GRUPPEM RACING BACK TO WINNING WAYS IN GT3 IN BLANCPAIN ASIA WITH FANTASTIC ONE-TWO FINISH AT FUJI SPEEDWAY
- Third win of 2018 for Patric Niederhauser secures championship lead
- Superb one-two result for GruppeM Racing in second race of weekend
- Niederhauser and Bastian win Rd8 ahead of Marciello and Mattschull
- GruppeM extends GT3 Teams Championship lead at Fuji Speedway
Patric Niederhauser and Nico Bastian took a dominant 10 second victory during round eight of the Blancpain GT Series Asia at Fuji Speedway in Japan on Sunday, 22nd July, to get GruppeM Racing back to winning ways in the headline GT3 category.
Marking Niederhauser’s third victory of 2018, and Bastian’s second, the Silver Cup duo headed home the sister Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Raffaele Marciello and Alexander Mattschull, the latter just managing to fend off the rival No.63 Lamborghini by 0.010 seconds at the line to win Pro-Am.
As a result of the overall win, Niederhauser has moved to the top of the overall championship with an eight point lead and has retained second in the Silver Cup. In the team standings, GruppeM leads by 42 points.
Round seven on Saturday, 21st July, was less fruitful for the team with the No.999 car of Bastian and Niederhauser finishing fourth but the No.888 Mercedes-AMG had to settle for 17th position, a lap down, as a result of an unscheduled pit-stop.
In GT4, it was a frustrating weekend for points leader Reinhold Renger with technical maladies in practice and qualifying. Starting both races from the back of the grid, Renger and new team-mate Hwang Doyun suffered punctures in both races – leading to sixth and seventh place results.
Car No.999 – Patric Niederhauser
“I travelled to Fuji with a good and optimistic feeling and it certainly was a great weekend. We didn’t have a good qualifying but after a great first race, where we finished fourth, it feels just mega to be back on the top step of the podium! What a race it was, I can't thank Nico and the entire team enough for their fabulous job – we are leading the championship again!”
Car No.888 – Raffaele Marciello
“It was very difficult overtaking [in race two] but I gave the car in a good position to Alexander and this gave us the chance to win Pro-Am. I am happy to finish first in our class, thanks to the guys in the team for a good job with the car.”
Car No.666 – Reinhold Renger
“This weekend was pretty difficult. We had a technical issue right before qualifying, so had to cancel this and start both races from the last row. Because of maximum energy and power of the guys in the team, though, we managed to fix the car for the races – a great job. Unfortunately, we had punctures in each race but at least we scored some points. I’m looking forward to Shanghai now.”
Qualifying for round seven didn’t go to plan with Bastian the highest placed in the No.999 car with the ninth quickest time, while Mattschull in the sister Mercedes was an uncharacteristic 18th on the grid for race one.
Bastian made an outstanding start to Saturday’s encounter, climbing through into sixth inside just a couple of corners and then taking fifth and fourth in quick succession to position himself firmly in the battle for the podium placings.
Running in fourth place up to lap 14, Bastian grabbed third position before pitting on lap 19 for the mandatory driver-change to Niederhauser. When the race order settled, the GT3 title challenger held sixth but he soon worked his way into the top five and as the race neared its conclusion he, very importantly, passed championship rival Martin Kodric for fourth with just a couple of laps to run.
In the No.888 car, Mattschull moved up into the top 15 on the opening lap and stayed there to lap eight when he had to make an unscheduled pit-stop. Going on to make the driver-change eight laps later, Marciello got behind the wheel and eventually finished the race in 17th position, a lap down.
Following the hugely frustrating technical difficulties in qualifying for the No.666 GT4 entry, team newcomer Hwang didn’t experience an upturn in fortunes in race one when a front-right puncture resulted in a pit visit on lap four. After rejoining the race, Hwang handed the Mercedes-AMG over to Renger on lap 18 and the class pace-setter eventually finished a trying encounter in sixth.
Marciello took the first stint in the No.888 car for round eight and he began Sunday morning’s race from third on the grid, with Niederhauser starting eighth in the No.999 entry and Renger having to line-up on the penultimate grid spot in GT4 once again due to their qualifying problems.
At the start, Marciello slipped to fifth momentarily into Turn One before climbing back into fourth into the next corner. Swarming all over the third placed Ferrari, on lap four the pressure from the GruppeM driver told and as the Ferrari went wide Marciello moved into the podium placings.
The Italian remained in third for the rest of his stint, closing to within less than a second of the runner-up spot before pitting on lap 20. Thanks to a great pit-stop from the GruppeM crew, when the race order settled Mattschull held the lead and with 12 laps to go he was 3.6 seconds clear.
As his lead started to be reduced, though, the German fell into the clutches of the chasing pack and on lap 30 he was shuffled back to third place behind the No.63 Lamborghini and the sister GruppeM car of Bastian and Niederhauser.
In the opening stint for the No.999 car, Niederhauser had ended lap one in ninth position and took eighth at the start of the second tour. Thereafter, he spent the rest of his time at the wheel bottled up in eighth place before serving the mandatory stop on lap 16.
Again, great work from the pit-crew enabled the Mercedes-AMG, now with Bastian at the wheel, to emerge in third position when the race order plateaued and the hugely entertaining battle over the podium intensified.
With 10 minutes to go the Lamborghini took the lead from Mattschull, who then didn’t make life difficult for the advancing Bastian as he too swept through. Soon after, though, Mattschull was able to get back ahead of the No.63 car into second place.
Bastian motored into the distance to take the win by 10 seconds while Mattschull just managed to fend off the recovering Lamborghini – on the sprint to the line a mere 0.010 seconds separated the pair as GruppeM sealed a fabulous one-two finish.
In GT4, Renger made excellent progress from the back of the grid to slice his way through into third place on the first lap and when the No.82 BMW had a spin on lap three, the German happily moved into second position.
With prospects looking much improved for this race than they had during Saturday’s encounter, hopes were dashed again due to a puncture. Ultimately, Hwang went on to conclude the race in seventh position in GT4 five laps down on the class winner.
Blancpain GT Series Asia now enters a lengthy two month break ahead of the penultimate event of the season, rounds nine and 10, on 22nd/23rd September at Shanghai International Circuit in China.
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Team Standings
1st GruppeM Racing, 207pts
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT4 Team Standings
2nd GruppeM Racing, 147pts
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Overall Driver Standings
1st Patric Niederhauser, 112pts; 6th Raffaele Marciello, 70pts; 7th Nico Bastian, 62pts;
10th Alexander Mattschull, 55pts; 11th Markus Pommer, 50pts; 13th Brice Bosi, 40pts
17th Maxi Buhk, 25pts
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Pro-Am Driver Standings
3rd Raffaele Marciello, 115pts; 4th Alexander Mattschull, 96pts;
9th Brice Bosi, 50pts; 15th Maxi Buhk, 31pts
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Silver Driver Standings
2nd Patric Niederhauser, 121pts; 8th Nico Bastian, 65pts; 9th Markus Pommer, 56pts
Blancpain GT Series Asia GT4 Overall Driver Standings
1st Reinhold Renger, 147pts; 9th Ryuichirou Ohtsuka, 43pts; 10th Russell Ward, 40pts;
Hwang Doyun, 14pts