Craft-Bamboo Racing entered in the inaugural Suzuka 10 Hour race this past weekend with a formidable Porsche factory driver line-up with Laurens Vanthoor (BEL), Kévin Estre (FRA) and Mathieu Jaminet (FRA) sharing the wheel of the Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The team had a promising start to the weekend, finishing P1 and P5 in both practice sessions. However, a technical issue with the car in qualifying meant that the team was put on the back foot for the race starting 17th.
A race of near-full green flag running, with the exception of just one safety car period, meant that the strategy had to be run without any breathing room from multiple safety car periods or full course yellows. Just before the midway point in the race with Kévin Estre at the wheel, contact just before a pit-stop put Craft-Bamboo Racing a lap down, negating any chance of a good result with the level of competition over the weekend.
Regardless, the biggest time gained during the race was during the pit-stops due to the error free operation from the Craft-Bamboo Racing crew. The team leave Suzuka feeling that a better result was possible, however the unfortunate incidents during the race made it insurmountable.
The qualifying for the Suzuka 10 hour saw each driver having their own individual 15 minute qualifying runs, followed by a top-20 pole position shootout.
Laurens Vanthoor went out first and quickly found out that the stewards were implementing track limits regulations harshly this past weekend, having had his first timed laps deleted and only managing 21st in his session. Kévin Estre then struggled with heavy tyre degradation after only 2 laps, and managed to improve slightly to qualify 19th. However, Mathieu Jaminet improved the team’s average qualifying position, finishing 11th. The team managed to get into the top-20 super pole shootout, however only managing to qualify 17th in a very close qualifying session; 1.1 seconds covered the top 17 cars.
It was only after the end of qualifying that a technical issue with the car was discovered, which explained the difficult performance. With Suzuka being a narrow circuit, it meant that the drivers had their work cut out for them on Sunday.
With temperatures reaching 36 degrees Celcius, Laurens Vanthoor started the race, and immediately got to work making progress through the field. In the first 10 minutes he managed to gain 4 positions to put the team in a strong position to continue the uphill battle for the 10 hour endurance. Vanthoor showed the car’s potential by getting up to P6 by the end of the first stint.
With the searing Japanese heat forcing the team to reduce the stint times early on, strategy was compromised and it meant that the drivers constantly had to pass slower traffic throughout the 10 hour endurance race; further compounding the problem of tyre wear and driver fatigue.
About 2 hours later after the second round of pit-stops, Mathieu Jaminet found himself stuck in slower lapped traffic. At a narrow circuit like Suzuka, overtaking opportunities are hard to come by and Mathieu was severely held up, losing 3 positions. He then proceeded to overtake several cars, most notably his brave move around the outside at the fastest corner of the circuit.
The only safety car period came when a McLaren crashed at the high-speed 130r corner 3 hours into the race. This did not play into Craft-Bamboo Racing’s favour as the team had just made their pit-stop one lap before the incident and lost time with the Full Course Yellow flag and ensuing safety car period.
Midway through the race after managing to work his way up to 8th overall, at the exit of the final chicane, Kévin Estre was pitched into a spin by a competitor and narrowly avoided hitting the barrier. In addition to the team dropping back down to the starting position, 17th, the contact also left the car with minor damage to the rear, causing a minor drop in performance for the remainder of the race.
From there on it was a true test of endurance and risk management, and lapped traffic played a big factor in hindering progress; the #991 Porsche 911 GT3 R was stuck behind slower traffic for almost 2 hours on a circuit notoriously difficult to overtake at. However, steady progress was made as Craft-Bamboo Racing clawed back time through good strategy and near perfect pit-stops.
With just over 30 minutes to go, Craft-Bamboo Racing passed the #911 Manthey entry to take the honour of being the fastest Porsche and quickly set their sights on the 10th place Mercedes. The gap managed to be cut down to less than a second, but to no avail as the turbulent air and tyre degradation towards the end meant that Laurens Vanthoor could not get close enough to attempt a move for a top-10 finish.
Craft-Bamboo Racing would like to thank our partners Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific and our sponsors Gravity, AutoArt, POAD and Loco for the continuous support for this inaugural race!
In the end, not the result that the team hoped for, but the reasons for the sub-optimal result were understood. There were plenty of positives to take from the weekend and the team are looking forward to the next race weekend.
Laurens Vanthoor – Driver #991 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
“Great event, first time in Suzuka, was quite amazing with all the fans so was a good experience. Finished p11, so not what we came for; we came to win. But we did the best with what we had and much more was possible. This was one of the hardest races physically I’ve ever done with the heat. Shame nothing more came out but that’s racing.”
Kévin Estre – Driver #991 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
“Really enjoyed the track, still really enjoy the Japanese culture and the fans. I really like how much respect they have and how passionate they are. Unfortunately the race was not completely smooth, we had offset on the strategy and then safety car came which didn’t really help us. Then we always had to make up track position, always in traffic. Tried our best to come back and at one point there was a misunderstanding. I was coming into the pits and the car behind me didn’t see that. Pushed me and I spun and I lost a lot of time because the car wouldn’t restart right away. It was a bit of a shame because we lost the lead lap. Otherwise I think we would have finished on the lead lap and in the top 10. We had to come back but somehow we had no safety car; it was a green flag race. So yeah we finished p11, would have been nice to do a top 10 for the team. On pace for sure we deserved better. But we were missing a little bit of pace to win or even a podium.”
Mathieu Jaminet – Driver #991 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
“It was a very tough race for us, finishing P11. We struggled with the heat and had to keep the tyres alive over a stint. We could have finished a little bit better without a few issues we got through the race. A bit too slow to fight with the top 5. In the end everybody in the team did a great job over the week. I think there are no big regrets; we were just too slow and this was not our weekend. I just appreciate the chance to race in Japan and to race with the team for the first time. It was a great opportunity that they gave me so I just want to thank the crew, my teammates and Porsche for the weekend and I hope I can come back in the future.”
Darryl O’Young – Team Director – Craft-Bamboo Racing
“It was a really tough race for the team due to the hot conditions. Im really proud of the guys, everybody did a really mega effort with no mistakes. Unfortunately we had an incident and we lost a lap and that was it. With the competition level here and an almost a full green flag race with just one safety car, it was a big challenge and just a little bit unlucky today and just thanks to the team and Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific and all our sponsors for the support and we come back next year stronger. Of course we’re a little bit disappointed leaving here today but there’s lots of positives to take from it and we’ll grow from there.”