Hamdan Class B Champion, Bamber wins in electrify finale
Shanghai. Twenty three-year-old Malaysian Alif Hamdan of Nexus Racing claimed the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia Class B Championship title today in a thrilling finale to the 2014 season, while mentor and newly-crowned overall Champion, Earl Bamber of LKM Racing, closed out a perfect championship year with a victory, reaffirming his position as the series’ most successful driver in its 12-year history.
Following Bamber across the line was Championship runner-up, Martin Ragginger of Team Porsche Holding, the Austrian chasing Bamber all the way to the final chequered flag of the season. Third was PICC Team StarChase driver Alexandre Imperatori, securing third in the final standings in the process, with Team Jebsen’s Rodolfo Avila just missing out on a podium finish despite pushing hard all the way.
Dorr Havelock Racing’s Yuey Tan was second in Class B, earning him the category runner-up spot and confirming him as a hot contender for the title in 2015. Wayne Shen, Class B Champion in 2012, was third.
After the final race of the season, held at the Sports Car Championship Festival at the Shanghai International Circuit, the final overall points standings saw Bamber clinch the title with a 28-point margin from Ragginger, with Imperatori third and Avila taking fourth ahead of Budweiser Team Absolute Racing’s Tung Ho-Pin of China in fifth. In Class B, Hamdan ended the year 12 points ahead of Tan, with Francis Tjia of OpenRoad Racing third after an unlucky final meeting. Wayne Shen was fourth in the championship, with brother and Modena Motorsport team mate John making it into the top five after the final round.
Said Bamber of the 12-lap, Safety Car-interrupted thriller: “It was very tough as Martin [Ragginger] was on new tyres, but no race has been easy this season. These guys kept me on my toes the whole way.”
Ragginger, out of contention for the overall title, drove a smart race, showing once again how to play the long game and displaying his impressive maturity: “From Day One, Earl has been the man to beat. In racing, many things can happen and this season they did! Congratulations to Earl on the championship, and my thanks to Team Porsche Holding for the fantastic support.”
For Imperatori, Round 12 had brought a little more excitement than he had predicted: “I had a good start and tried to overtake Martin but couldn’t make it stick. I had pulled out a gap from Rodolfo when the Safety Car came out, and the tyres went through another heat cycle giving him the chance to try a few moves. I’m happy to sign off with two podiums though!”
Hamdan, meanwhile, gave the spectators a few anxious moments. With a 10-point advantage over Tan going into the final round, he had only to take the same number of points in the race to clinch the title. However, his impressive pace saw him tangling with the overall runners, looking to move up through the order but potentially jeopardizing the title: “It was a bit frustrating as I had the speed, but I realised to win the war you have to lose a battle or two. After the Safety Car I made a move on Zhang Da Sheng as I had a little bit of space. Racing driver syndrome I guess!”
As the lights went out for the final time in 2014, Bamber got a storming start from pole, immediately moving to the inside and effectively blocking any ideas Ragginger may have had. Imperatori got alongside the Austrian as Earl led the field into the opening lap. Team C&D’s Jason Zhang Zhi Qiang was quickly on the chase to Budweiser Team Absolute Racing’s Tung Ho-Pin of China in sixth, while further down the order, Class B title contender Francis Tjia of OpenRoad Racing was involved in an early incident which saw him spin, dashing his chances.
While Bamber and Ragginger pulled a gap from the field, Avila was all over the back of Imperatori behind, missing a chance to get by on Lap 3 when the Swiss driver locked a wheel. The same lap, Jason Zhang Zhi Qiang made a successful move on Tung to go sixth and began reeling in guest driver Carlo Van Dam.
Up at the front, Lap 5 saw Ragginger up the ante and headlights-ablaze he mounted his attack on the race leader but, try as he might, ice-cool Bamber was not to be ruffled. A lap later, Hamdan tried to go up the inside of Zhang Da Sheng and the pair made contact, a heart-stopping moment for his legions of fans. The warning worked though, and he refocused on the main prize of the Class B title.
The Safety Car was brought out after Team Kangshun’s Ringo Chong ended up in the gravel, closing up the field. At the restart on Lap 9, Bamber was away well chased by Ragginger and Imperatori, while Avila skillfully held off a challenge from Van Dam behind. Seconds later, Imperatori ran wide and Avila saw his chance to close in. The pair fought tooth and claw all the way to the flag, inches between then as they thundered across the line for the final time this season.
As the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia hailed its new champions, thoughts were already turning to the 2015 season. As Bamber looks to continue his stellar ascent in the world of international sportscar competition with Porsche, there is no doubt his protégé Hamdan is determined to follow in his footsteps. With the Malaysian’s elevation to the overall contest in 2015, Tan has to be a hot favourite for the Class B title next time around.
As the sun set on the 12th season of the region’s premier sportscar championship, the drivers, teams and thousands of excited spectators were in agreement. After 11 races across seven weekends in four countries, this had truly been a season to remember.