Team NZ Motorsport enjoyed a perfect start to Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup 2017 after we won both the 1-hour races that comprised the opening round of the season to collect maximum points and get our GT Cup title defence off to the best possible start. Superb driving from Graeme Dowsett and John Curran in our #77 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup coupled to excellent work from the pitcrew was the key to a successful weekend – but the wins certainly didn’t come easily and in Race 2 we had to fight every inch of the way.
After being off track since joining Asian Le Mans Series 2016/2017 for its closing rounds of the season in Buriram and Sepang back in January, the team was really looking forward to getting the main portion of our racing season underway by contesting the three round ‘Sprint Cup’. We won the inaugural championship last year, after winning five of the six races, and really wanted to defend our GT Cup title.
With the same car and driver line up as last year we were well settled, prepared and ready to go at a hot and dry Sepang Circuit late last week and John and Graeme duly got the job done during qualifying and unlocked their pace by setting the P1 times in the Q1 and Q2 sessions respectively to give us pole for both races.
Race 1, held last Saturday afternoon, saw Graeme driving the #77 Porsche for the first stint and he calmly converted pole into the race lead – not only keeping our main GT Cup class rivals at bay but also several of the faster GT3 cars. The New Zealander handed over to John on the half hour mark. The Irishman then took the car to the chequered flag, driving quickly and consistently to maintain a large cushion and in fact growing it yet further by the time he crossed the finishline after a total of 26 laps of racing.
We then capped a superb opening weekend in the ‘Sprint Cup’ by taking another victory in Sunday afternoon’s Race 2. This time round though we really had to work much harder for the win and the #15 PAS Macau Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup pushed us for the whole race.
John started the car, converted pole to the race lead but suffered an early spin and dropped to P2. He then tenaciously reeled in the car upfront and fought his way back into the lead just before handed over to Graeme with a slender lead of a couple of seconds. Graeme, in for a slightly longer stint, had to work very hard to defend P1 all the way to the flag as the #15 Porsche put him under relentless pressure and he also had to manage technical issues that flared up. Firstly, there was a problem with the alignment of the left hand rear tyre and then a fuel pump problem put the car down on power. It was the battle of the race though as the two GT Cup class Porsches fought it out for supremacy for lap after lap.
Graeme however did a superb job, adeptly using the GT3 traffic to fend off the attentions of our rivals for the win, all the while coping with the technical problems, to eventually take the chequered flag with just 1.038 seconds in hand over the car behind.
Strong and consistent driving by both John and Graeme throughout the weekend coupled to excellent work by the team who carried out slick pitstops and prepared a car that was ready to race, means we took two wins out of two for the opening weekend and with it maximum championship points – so it’s game on for our title defence!
In fact, with the extra point that’s awarded for pole position coupled to the 25 points awarded for a win, that means we have 52 points in the Teams’ championship with PAS Macau Racing next up on 36 points. It’s a similar story in the Drivers’ championship.
We would like to thank the organisers’ for putting on an excellent event as usual and also to PAS Macau Racing for a strong fighting drive that went all the way to the chequered flag and we look forward to resuming for Round 2, returning to Sepang Circuit again, on 21-23 July.
Team NZ Motorsport is being supported during Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup 2017 by Completion Products, Asia Pacific Spiral, Motosure, Pioneer Consultants, Nam Aik, FC and IMPACT SpeedPark.
Graeme Dowsett (New Zealand): “It was a good weekend, really good. Race 1 was great, everything went clinical to plan, and we won, that’s about it, but Race 2 was a lot tougher. John put the car back in the right position for me to take over, thank you John for that, we didn’t have a huge gap to the other Porsche but managed to keep it steady for a while and then something with the left rear tyre alignment meant we couldn’t push so much and a small fuel pump issue lost us power and the Porsche came back really strong and we had a tight little time through Turn 9 side by side but then I was lucky to mange to put the BMW GT3 between us and to give us a break. It was a very hard fought I had to be on it the whole way, which is great, that’s what we wanted, it was a great race.”
John Curran (Ireland): “Thanks to PAS Macau Racing for some great racing, I think the weekend, especially Sunday’s race, gave everyone a real taste of what the GT Cup class can be in in the Sprint Series, very close racing, very clean racing. I think I made it a bit harder on Graeme on Sunday with a little spin in Turn 9 but it was a very enjoyable weekend overall and thanks to the organisers for a great event as usual. I think also having the LMP3 and GT3 cars on track together makes it more exciting as not only do you have to look ahead but also behind as the closing speeds are quite significant compared to Cup cars and we were really able to use the BMW to our advantage in Race 2.”