Audi dominates, HubAuto leads Japanese contingent at Sepang 12 Hours

The Motul Sepang 12 Hours featured a select handful of teams from the Autobacs Super GT Series and the Super Taikyu Endurance Series, but the undisputed kings of Malaysia were the #15 Audi R8 LMS of Audi Sport Team Phoenix and their drivers Robin Frijns, Christopher Haase, and the inaugural Intercontinental GT Challenge Drivers’ Champion, Laurens Vanthoor.

Leading the contingent of teams and drivers from the Japanese series, triumphant in a close battle for sixth in the overall standings, was the #35 HubAuto Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Morris Chen, Hiroki Yoshimoto, Shinya Hosokawa, and Hiroki Yoshida, the team representing Super Taikyu.

The #15 Audi overcame a pitlane start due to electrical issues to work their way through the field, and when rain began to fall at Sepang, Team Phoenix were the first to put their cars on wet-weather tyres, and eventually found themselves in a lead which they would not relinquish.

Conditions alternated between dry and wet several times over the second half of the race, but there would be no catching the Audi of Vanthoor, Frijns, and Haase as they took the overall victory in Sepang with 305 total laps completed, and a winning margin of one lap over the second-place #911 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R of Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy, and Patrick Pilet.

With the victory, 25-year-old Vanthoor was crowned the first-ever champion of the SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge, a three-race series that also includes the Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia, and the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. This was Vanthoor’s final race as an Audi factory racer, as he will join Porsche full-time in 2017.

Audi also claimed the first-ever Intercontinental GT Challenge Manufacturers’ Championship with the win.

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© Dirk Bogaerts Photography

Finishing sixth in the overall standings, and winning the GT3 Pro-Am category, was the #35 HubAuto Ferrari of Chen, Yoshimoto, Hosokawa, and Yoshida, who edged out the #11 Singha Motorsport Ferrari 488 (Carlo van Dam/Piti Bhirombhakdi/Frank Yu/Tanart Sathienthirakul) after a long battle for top honours in the division.

Yoshimoto, who drives for Syntium LM Corsa in the Super GT Series, drove just over four hours in the race, as did Hosokawa, who regularly drives for Team JLOC, and who also set the car’s fastest race lap. Yoshida, who drove for Gulf Racing with Pacific, drove just shy of two and a half hours as one of the team’s designated “amateur” racers.

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© BuggerShots

Finishing eighth was the #88 JLOC Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Manabu Orido, Kazuki Hiramine, and Adrian Zaugg, the best of the Super GT teams. They had an impressive start to the race courtesy of the veteran Orido (a former overall winner of this event), and had enough pace to finish on the podium, but setbacks in the closing stages of the race left them 9 laps down from the leaders.

Hiramine drove a team-leading four and a half hours in the JLOC Huracan, while Zaugg, who drove for Lamborghini Team Direction in the 2016 Super GT season, set the car’s fastest race lap.

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Super Taikyu squad, and rumoured to be headed to Super GT next season, Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave finished thirteenth overall in their #52 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 driven by Takayuki Hiranuma, Shogo Mitsuyama, Taku Bamba, and Super GT legend Naoki Hattori (pictured left and centre).

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© BuggerShots

The Intercontinental GT Challenge debut of apr Racing’s Toyota Prius GT was much-anticipated, but Koki Saga, Kota Sasaki, and Hiroaki Nagai endured a tough race, completing only 222 laps and losing 84 laps due to repairs, including a gearbox issue that required a lengthy stint in the garage.

Compounding the problems for the #30 Prius, the team could not run the car with its lithium-ion battery hybrid powertrain, just as they could not use it in the Buriram Super GT Race in Thailand, leaving only the 3.4 litre RV8K engine to power the car.

Surprisingly, the bronze-rated rookie Nagai was credited with a team-high four hours of driving.

With that, and the end of the manufacturers’ fan festival season in Japan, the racing activities for the teams and drivers of the Super GT Series draw to a close for 2016.

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