Team NZ Motorsport wrapped up its double race date in the Asian Le Mans Series 2016/17 season by taking a second trip to the podium – capably following up its GT Cup win a fortnight ago in Buriram, Thailand, with the runners up spot in last Sunday’s 4 Hours of Sepang, Malaysia.
For this race regulars Graeme Dowsett and John Curran were joined in the cockpit by Will Bamber.
It was a tough race in the Malaysian sunshine against tough opponents and while we took knocks that dented our chances of chasing for the victory, we never gave up the fight, we were never too far away the battle for first place and in the end it was very close run. We gave it everything and certainly we are satisfied to wrap up the weekend with second place in GT Cup.
A late decision was taken to join the closing two rounds of the Asian Le Mans 2016/17 season, both of which took place this month, so it was a very early start to the new year on track and our participation in the Buriram and Sepang endurance races sets us up nicely for the season ahead.
We started Sunday’s race well placed on the front row in the GT Cup class after a brake issue during qualifying had left us a few tenths shy of pole position. However, incidents on the opening lap amongst the LMP and GT3 classes in front didn’t play out well for us and meant that John, who had started the #77 car, was required to take avoiding action that cost us track position although we were still able to keep a very manageable gap to the class leading car ahead.
At the end of the opening stint John was forced to run off the track and through a gravel trap as he avoided a faster LMP class car that cut in ahead while lapping the #77 car but then promptly slowed; the prototype machine’s superior braking window compared to the GT Cup class Porsche meant the Irishman had no choice but to take evasive action.
That cost us almost a minute and immediately put us on the back foot. Superb driving though from all three drivers – Graeme took the second stint before Will went in for the third and John wrapped matters up with a shorter final dash to the flag combined with slick pitstops – meant we edged our disadvantage down but that excursion had cost us dearly and in the end we had to settle for second place.
However up against rivals in a new-generation Porsche 991 GT3 Cup with a higher ranked driver roster we were pretty pleased to have fought all race for the top spot and Graeme, John and Will were thus delighted to make the trip out to the podium. The #77Team NZ Porsche 997 GT3 Cup in the end completed 101 laps of a hot and dry Sepang circuit during the 4-hour race while we also set the fastest lap in GT Cup, in 2:12.186. Certainly we would also like to congratulate the winning crew on driving a faultless race.
During the event Graeme and John continued to improve their driving, setting personal bests, which was very pleasing for the teamand we were delighted that Will, our engineer and coach, was able to join us in the cockpit while still helping the drivers to develop further. It was also a useful run out for the 23-year-old New Zealander as he now looks forward to a full season in Porsche Carrera Cup Asia this year and Team NZ is absolutely delighted that this programme has come together and we wish him success.
The 4 Hours of Sepang wrapped up our somewhat late in the day Asian Le Mans Series two race programme and we will announce our plans for the 2017 season shortly.
Team NZ Motorsport was supported by Completion Products, Asia Pacific Spiral, Motosure, Pioneer Consultants, Nam Aik, FC and IMPACT SpeedPark in Buriram and Sepang.
Infinity Race Engineering provided Team NZ with additional technical support in Sepang and Buriram and we would also like to thank them for their usual excellent standard of service.
Graeme Dowsett (New Zealand): “Congratulations to Team TKS, a truly deserved win. They drove a faultless race from start to finish. We tried to hold it to them as best we could and kept it a close race to the end. I hope we get the opportunity to race with them again in Asian Le Mans either in Sprint Cup or the Endurance Series. From our side, the car was well prepared and the crew performed faultlessly. If a couple of things went our way, we may have been a bit closer.”
John Curran (Ireland): “The Asia Le Mans Series raised the bar which was set very high by the preceding Sprint Series and has been fantastically well organised. Our crew performed flawlessly and the car was on rails. The track proved to be tricky with a fine line between grip and gravel. We were certainly motivated to win the race and to that end Will produced an inspiring stint, but we simply could not match the flawless consistent pace of the Japanese TKSteam. When we had a chat with them at the post series event dinner, their journey was equally inspiring. We lost to the better teamon the day and a really nice bunch of guys. I hope we get to do battle again in a future race. On reflection, both the Sprint and Endurance series have allowed Graeme and I the opportunity to raise our game and to be within 40 seconds of a 991 after 4 hours of nonstop racing certainly exceeds our expectations of when we started out on this journey in mid 2014. As ever, special thanks to Will and Paul for sharing the drive as well as CQ and the team for a flawless execution.”
Will Bamber (New Zealand): “We all fought incredibly hard out there today but unfortunately we came up just short this time. Graeme and John once again pushed themselves to that next step with their driving and physically it was very demanding. It was a pleasure to coach and drive with Team NZ this weekend.”