The Gama Racing pair of Evan Chen and Kiwi championship newcomer Chris van der Drift stormed to victory in the opening round of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia 2019 as the championship’s eighth season got off to a dramatic start.
Just as the 50-minute, 21-lap night race under lights at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit was preparing to get underway, the skies opened and rain began to pour down. While many of the teams opted for wet weather tyres, Gama Racing took a gamble by starting van der Drift on slicks – a decision which later helped them to a 6.499 second victory by the chequered flag.
“I nearly crashed to the grid,” commented van der Drift! “I thought to myself, ‘what the hell are these rain tyres?’. And then I realised oh, they’re slicks, that makes sense! So as soon as I got some temperature in, I could manage. It was really, really wet in the middle sector – the fast corners were soaking there. And then at least the water ran off so you could sort of drive on that, just brake really early and try and stay on the track.
“There were a few corners that were just bone dry, so you could haul ass around there. Then the other ones, you just had to stay on and then wait. Just balance it like that. Just before the pitstop window, I just started hauling ass. I thought ‘now we’re on the money’. I knew, compared to the others, Evan would have warm tyres anyway as everything was warm on the slicks. It’s cool. My first race in Lamborghini!”
Second across the line was the Hojust Racing duo of Toshiyuki Ochiai and Afiq Yazid, the pair claiming victory in the Pro-Am category. Third overall, and second in the Pro-Am class, was series newcomer Alex Au and Edoardo Liberati of Vincenzo Sospiri Racing Srl.
Indonesia’s Andrew Haryanto of Tedco Racing also took the slicks gamble and was an impressive fourth overall in a solo effort of epic proportions to win the Am class. Clement Li of the all-Hong Kong team 852 Challengers got past rival Gabriele Murroni on the final corner to take the Lamborghini Cup win alongside team mate Paul Wong.
With the heavy rain drastically reducing visibility, officials started the race under the Safety Car, with Finland’s Juuso Puhakka of FFF Racing Team leading the field away from pole and van der Drift lining up alongside. On the second row was Hong Kong’s Au and Ochiai, while Am class entry T Squared Racing driver Huilin Han and Haryanto comprised the third row.
When the Safety Car pulled off and racing got underway on the third lap, Puhakka maintained his pole advantage, with Ochiai, Han, Au and PSC Motorsports driver Sarun Sereethorankul all getting past the slicks-shod van der Drift who struggled on the drenched track. However, the track was starting to dry in some places, setting the stage for what was to be a thrilling finish.
By the end of lap 5, Puhakka led Ochiai by nearly six seconds. Third in the order was Au, followed by Han, Sereethoranakul, Leipert Motorsport driver Brendon Leitch of New Zealand, van der Drift and Kei Cozzolino of yh Racing Team who had started from the back of the grid and had already worked his his way up to eighth in the order. Leading the Lamborghini Cup runners was GDL Racing driver Vincent Wong.
On lap 8, Au spun, sending him down the order and into the pits just as the window opened for the mandatory stop, and Au handed driving duties over to Liberati. Puhakka was among the last of the leading drivers to pit where he handed over to Kasai.
A lap later, Yazid, who had taken over from Ochiai, found a way past Kasai to take the lead and he soon built up a six-second advantage over the Japanese driver, Chen in the Gama Racing car, Liberati and Han. Vincent Wong continued to lead the Lamborghini Cup ahead of Murroni and Li, who had taken over from Paul Wong.
A couple of laps later, Chen got past Kasai and next set his sights on Yazid, closing the gap to the Malaysian before getting past him on the penultimate lap. In an attempt to save his wet tyres, Yazid was in search of damp parts of the track, while also having to defend against a determined Chen. In the Am class, Haryanto had found his way past Han and held the lead to the chequered flag. Murroni was leading the Lamborghini Cup in the closing minutes, but a hard-charging, determined Li continued to pile on the pressure. While it looked as though Murroni would be able to defend his lead, on the final lap, Li was able to make a move to snatch the Lamborghini Cup win.
Tomorrow’s 50-minute Race 2 starts at 15:20 local time and can be watched around the world via the livestream on www.squadracorse.lamborghini.com