- Inthraphuvasak and Picariello twice on the podium
- Top-5 for Cairoli and Bao and Yu and Haryanto
- Cheng and Sun lead China Cup
It was another intense weekend for the Absolute Racing teams in the GT World Challenge Asia by AWS event in Okayama, Japan.
After a somewhat disappointing weekend in Motegi, Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and Alessio Picariello bounced back in Okayama, securing two second-place finishes. This result keeps the Thai driver very much in contention for the GT3 Drivers CHampionship and GT3 PRO-AM Cup titles.
Teammates Matteo Cairoli and Bao Jinlong conquered a fifth-place finish, earning valuable points for the #992 Absolute Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) entry.
At the former Formula One circuit TI Aida, the Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute experienced mixed emotions. James Yu Kuai and Andrew Haryanto secured a Top-5 finish, while Sun Jingzu and Cheng Congfu topped the China Cup results in race one. Both Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II cars encountered difficulties in race two and finished well behind the top positions.
Starting from the front row for the opening race on Saturday, Inthraphuvasak lost one position and dropped to third. Haryanto of Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute was the top-qualifying Audi for race one, starting P8. He had already progressed to sixth place in the first few minutes of racing before the safety car was deployed due to an incident involving Bao's Porsche. Sun Jingzu also made early progress in the sister Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II, gaining eight places at the start.
With just over 51 minutes remaining on the clock, the session was red-flagged. The Absolute Racing crew managed to recover the rabbit-liveried 911 GT3 R (992) to some extent, but hopes of a good result were dashed for Bao and Porsche driver Cairoli. In the meantime, the race was neutralized again soon after an accident at Turn 1 that triggered a Full Course Yellow.
Green flag conditions coincided with the opening of the pitstop window after 35 minutes. Inthraphuvasak's Absolute Racing squad timed their driver change to perfection. Th #911 Porsche was the only front-runner to stop at the very first opportunity, and the extra lap with Picariello behind the wheel was enough for third place to become second. Picariello pushed harder for first place, but in the end, the Belgium driver had to settle for second, crossing the finish line just 1.6 seconds behind the winning car.
Taking over from Haryanto, Audi Sport Asia Junior Yu Kuai emerged from the pit lane like a bullet, charging up the order and into contention for the overall podium. Behind him, Audi Sport Asia driver Cheng followed suit, storming through to join the leading nine runners.
As the more experienced Pro drivers found their pace, Yu dropped to fifth, but he quickly recovered and set off in a dogged pursuit of a podium finish. The 22-year-old showcased his immense talent as he hounded his rival every inch of the way to the flag, eventually having to settle for fifth.
Cheng crossed the line in ninth, strengthening his and Sun's lead in the GT3 China Cup standings.
Starting from pole position, Picariello did what he's accustomed to doing: a masterful start, holding off the pressure from his rivals to gain as much ground as possible on the car behind him, aiming to minimize the loss due to the impending 10-second Success Penalty of the #911 Porsche. Inthraphuvasak settled into fourth after the pit stops, but crucially reclaimed third from his title rival at the end of a brief Full Course Yellow period. Six laps from the end, the Thai driver overtook an opponent and secured the second position.
With these results and only two races remaining, Inthraphuvasak holds the second place, trailing the GT3 Drivers Championship leader by just a single point. He also maintains the second position in the GT3 Pro-Am Cup standings, sharing the same points as the leader.
Starting from P11, Bao and Cairoli knew they had some hard work ahead of them to climb through the field. The experienced Italian driver lost two positions earlier in the race but managed to regain them before the pit stops. Determined to recover even more positions, Bao capitalized on the mistakes of the other drivers ahead of him and, with a strong and mistake-free pace, steered his #992 Porsche to a spectacular fifth-place finish.
This race wasn't an easy one for the Absolute Racing-run Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II cars. While Yu lost some ground during the frenetic start, Cheng ended up in the gravel after a spin. The stranded car triggered a Full Course Yellow, and when racing resumed, Yu quickly rejoined the fight with the front runners. Cheng was towed back to the pits and rejoined a lap down. The blue Audi lineup ultimately crossed the finish line, securing the P26 position.
After the driver changeovers and another FCY period, Haryanto, taking over from Yu, was in eighth place and eager for racing to resume. As the track went green, the Indonesian overtook two rivals ahead and climbed to sixth, setting his sights on fifth. However, the team's aspirations were dashed after a three-car incident, which dropped Haryanto down the order and led to a drive-through penalty. Haryanto eventually crossed the line in 19th place.
With only one weekend left, Absolute Racing leads the GT3 Teams Championship standings by 13 points, while Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute currently lies in fifth place.