Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia 8- 9 April, 2017
Round #1/2 Blancpain GT Asia 2017
Early April in Malaysia marked Shaun Thong’s return to competition at the wheel of an Audi R8 LMS GT3, the 21-year old GT Asia Series Pro-Am Cup champion rejoining Phoenix Racing Asia and Audi Hong Kong alongside experienced veteran Marchy Lee for the maiden season of the new Blancpain GT Series Asia.
Fast in practice, the two Audi drivers were consistently amongst the top teams fighting for a podium result in Malaysia, and despite some tough challenges across the weekend, Thong delivered, taking he and Lee to two top five finishes including third in race two - in the process grabbing a share of third place in the championship points after two of 12 races.
For season 2017, whilst the championship is different, so too is Shaun Thong’s direction, the Hong Kong resident turning full-time to motorsport as an official driver for Audi Hong Kong, his sole focus for the season - winning races - and Malaysia was the first step towards that goal.
“I’ve been dreaming about the day I could become a full-time professional racing driver, and now that it’s happened, I’m so glad it is with Audi, and more importantly for me, Audi Hong Kong.
“Blancpain GT Series Asia was a great platform for me to continue my second season with Phoenix Racing Asia, with a number of very experienced teams and factory drivers coming into the Series from Europe.
“Almost immediately we were amongst the fastest cars in the field through unofficial testing and then when official practice began. As we did last year, Marchy qualified first, largely amongst the amateur drivers, whilst I went into the session which was largely filled with professional drivers. Eleventh place was okay, but as a racing driver, I wanted to be at the front of the field, that said if I’d qualified in the first group, I would have been P3..!
“Because of our ranking as ‘silver’ drivers, our car - like that of the other silver-silver combinations - has to carry an extra 25-kilograms of ballast, so I was knocking myself out comparing my times with team-mate Alex Yoong, because he was able to brake another 10 metres later than me.. I thought he truly was a superman until the team reminded me I had that extra weight onboard and he didn’t [Yoong’s team is Pro-Am].
“Marchy started the first race and spent much of his stint behind the safety car, we pitted early to allow us to get out of some traffic that was holding Marchy up, and I managed to move forward pretty quickly. I had a fantastic battle with star European drivers like Jules Gounon, Raffaele Marciello and Jesse Krohn and was able to get past them and up to second at one point before fading to fifth at the end of the race as tyre wear slowed my pace. It was great to be able to fight with guys that have so much GT experience, it was a great test to see just how competitive we will be this season.
“In race two I started, but got caught up in someone else’s accident at turn two which saw me forced off the circuit to avoid an incident - in these tough championships you cannot afford a DNF [did not finish] so I had to make sure first the car was safe and I had nowhere else to go. That dropped me back down the order, but I charged back to the top ten and handed the car to Marchy in a position to finish on the podium.
“He had a great battle with the leaders and was second until the final two laps when another of the Audis was able to come through on fresher tyres and take the position away, but a third place in the first event of the year was a good result, and being third in the championship gives us a great foundation to attack for the top of the leaderboard over the next few events.
“Fortunately the next event at Buriram in Thailand [20-21 May], we won last year, so we’ll be calling on a lot of that data to be right in the mix again at the front of the field!”
For Shaun, his next commitment is rejoining Phoenix Racing Asia and Audi Hong Kong for the opening round of the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup where he will be once more at Sepang in Malaysia, and also back in a championship where his only start in 2016 netted him a podium finish!
* teams are allocated four sets of new tyres for qualifying and the two 60-minute races, they can use them however they like however most try to allow three good sets for the two races, and have to then decide which race will see a change to new tyres for the second leg after the compulsory mid-race stop, and which race they will continue on the same tyres.
Sepang International Circuit, China (8 April, 2017)
Qualifying #1 (15-minutes)
1. 86. Mitchell Gilbert (Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:04.180
2. 37. Anthony Liu (Ferrari 488 GT3) - 2:04.362
3. 99. Darryl O’Young (Porsche GT3-R) - 2:04.880
4. 5. Marchy Lee (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:04.985
5. 88. Jules Gounon (Porsche GT3-R) - 2:04.990
12. 6. Alex Au (Team Audi R8 LMS Cup Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:07.307
Qualifying #2 (15-minutes)
1. 6. Alex Yoong (Team Audi R8 LMS Cup Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:03.248
2. 999. Raffaele Marciello (Mercedes AMG GT3) - 2:03.255
3. 7. Will Stevens (Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:03.462
4. 13. Franky Cheng (Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:04.075
5. 38. Rui Aguas (Ferrari 488 GT3) - 2:04.151
11. 5. Shaun Thong (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 2:04.803
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia (8 April, 2017)
Rnd#1 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia (60-minutes)
1. 86. Gilbert/Patel (Audi R8 LMS GT3) - 26-laps
2. 999. Abbott/Marciello (Mercedes AMG GT3) +9.062
3. 91. Millroy/Krohn (BMW M6 GT3) +18.247
4. 888. Sugden/Syzmkowiak (Mercedes AMG GT3) +20.121
5. 5. Lee/Thong (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) +26.885
10. 6. Au/Yoong (Team Audi R8 LMS Cup Audi R8 LMS GT3) +39.417
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia (9 April, 2017)
Rnd#2 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia (60-minutes)
1. Davide Rizzo/Anthony Liu (Ferrari 488 GT3) - 27-laps
2. 86. Patel/Gilbert (Audi R8 LMS GT3) +26.697
3. 5. Thong/Lee (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) +29.355
4. 999. Marciello/Abbott (Mercedes AMG GT3) +36.247
5. 888. Syzmkowiak/Sugden (Mercedes AMG GT3) +42.926
9. 6. Yoong/Au (Team Audi R8 LMS Cup Audi R8 LMS GT3) +52.010
Championship Points (after two rounds of 12)
1. Mitchell Gilbert/Additya Patel (43-points), 2. Hunter Abbott/Raffaele Marciello (30), 3. Shaun Thong/Marchy Lee (25), 3. Anthony Liu/Davide Rizzo (25)