The Japanese leg of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia Powered by AWS came to a close in Okayama last weekend, where Craft-Bamboo Racing clinched their third win of the season and jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the Drivers Championship. The #37 Mercedes-AMG GT3 continued its run of incredible results with Anthony Liu (CHN) and Daniel Juncadella (ESP) taking a dominant win in Race 1 and a hard-fought P4 in Race 2, with Liu taking the lead in the Drivers Championship. Jeffrey Lee (TPE) and Maximilian Goetz (GER) struggled to find luck with contact in both races taking away their chances of better results, with #85 eventually finishing P26 and P10 in Race 1 and 2 respectively. With all to play for, the Hong Kong team has set its sights on the upcoming final round of the Asian SRO series, aiming to take both the GT3 Drivers and Teams Championship titles.
Weather conditions looked dark and gloomy at Okayama International Circuit with a typhoon sweeping through Japan at the start of the race week. Nevertheless, the Craft-Bamboo Racing squad made good use of the testing and free practice sessions to find an ideal set up and for the drivers to get used to the 3.7km track. With track conditions improving as the weekend progressed and both pairs of drivers gaining confidence in the Mercedes-AMG GT3, the team began to demonstrate competitive lap times. Liu strung together an exceptional lap to qualify in P2 for Race 1 missing pole by a mere 0.007 seconds, while Lee struggled to find a clean run with 30 cars on the track, managing only P21. The second qualifying session showcased the pace of the #85 J-Fly Racing liveried Mercedes-AMG, with Goetz qualifying in P5, while Juncadella could only produce a time good enough for P12 for Sunday’s race after difficulties with the session strategy.
On Saturday, bright skies shined down onto the capital city of the Namesake prefecture as Liu lined up on the front row alongside his title rival in Race 1, however the blazing heat did not affect the Chinese driver as he jumped into the lead before a red flag put a stop to the race. Once the race resumed, Liu executed a perfect start as he built a 3.5-second lead to his rival before Juncadella took over for the red and yellow Mercedes-AMG. However the Spaniard’s stint was far from drama-free as he came under immense pressure from the car behind, but the Pro driver held off the attacks from his rival as he piloted the #37 Mercedes-AMG to their third victory of the season, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process.
On the other side of the garage, Lee did well to avoid any collisions during the carnage at the opening lap, being forced to take avoiding action through the gravel in turn 1 dropping several positions before a red flag period. Following the race restart, the Taiwanese driver made steady progress as he moved up the field before he handed driving duties to Goetz in P18. The German driver fought valiantly, engaging in several hard battles and a strong race pace. However at the penultimate lap of the race, contact from behind ended the race prematurely for the J-Fly liveried Mercedes-AMG, with the car stuck inside the gravel.
After taking the maximum 25 points in Race 1, Juncadella and Liu had a massive task in front of them on Sunday, starting from P12 and carrying a 15-second success penalty. After a clean but uneventful stint from the Spaniard, he handed driving duties to Liu who exited the pits P17 after serving the 15-second success penalty. The Chinese driver remained outside the points-paying positions until the last 10 minutes of the race, where a series of incidents and few great overtakes enabled the championship leader to finish the race in a remarkable P4, scoring critical points towards the championship.
The J-Fly liveried Mercedes-AMG was determined to make amends in Race 2, but Goetz was caught out at the start of the race, causing him to drop down to P5 on the opening lap of the race. However, the German driver remained resilient as he made his way back to the podium places, with only a small gap to P2 before the pit stops. Lee looked certain in securing a strong points finish as he remained in the top 4 positions after several hard battles. However, he was spun out during the latter part of the race, causing the Taiwanese driver to drop to P10 at the checkered flag.
Following Craft-Bamboo Racing’s third victory of the season, Liu takes the lead of the Drivers Championship and currently sits with a margin of 1 point, while the team is 13 points adrift in the Teams Championship. With both titles still in contention, Craft-Bamboo Racing will be looking to maximize the points haul at the final race of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia Powered by AWS, which is set to be held from the 22nd to 24th of September at Sepang International Circuit. The season finale is expected to be a thriller and is bound to serve up some exciting battles and stories.
Anthony Liu | Driver, #37 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“I am extremely delighted with our results at Okayama. A third win and then a P4 coming back from P12 was the maximum we could do in the situation. Big thanks to the team and my teammate Dani who has driven extremely well. All sights are set on the championship going into the final round of the series. We will give it our maximum in Sepang to bring home the title.”
Daniel Juncadella | Driver, #37 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“Very positive weekend overall as we arrived at Okayama with Anthony in third in the driver’s standings, but left with him leading with 1 point. I’m extremely happy to be able to get another win for the team, and not having a success penalty for Race 1 in Sepang is a huge bonus for us. Of course, I was a bit disappointed with my qualifying because I couldn’t really deliver what I delivered in other weekends, but it cannot be perfect every time. I will try my best to step up my game for the final race in Sepang.”
Jeffrey Lee | Driver, #85 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“It was a difficult couple of races here in Okayama. The track is narrow and we knew overtaking would be tricky so Race 1 was more about damage limitation. However, what happened in Race 2 was unfortunate because we were on for a top 5 finish and got spun around in the closing stages of the race. Nevertheless, the team did a great job and we are still within touching distance of the Teams Championship, so it will be maximum push in Sepang to finish the season strong.”
Maximilian Goetz | Driver, #85 Mercedes-AMG GT3
“I was looking forward to racing at Okayama for the first time as it’s a great track with blind and fast corners. We had different conditions in practice so we tried our best to adapt for qualifying. Qualifying on my side went quite well as we were the best AMG, but 4 tenths from first place was a bit too much in the end. Once I got the car back from Jeffrey I tried my best to finish the race, but unfortunately I got hit from behind which ended our race. We had a good start on Sunday as I gave the car to Jeffrey in P3, he gave it his all but he was also spun around we meant we finished in P10 which wasn’t ideal, but in the end we showed great performance and we work strong together so I’m happy with that, now we look forward to the last race in Malaysia.”
Darryl O’Young | Team Director, Craft-Bamboo Racing
“I’m really proud of the team, its a tremendous amount of work to be competitive in this large field, and everyone gave it their all throughout the weekend. Fighting for the championship title isn’t always just about the victories, but it is about staying calm and fighting back when things aren’t going perfect. #37 demonstrated that in race 2, coming back from P12 to P4 which was a great race to watch. The results for #85 doesn’t justify the progress we have made this season. Both Jeffrey and Max have worked hard to improve race by race, and hopefully we can reach the podium again in Sepang. A lot is on the line in the final round, we will do our utmost as a team to prepare for the race and aim for the titles in both the drivers and teams championship.”