CarGuy Racing’s Kei Cozzolino and Naoki Yokomizo scored a popular home victory in Blancpain GT Series Asia’s first race of the weekend at Fuji Speedway on Saturday, holding off Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Nick Foster and Devon Modell.
Hunter Abbott, meanwhile, increased his championship lead by completing the podium and scooping Pro-Am class honors with GruppeM co-driver Maxi Buhk.
Elsewhere, Clearwater Racing’s GT4 debut went perfectly to plan after Mok Weng Sun and Richard Wee won on their McLaren 570S’s maiden championship appearance.
Cozzolino and Yokomizo’s victory on the team’s second Blancpain GT Series Asia outing owed much to avoiding an incident-filled first corner and unflustered performance thereafter.
The Japanese Lamborghini, which usually competes in Super Taikyu, started third but took advantage of pole-sitter Foster banging wheels first with Marchy Lee, whose Audi Hong Kong R8 LMS had shared the front row, and Rino Mastronardi, who attempted to nip around the outside.
Cozzolino instead maintained the inside line and duly took advantage when all three of his rivals ran wide exiting Turn 1.
From there the Japanese driver began to edge clear of Martin Kodric, up four places from sixth, and Naoya Yamano’s Porsche Team EBI entry. By the time the pit window opened after 25 minutes the bright yellow Huracan was six seconds ahead of its pursuers, a gap Yokomizo would also inherit after climbing aboard.
A seven-second pitstop success penalty for Kodric and VSR co-driver Sandy Stuvik saw them drop to third post-driver changes behind Modell who benefitted from Foster’s combative opening stint.
The Craft-Bamboo Porsche dropped down to eighth after its first corner escapades but fought its way forward thereafter and also benefitted from stopping much later in the pit window than its front-running rivals to emerge second.
Modell then set about chipping away at Yokomizo’s lead, spurred on no doubt by Buhk’s rapidly advancing GruppeM Mercedes-AMG.
Abbott’s eventful opening lap had earlier seen the car move from fifth to third and then back to sixth after running wide on cold tyres, while the full 10-second pitstop success penalty incurred for winning at Suzuka made his German co-driver’s task even trickier. But the former Blancpain GT Series champion rose to the challenge by moving forwards over the final 30 minutes and setting fastest lap in the process.
Indeed, Buhk jumped ARN Racing’s Kota Sasaki and BBT’s Davide Rizzo on the same lap before reeling in and passing Stuvik for third with six minutes remaining. Modell was sufficiently far enough ahead to maintain second, but only by 0.9s at the chequered flag.
Stuvik came home seven seconds further back while Jules Szymkowiak, who shared GruppeM’s second Mercedes-AMG with Tim Sugden, finished fifth after also picking up places during the second stint.
Several potential contenders hit trouble at various stages of the race.
Lee was forced to pit as a result of his first turn scuffles, while the same chain reaction accounted for Rino Mastronardi and Spirit of Race’s second Ferrari driven by Jiang Xin.
Aditya Patel, whose OD Racing Audi occupied third in the points, spun to the tail of the field on lap one before recovering to finish 11th, but there was less luck for ARN Racing’s Ferrari which was struck with a puncture with five minutes remaining whilst running in the top-six.
Sun and Wee gave McLaren victory on its Blancpain GT Series Asia GT4 debut at Fuji, but it might have been a lot less straightforward were it not for Craft-Bamboo Racing’s pitstop penalty.
Weng Sun took the checkered flag 44 seconds clear of Jean-Marc Merlin, who battled back from a one-second stop-go penalty – incurred for a short pitstop – to pinch runners-up spot ahead of the championship-leading EKS Motorsports Porsche, which lost its podium post-race due to overtaking under yellow flags.
Pole-sitter Wee and Merlin’s co-driver Frank Yu battled for the lead over the opening stint before the Porsche emerged ahead after the stops. But when Merlin was called in the McLaren duly inherited a huge advantage.
The Frenchman re-joined determined to make up for lost time and was soon battling with EKS’s Eric Lo and HubAuto’s Ringo Chong for the final podium position.
The trio circulated together over the closing laps before Merlin managed to squeeze past, edge clear and eventually finish 2.8s ahead of championship leaders Lo and Byron Tong, who dropped to fourth post-race.
Chong and co-driver Zang Kan were another 1.1s behind but inherited the final podium slot as a result of Lo and Tong’s 30-second penalty, while Taiwan Top Speed and TTR Team SARD – whose Porsche also incurred a 30-second post-race penalty for a yellow flag infringement – completed the top-six.
Tomorrow’s second hour-long race begins at 14:25 local time. Watch it live on the championship’s Facebook page and website as well as SRO’s GT World Youtube channel.
RESULTS: Race 1