Saturday, Jun 22 08:12pm
AUTHOR: Matthew Hansen

André Heimgartner claims Blancpain GT podium finish at Suzuka

André Heimgartner has led the Kiwi contingent in the opening race of the Blancpain GT World Championship Asia weekend at Suzuka Circuit, finishing fourth overall and third in class with HubAuto Ferrari 488 co-driver Yuya Sakamoto. 


Fellow Kiwis Shane van Gisbergen (Mercedes-AMG) and Chris van der Drift (Porsche 911) finished 13th and 15th overall respectively — sixth and eighth in the Pro-Am class. 


Former Toyota Racing Series driver Martin Rump drove away at the start in his Audi R8, having started the race from pole. He held the lead over Porsche pilot Tanart Sathienthirakul almost all the way up to the pit-stop cycle, until he was struck down by an untimely puncture. This handed the lead to Sathienthirakul and co-driver Philip Hamprecht.


The best of the Kiwis meanwhile was (at least technically) Heimgartner. The Kelly Racing driver's HubAuto Ferrari teammate Yuya Sakamoto. He spent most of the first half of the race in sixth, getting as high as fourth during the pit cycle.


Heimgartner rejoined the frey in eighth, while the route to the chequered flag would prove much tougher for van Gisbergen and van der Drift — both of whom would be racing from beyond the top 15 overall (and from outside the top five in the Pro-Am class) after getting handed their cars by respective co-drivers Prince Abdul Rahman Ibrahim and Li Chao.


The rise for Heimgartner didn't take long. With 20 minutes to go he had forged his way to fifth place. A pass on Schandorff soon turned fifth into fourth. But, the gap to the podium proved too great for Heimgartner to bridge (an extra timed 10-seconds in pit-lane as a lingering penalty from the previous round didn't help matters) and he finished fourth overall and third in the Pro class.  


At the front, it was a consumate drive from Absolute Racing's pair of Porsches. Hamprecht was able to cruise to the finish with minimal challenge from behind to win with Sathienthirakul. Second went to Bo Yuan and Leo Ye, and the overall podium was rounded out by Pro-Am runners Hideki Nagai and Yuta Kanimura.


The disaster story of the race was that of Rump and co-driver Weiron Tan. After dominating from the start, they ended up finishing 11th overall and out of the points. Van Gisbergen and van der Drift meanwhile improved to 13th and 15th by the flag, which doubled as sixth and eighth in the Pro-Am class. 


The series has a second one-hour race tomorrow, which is scheduled to kick off at 2.10pm NZST.