Picariello/Lee win Blancpain Asia opener, van der Drift sixth

Alessio Picariello made a dramatic late-race pass on Gabriele Piana to claim victory in an eventful 60-minute Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia season-opener at Sepang.

Picariello, driving the No. 88 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 started by Jeffrey Lee, erased Piana’s eight-second lead before diving up the inside of the Solite Indigo Racing Mercedes into Turn 9 with three minutes to go.

Piana, who shared driving duties with fellow silver-rated driver Roelof Bruins, had been granted a substantial lead after a busy pit window saw many of the front runners lose time.

This set a target for Picariello who after the pit stops progressed from fourth to second with passes on his Craft-Bamboo teammate Christina Nielsen and the No. 27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari of David Russell.

Picariello then reeled in Piana and crossed the line 4.6 seconds ahead of the Italian, who clinched Silver-class honors in consolation, while Russell finished third after Nielsen faded to ninth in the closing stages.

Darryl O’Young led the opening 20 minutes after making a terrific start that saw the No. 99 Craft-Bamboo Mercedes driver leap from fifth to first at turn one.

O’Young then controlled proceedings until David Chen planted the No. 999 TSRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo up his inside at the left-handed hairpin leading onto the Sepang main straight.

As Chen pulled away, Bruins kept with the leaders and was aided by two brief safety car periods early on as cars spun around in an early rain shower, which enabled the Solite Indigo Mercedes to take an unlikely lead in the driver swaps.

Bruins made a brilliant move up the inside of two cars at the final corner to jump from fourth to second, before handing his co-driver Piana the lead when Chen’s Audi haemorrhaged time in the pits.

Almost all of the 30 cars pitted on the same lap when a third safety car period was brought out during the 10-minute window to retrieve a Porsche stranded in the gravel.

Chen’s co-driver Andre Couto was held up behind the Modena Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R which dropped the Audi out of contention. Couto eventually finished 16th.

Some of the initial front-runners, including the other TSRT Audi driven by Weiron Tan, gambled by pitting for wets during the fleeting wet weather spell early on, but this turned out to be the wrong option as the track quickly dried.

Of those that remained on slicks, Kantasak Kusiri and Bhirat Bhirombhakdi finished fourth in their Absolute Racing Audi, while Jazeman Jaafar came through in fifth in the Triple Eight Mercedes started by Jefri Ibrahim.

The best-placed Porsches ended up sixth and seventh, with Chris van der Drift (JRM) crossing the line ahead of Dennis Olsen (Absolute) who was chased to the line by the Modena Porsche driven by Mathias Beche.

Am-Am class honors went to the No. 51 AMAC Motorsport pairing of Ben Porter and Andrew MacPherson in a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo.

The five-car GT4 category was controlled throughout by the BMW Team Studie M4 GT4 which beat its Mercedes competition in the hands of Takayuki Kinoshita and Sunako Jukuchou.

RESULTS: Race 1

Picariello/Lee win Blancpain Asia opener, van der Drift sixth

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