GRUPPEM DRIVER ABBOTT CROWNED BLANCPAIN GT SERIES ASIA PRO-AM CHAMPION IN SHANGHAI WITH ONE EVENT TO SPARE
- Success for Blancpain GT Series Asia squad GruppeM in Shanghai
- Hunter Abbott seals Pro-Am title with one event still to go in 2017
- One title down, two more to fight for in team's return season
- Celebrations in China despite tough rain-hit penultimate weekend
Top motorsport team GruppeM Racing is celebrating after British driver Hunter Abbott sealed the Blancpain GT Series Asia Pro-Am class title with one event to go, despite a challenging outing at a rain-lashed Shanghai International Circuit over the weekend, 23rd/24th Septem
Despite a frustrating penultimate weekend of the season overall for GruppeM, the Pro-Am title confirms an incredible full-time return to racing for the squad which also has a chance of winning the outright GT3 driver and team titles during the season finale next month.
Going into the event, Abbott's lead in Pro-Am was such that problems in both Shanghai races didn't have the impact they might have. Issues with the left-rear wheel of Abbott and Maximilian Buhk's No.999 Mercedes in round nine on Saturday, during the mid-race pit stop, led to a costly non-score in the overall points and contact early in a very wet round 10 triggered retirement.
Silver class pairing Tim Sugden and Jules Szymkowiak delivered a pair of consistent results with seventh in race one and sixth in race two, fifth and fourth in class respectively, and concluded the race meeting fourth in the Silver championship battle.
While the two practice sessions took place in the dry, rain arrived ahead of qualifying and the session didn't work out as hoped for the GruppeM Racing cars with Sugden lapping ninth fastest overall in the No.888 Mercedes and Abbott securing 11th on the grid for the opening encounter.
The track dried somewhat ahead of round nine, but the surface was still very slippery and the cars all started on wet-weather rubber. At the beginning, a multi-car tangle at Turn Two resulted in a chain reaction. Fortunately, both GruppeM cars threaded through the drama safely with Sugden concluding a dramatic first lap in an elevated fourth and Abbott having risen impressively to sixth.
With a Porsche stranded in the middle of the track after the initial incident, the Safety Car was deployed for a lap before the action swiftly resumed and the track dried more and more. Holding position for a couple of laps, the two Mercedes then started to lose some ground and with 15 minutes elapsed they ran nose-to-tail in seventh and eighth.
As the pit-stop window neared, Abbott moved ahead of Sugden – the pair now running at the tail of the top 10 – and the twin Mercedes AMGs then both pitted at the end of lap 11. While there were no problems for the No.888 car, Szymkowiak running in eighth position overall when the race order settled, an issue with the left-rear wheel led to Abbott's car being pushed into the pit garage.
Thanks to great work by the GruppeM mechanics, the No.999 car was able to head back into the race with Buhk at the wheel but having lost four laps during the delay he took the flag in 24th spot overall and eighth in Pro-Am, the latter securing key points for Abbott's Pro-Am challenge.
In the sister car, with slick tyres now fitted, Szymkowiak closed rapidly on the pack ahead and swarmed all over the back of two battling Porsches with just 12 minutes to run. Pressuring the car of Tim Bridgman, Szymkowiak took seventh with a great move on lap 21 and pulled clear to finish the race at the end of lap 26 only 0.6 seconds shy of the top six – claiming fifth in Silver.
The weather worsened for Sunday's action, heavy rain and an extremely wet track providing another stern test for the drivers and, once more, Abbott and Buhk encountered major misfortune which proved very costly for the former's outright championship bid.
Szymkowiak started the No.888 car 11th on the grid with Buhk just behind in 12th place in the No.999 Mercedes. Due to the atrocious conditions, officials opted to begin the race behind the Safety Car and after two laps like that racing proper got underway.
Determined to recover much-needed championship points after Saturday's dramas, Buhk's involvement was unfortunately short lived when contact at the hairpin just before the 15-minute mark ruled the car out of the race with damaged front suspension when running inside the top 10.
Szymkowiak held 11th position up behind Bridgman's Porsche throughout his stint, moving into the top 10 when his rival pitted as soon as the driver change pit-stop window opened at the 25-minute mark.
An incident on track shortly after then led to a Full Course Yellow cautionary period, during which Szymkowiak pitted to hand over the No.888 car to Sugden. After a great turnaround by GruppeM, when the race order settled Sugden held seventh place and he remained there for the duration but was elevated to sixth, fourth in Silver, post-race due to a penalty for a rival.
No.999 – Hunter Abbott:
"It's been a challenging weekend, we haven't quite had the pace but the results were looking OK in race one until a wheel nut issue retired the car. Race two was also going OK until Maxi was hit by a Porsche which broke the suspension and, again, we had to retire the car. Sometimes you get weekends like this, but I'm happy to win the Pro-Am title and we'll come back stronger at Zhejiang."
Car No.999 – Maxi Buhk:
"This weekend was very disappointing. We struggled with the pace in the rain in quali, as we adapted the set-up for the race we were pretty optimistic to make progress. Unfortunately, we had the problem in the first race in the pit-stop and got taken out at the beginning of race two so didn't score any points."
Car No.888 – Tim Sugden:
"We haven't had any problems as such this weekend, but we haven't quite been quick enough. Both races were really wet and it's good to get points for the team championship. We'll be back to normal at the final round!"
Car No.888 – Jules Szymkowiak:
"All in all, the weekend was not too bad at all, we struggled a bit to put all things together in free practice and quali, but we showed very good pace in the races and managed to score good points. It's a shame what happened to the sister GruppeM car but, in the end, we managed to get more points for the team championship so a weekend with mixed feelings."
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Team Standings
1st GruppeM Racing, 204pts
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Overall Driver Standings
2nd Hunter Abbott 134pts; 4th Maximilian Buhk, 73pts;
5th Tim Sugden & Jules Szymkowiak 70pts;
16th Maximilian Gotz, 31pts; 17th Raffaele Marciello, 30pts
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Pro-Am Driver Standings
CHAMPION: Hunter Abbott 180pts; 5th Maximilian Buhk, 97pts;
10th Raffaele Marciello 43pts; 11th Maximilian Gotz 40pts
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Silver Driver Standings
4th Tim Sugden & Jules Szymkowiak 112pts