Many current and former Autobacs Super GT Series took part in the festivities at the 63rd Suncity Group Macau Grand Prix, from the Formula 3 World Cup main event to the FIA GT World Cup race.
But standing head and shoulders above the contingent of Super GT stars in Macau was Kenta Yamashita, the reigning All-Japan Formula Three Champion, and full-time driver-elect for defending GT300 champions VivaC Team Tsuchiya.
Yamashita was firmly in the top five in every session, including a solid fourth place finish in the feature race of the Formula 3 World Cup event driving for ThreeBond with T-Sport.
Yamashita was one of five drivers who raced in Super GT in 2016. Also joining him was Nick Cassidy (Prema Powerteam), Tadasuke Makino (TODA Racing), Daiki Sasaki (B-Max Racing Team), and Jann Mardenborough (B-Max Racing Team).
But right out of the gate, Yamashita – tipped by Autosport magazine deputy editor Marcus Simmons as a dark horse to win the whole thing – was the best of the group, qualifying fifth over the first two days, and finishing Saturday’s qualification race fourth, before delivering a stunning drive on Sunday.
As Formula E star Antonio Felix da Costa drove to his second Macau Grand Prix victory, ahead of fellow two-time Macau winner Felix Rosenqvist, Yamashita just missed the podium by less than a second to Red Bull Junior Team prospect, Sergio Sette Camara.
But fourth place was more than good enough to get a lot of people’s attention, the position confirmed thanks to a late pass on European Formula 3 sophomore sensation Callum Ilott in the last two laps of the race. It is Yamashita’s best result in three trips to Macau, beating his previous best of 9th in 2014.
Yamashita is already set to replace the retiring Takeshi Tsuchiya in the #25 VivaC Team Tsuchiya Toyota 86 in GT300 next season, but his performance in Macau will certainly have turned heads and solidified his case for a Super Formula drive in 2017, possibly even a future opportunity to race in Europe.
Cassidy, the 2015 All-Japan F3 champion and former teammate of Yamashita, had a weekend of hard luck. An engine failure after the qualifying race left him to start 28th on the grid for the feature. Nine laps in, though, Cassidy had his Prema Powerteam car up into the top ten. But the Kiwi would suffer a second engine failure in as many days, leaving him a non-finisher in his last Formula 3 race of 2016.
Makino finished second-best of the Super GT drivers in fourteenth, a good outcome given the Toda engine’s lack of pace compared to the rest of the field, mostly powered by Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen engines, and not a bad debut for one of Super GT’s rookie sensations in 2016.
Mardenborough and Sasaki finished 20th and 22nd respectively, but for the 25-year-old Sasaki, twice a GT500 class winner with Kondo Racing in Super GT this season, he was incredibly fortunate to walk away from a horrific crash in the qualifying race, after his B-Max teammate Hong Li Ye struck the back of Sasaki’s car, launching it airborne with the left-rear wheel of Ye’s car nearly striking Sasaki’s helmet. Overall, not the best of days for a B-Max team that seemed impervious in stretches in All-Japan F3.
The bizarre saga of the 2016 FIA GT World Cup race is a story unto itself, with Hiroki Yoshimoto finishing as best of the Super GT drivers in his #89 HubAuto Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 in eleventh. 2015 GT300 champion and former Macau F3 winner Andre Couto was twelfth for FFF Racing Lamborghini, while Richard Lyons and his Craft Bamboo Racing Porsche were knocked out on Friday after a crash in time trials.
But that will go overshadowed in the wake of the GT feature race’s extraordinary finish after just four official laps. Laurens Vanthoor flipped over after crashing at the high-speed Mandarin corner, having just been passed by former Le Mans champion Earl Bamber.
The race was red-flagged, and eventually called off, with results rolling back to the end of the previous lap – meaning that Vanthoor, who crossed the line as the leader after 4 laps, won the race despite ending it on his roof. He was not injured in the crash.
Finally, in the Macau Guia Race for touring cars, former Honda GT500 driver Jean-Karl Vernay scored a second-place finish in the feature race, behind Portuguese veteran Tiago Montiero. Vernay’s teammate at Leopard Racing Team, Stefano Comini, clinched his second consecutive TCR International Series title in another bizarre and incident-filled series of races.