It went down to the wire for FFF Racing Team by ACM as the Chinese-based team entered the final two rounds of the Blancpain GT Series Asia at Ningbo this weekend (13-14 October) with a 12-point advantage in the Championship.
Following Saturday’s penultimate race, the advantage in the drivers’ championship was reduced to just five points, making it potentially a winner-takes-all shoot out in the 12th and final round of the season. All went to plan and as the chequered flag flew on the season, the team celebrated not just the overall drivers’ title, but Pro-Am glory, the Silver Cup, the teams’ championship and another victory.
“Four championships in one day and we knew that this track didn’t suit our car,” said Team Principal Andrea Caldarelli. “We knew our strengths, we knew the strengths of the others and it was a case of no mistakes – our main goal this weekend. We won the last race and the drivers did a great job, the team did a mega job. Over the weekend we went through a lot starting with a crash and here we are in P1.
“The championship is like a dream and it was the target at the start of the season,” Caldarelli continued. “We put a huge effort in together with Lamborghini Squadra Corse. It cannot be any better.
“We have shown that it is the difficult times that the team is so strong. After the incident with the #63 in qualifying it was good to get it back on track with no stress, just focus, helping each other with everyone doing their jobs in the correct way; that’s what a team is.
“I’m very proud of the drivers. I have known Hiroshi since 2015. His teammate has helped him achieve his goals and he’s been very impressive as a bronze driver, overtaking professional drivers and he deserved the Pro-Am title today.
“On the #19, I knew Dennis from Super Trofeo, but honestly I didn’t know he was as impressive as he has been in Blancpain with us. He stepped up all season, showed what he was made of and this kid deserves to drive in a professional car with a professional team. Martin, just the same, he improved a lot over the season and he’s one we need to watch as he’s still so young. He had so much talent as underlined by his pole position in Shanghai, you can never do that by luck. Marco is Marco! Mission accomplished, that’s what all four drivers did.”
Qualifying proved to be a dramatic affair with Dennis Lind putting in a tremendous performance to claim a front row start in the #19 Lamborghini Huracan but unfortunately contact for Hiroshi Hamaguchi proved costly as he was just 15th after having to pit for repairs. The incident arose with the #28 Ferrari of Morris Chen driving slowly and seemingly leaving the door open for Hamaguchi to pass into the hairpin. Once alongside however the door was firmly closed, and the Lamborghini sustained significant damage.
The second round of qualifying saw Martin Kodric pushing hard and claiming fifth position for Sunday’s race while Marco Mapelli was only able to get an out lap right at the end of the 15-minute session before pitting for further repairs.
The first race was a roller-coaster for the team with Lind making a great getaway from second on the grid to lead into the first corner. Behind, there was multiple incidents which immediately brought out a lengthy safety car period. Another to make good progress on the opening lap was Hamaguchi who vaulted ninth in the #67 Lamborghini.
After 20 minutes of safety car the race resumed with Lind managing to pull a small margin at the head of the field, while Hamaguchi both attacking and defending his position ahead of the mandatory stops. After the driver change, Kodric was under pressure for position on cold tyres and despite his best efforts, the Croatian was powerless to hold off a train of five cars all fully up to speed and he dropped to sixth position.
Mapelli meanwhile had taken over from Hamaguchi and was on the march, making a sweeping pass around the outside to run in eighth position – second in class - one he would maintain to the chequered flag, with Kodric sixth.
The second race was all about finishing ahead of championship rivals in the #27 entry to be certain of the overall drivers’ title, while for the #63 a good finish would be enough in the Pro-Am standings. The start was clean for both Kodric and Mapelli from sixth and 17th, both staying clear of trouble as their rivals found issues.
Following the driver changes, Dennis was on the move, making gains both in the stop and on track to move to the head of the field and claim a famous FFF Racing championship. Hamaguchi meanwhile found himself in an intense battle for position but brought the car home fourth to seal the title.
“It’s never been in my nature to settle for a fourth position if that’s what you need for a championship and I really wanted to win today. I’ve had full support from Lamborghini this year and everyone has been pushing so hard to get the results. It’s a lot of pressure but even as a young racer you have to learn to deal with that pressure. It’s all come to now and with the success we have a release of the tension. I’m really proud.”
“There was the usual contact on the first lap but those first few laps were good. I had to have a clean stint to give Dennis the best chance possible and we managed to do that. Dennis did a great job and it just can’t be better than this. We knew we had the advantage over the Ferrari as they had a success penalty like we did in race one, but then they made a mistake too and got the stop-go penalties. I can’t be more thankful to everyone. Lamborghini, FFF Racing as it’s been a great year and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
“It was a case of staying on the track and not pushing to ensure the title. Maybe I was a bit too conservative at times and maybe Marco wasn’t too happy with that! But we got what we wanted and thinking back to the accident in first qualifying, it shows the ups and downs in the sport. I’m so thankful to my team and to Lamborghini. We are a family. We win together, we lose together, and we laugh together.”