Unpredictable Blancpain GT Asia weekend for GruppeM ends with victory

Unpredictable Blancpain GT Asia weekend for GruppeM ends with victory

Incredible team spirit helps Abbott and Buhk win in Thailand
Szymkowiak and Sugden forego race one to assist Abbott’s title bid
Best finish of P8 for No.888 car from P20 after major team effort
GruppeM increases points lead as Abbott takes P1 in driver standings

GruppeM Racing turned potential disaster into supreme victory during round four of the Blancpain GT Series Asia at Chang International Circuit in Thailand on Sunday, 21st May, when Hunter Abbott and Maximilian Buhk scorched to a remarkable first outright win – and Abbott took the series lead.

Celebrating an 11 second victory in race two, the No.999 Mercedes-AMG GT3 pairing had finished in the runner-up spot in race one on Saturday, 20th May, but an unfortunate time penalty dropped them back to sixth and fifth in Pro-Am. The results were only part of the weekend’s story though.

Following an excursion for Abbott in practice, significant damage to the rear of the Mercedes-AMG meant participation in qualifying and the opening race would only be possible by taking parts from the sister No.888 car of Tim Sugden and Jules Szymkowiak.

In a show of incredible team spirit, Sugden and Szymkowiak assisted Abbott’s championship bid by foregoing qualifying and round three to enable the GruppeM mechanics to repair the No.999 car fully. Ultimately rewarded with the squad’s first outright win in round four, Abbott and Buhk also took the Pro-Am victory and Buhk posted the fastest lap of the race.

With one key component needed to be replaced on the No.888 Mercedes-AMG to enable it to run in race two, the part was flown in to Thailand from Germany overnight on Saturday and Sugden and Szymkowiak went on to finish an excellent eighth – having started 20th on the grid.

Everything started very positively for GruppeM in free practice with Abbott and Buhk topping the times and the sister entry of Sugden and Szymkowiak ending the session fifth quickest. Session two, though, turned the complexion of the weekend on its head after Abbott’s excursion.

Working tirelessly to make the required repairs overnight, using some parts from the sister car which kept Sugden and Szymkowiak on the sidelines in a wonderful show of team unity and spirit, the GruppeM mechanics did an outstanding job to enable Abbott and Buhk to participate in qualifying.

Abbott went on to qualify fourth fastest overall for race one of the weekend, within just half a second of pole position, with Buhk second quickest in his session, determining the grid for race two, a miniscule 0.071 seconds outside pole.

At the start of the opening encounter on Saturday, Abbott took the first stint at the wheel of the No.999 car and made a good getaway to climb into third place before unfortunate contact with one of the Audis at Turn Three ultimately led to a post-race penalty.

Climbing into second prior to the appearance of the Safety Car midway through the opening half hour, Abbott handed the Mercedes over at the driver-change pit-stop to Buhk who, during the closing stages, mounted a serious bid for the runner-up spot.

Reducing a gap of more than four seconds to practically nothing, Buhk took the chequered flag a mere 0.7 seconds behind the race-winning Ferrari 488 GT3. With the addition of the time penalty applied by officials, though, he finished the race in sixth positon and fifth in Pro-Am.

Buhk took the first stint for race two on Sunday, lining-up second on the grid, while the second GruppeM Racing Mercedes made its first race appearance of the weekend with Szymkowiak taking the start from 20th on the overall grid, having been forced to miss qualifying.

Szymkowiak put together a sensational opening lap, scything his way through into 11th place before the Safety Car was deployed in time for lap two. Buhk, meanwhile, held onto second place off the start and when racing resumed on lap five the GruppeM cars maintained their respective positions.

Reeling off a series of fastest laps, Buhk closed to within 0.7 seconds of the lead but remained in second to the driver-change stops. Pitting at the end of lap 19, Buhk handed over the No.999 car to Abbott who emerged in second place but he swiftly set about closing down the race-leading Audi.

Taking the lead of the race on lap 21 with little more than 20 minutes to run, the Briton stormed into the distance and didn’t put a wheel wrong on his way to the chequered flag on lap 35 – finishing some 11.1 seconds clear.

Szymkowiak progressed smartly into sixth position before his stop, which came one lap prior to the sister GruppeM entry, and when the race order settled Sugden held ninth. In a car which hadn’t turned a wheel since practice, other than the formation lap to race two, Sugden worked his way back into the top eight, fourth in the Silver class, to secure much-needed points.

Car No.999 – Hunter Abbott:
“The whole team spirit at GruppeM left me speechless this weekend and enabled Maxi and I to get out in race one and two when, on Friday night, we didn't think this was going to be possible. We recovered to take a win this weekend, and the championship lead – I am so proud of everybody including Lena who hand carried the missing parts from Germany to Buriram overnight.”

Car No.999 – Maximilian Buhk:
“I’m very delighted to finish my first race in Asia on a high! After the crash we had it is a very good result for the whole team after the effort they put in to get the second car back on track.”

Car No.888 – Tim Sugden:
“This was a fantastic weekend for the team. The boys have worked so hard, basically two all-nighters. For our car it was frustrating to not be able to race on Saturday but I was very pleased to come through to eighth and get some points on Sunday. We came away leading the drivers and team championships, so I’m just really looking forward to Suzuka now. It’s a track I’ve never been to, and such a classic track. I can’t wait!”

Car No.888 – Jules Szymkowiak:
“Between FP1 and FP2 we made some adjustments to the car and it made a huge difference for my feeling giving back the confidence in the car I needed to push. So, after FP2, I felt really confident and ready to push for the qualifying but, unfortunately, we weren't able to due to circumstances...

“Then on Sunday we had to start last but I was still confident we would be able to do a good job considering how I felt with the car on Friday. We made up some positions but I was not able to really push forward which was a shame. Finishing in P8 wasn't too bad though. We push for the next one.”

Next on the schedule for Blancpain GT Series Asia will be the first of two events in Japan, a visit to Suzuka International Circuit over the weekend 24th/25th June.

Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Team Standings
1st GruppeM Racing 89pts

Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Overall Driver Standings
1st Hunter Abbott 63pts; 4th Maximilian Buhk, 33pts; 5th Raffaele Marciello, 30pts;
6th Tim Sugden & Jules Szymkowiak 26pts

Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Pro-Am Driver Standings
1st Hunter Abbott 78pts; 4th Raffaele Marciello 43pts; 6th Maximilian Buhk 35pts

Blancpain GT Series Asia GT3 Silver Driver Standings
4th Tim Sugden & Jules Szymkowiak 42pts