautious Approach Toward GTWC Asia
Craft-Bamboo is set to forgo next weekend’s Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia powered by AWS season-opener at Sepang despite its proximity to the Malaysian circuit.
The team shifted its commercial focus during the pandemic onto more motorsport marketing, as a measure to fill the lack of income from customer racing programs.
This approach has continued into this year, with O’Young pointing out that quarantine rules are still preventing some potential customer drivers from committing to a regional series like GTWC Asia.
“SRO are doing all they can to get GTWC Asia back on its feet,” he said. “This year they made a good plan with a Japan-focused series; essentially national racing.
“I think those entries are very healthy. But for international teams, there comes a point where as much as we want to be there, it’s not commercially balanced at the moment.
“I really appreciate SRO. They are committed to racing and getting the championship back. Probably stretching to make it happen. I guess the teams are trying to make it there. But we’re not going to do the start of the championship; we’ll see how it goes.”