Andrea Caldarelli felt that Japan’s gold medal in the FIA Motorsport Games encapsulated a successful season in European racing for the Italian’s Orange 1 FFF Racing Team.
Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Ukyo Sasahara took victory in two of the three races held at Vallelunga, including the medal-paying event on Sunday afternoon.
The pair’s FFF-run Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo started the main race from third on the grid but Hamaguchi led after less than 10 minutes and continued out front until the mid-race driver swaps.
Sasahara emerged from the pits with a 30-second advantage over the next-best car and successfully rode out two safety car periods to take the win.
“The car was quick, but I think the experience of the [Lamborghini] teams on this track helped,” Caldarelli told Sportscar365.
“We did a lot of kilometers at the track before. We hadn’t raced there at all, but we tested there last winter.
“It was a good wrap of the season. It was a summary of the good job that has finally paid off and now we have two months to prepare for the next season.
“We are coming back to the factory tomorrow to have a sit-down and make the first call for next year.
“I’m very proud of everything we have achieved this year. It’s a good way to finish.”
Caldarelli praised the two Japanese drivers, who earned Asia’s only gold medal of the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games.
Hamaguchi raced for the FFF team, which Caldarelli co-runs, in Blancpain GT Asia last year while 23-year-old Sasahara is the reigning Asian Formula 3 champion.
“I was very impressed with their performance all weekend,” Caldarelli told Sportscar365.
“I have known Hiroshi for a long time, so I was expecting him to perform well, but Ukyo did a very awesome job.
“It was his first time in GT3, so we thought maybe to take our time at the start, as a little bit of an underdog, but he did so well.
“I remember helping him to come to Europe eight years ago, so it’s funny that we find each other again after such a long time. I saw [this weekend] that he is a very grown-up driver, very professional and nice to work with.”
Sasahara told Sportscar365 after the race that his familiarity with Vallelunga, which he raced at in Formula Renault NEC, helped aid his learning of the Lamborghini on his first GT3 outing.
“It’s huge to win, definitely,” he said. “It’s good news for Japan and I’m really proud to represent my country. We all feel incredible now.
“Hiroshi-san chose me as his co-driver for this race, so I’m extremely grateful. Hopefully I will be back [in GTs] next year.”
Rain “Played a Big Part” in Main Race
Like the other front-runners, the Japan Lamborghini started Sunday’s race on wet tires.
This appeared to have been the wrong choice when, around 15 minutes in, the rain stopped and the cars that had chosen to run on slicks powered through the field.
But the rain returned a few minutes later, giving Hamaguchi the chance to preserve his tires until the mid-race pit window and only make one stop while many of his competitors needed to come in again for fresh wets.
Caldarelli explained that tire choice was touch-and-go throughout the race, especially at the start.
“In the beginning, we were thinking: slicks or wets? Slicks or wets? I said to the guys to keep the car up [on the pre-grid] because we were going to have to make a call in the last three minutes.
“Then there was a call of slicks, but then we saw a drop of rain that gave us the decision to go with wets, just before the start. But then it started to dry up…
“I have to say, the weather played a big part in this last race, but we were super quick.”