One week from the start of the 2016 Motul Sepang 12 Hours, the entry list for the Asian endurance classic is almost complete. The Motul Sepang 12 Hours is also the final round of the inaugural Intercontinental GT Challenge, and both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles are still up for grabs. Laurens Vanthoor is leading the driver standings, but Shane Van Gisbergen and René Rast are not far behind.
Three-way fight for the inaugural Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers’ title
The entry list for the 2016 edition of the Motul Sepang 12 Hours includes some of the best GT drivers and teams. With no fewer than 13 cars, the GT3 category is by far the largest, with plenty of works-supported teams. American team K-PAX will enter its Pirelli World Challenge-winning McLaren 650S GT3, and the car will be shared by the driver who took the drivers’ title in the Pirelli World Challenge, Alvaro Parente, and Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup winners Come Ledogar and Shane Van Gisbergen. The latter already won the opening round of the 2016 Intercontinental GT Challenge, the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, in a McLaren he shared with Parente and Johnson Webb. Thanks to the points scored in the Total 24 Hours of Spa Van Gisbergen is now second in the Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers’ standings, only six points behind the leader.
That leader is Laurens Vanthoor. The Belgian finished on the podium in both the Australian and Belgian endurance classics, and won last year’s Motul Sepang 12 Hours. This year he is part of the strong Audi Sport Team Phoenix line-up. The German squad is entering two Audi R8 LMS. Vanthoor will share the #15 car with Christopher Haase and Robin Frijns while the #16 has Pierre Kaffer, Markus Winkelhock and René Rast at the wheel. The latter finished second in the Total 24 Hours of Spa – sharing the car with Vanthoor – and took the points for sixth place in Bathurst, meaning that in the Intercontinental GT Challenge standings he is only one point behind Van Gisbergen and seven down on his Audi Sport Team Phoenix’ team-mate Vanthoor.
McLaren and Audi are also in the running for the first Intercontinental GT Challenge manufacturers’ title. However, both brands will need to score points, for they have to make up ground on the absent Bentley: Audi is eight points down on the British manufacturer, while McLaren needs to make up seventeen points.
Major competition in each of the categories
But the McLaren and the works-supported Audi R8 LMS are not the only point of interest during the 12 hour-race near the Malaysian capital. Porsche will bring an all-factory driver line-up, and representatives of Ferrari, Mercedes and Lamborghini will add even more spice to the GT3 battle, with some of them more than capable of creating a major surprise. Thanks to the efforts of Super GT promoters GTA the number of teams from Japan has increased considerably, with J-Loc, APR, HubAuto Racing and Saitama Toyopet Green Brave all bringing impressive GT3 machines to the Malaysian circuit. The first two will be entering full Pro line-ups, with South African Adrian Zaugg joining the J-Loc squad for the event.
Other categories will create their own race-within-the-race, with representatives in the new-for-2016 GT4 class, with Simpson Motorsport and Ayelzo Ecotint Racing representing Ginetta, but also in the traditional GTC and Touring Cars categories. In the latter, the Viper Niza Seat now has its complete line-up. MARC Cars from Australia will bring two Focus V8 and have also slightly altered their line-up recently.
Considerable changes to Sepang circuit
All competitors in the 2016 Motul Sepang 12 Hours face an important change: the 5,543 Sepang track has been altered considerably recently by Italian racetrack designer Dromo. Several corners have been resurfaced and improved, the drainage system, kerbs and run-off areas have been upgraded, but the most important modification to the track is the complete last corner upgrade. With its reverse camber and low speed, the grip will rely mainly on the Yokohama tires.
Jarno Zaffelli (Head of Circuit Design, Dromo): “Upgrading a magnificent racetrack like Sepang is never easy. We put our best efforts and our design skills to improve the show, without changing the original layout. The last corner modification is the best example. By raising the inner kerb by one metre, the classic racing line is no longer the fastest. This will probably add some spice to the race, for the particular profile will allow some amazing overtaking manoeuvres.”
Laurens Vanthoor (Audi Sport Team Phoenix Audi R8 LMS): “The Motul Sepang 12 Hours is one the toughest GT races there is. It is an important race for me. Not only because we have won it last year, but also because there is a possibility to claim the Intercontinental GT Challenge title, and I would love to add it to the championships that I have won in the past. Sepang will be special for another reason as well, and I hope I can finish the season on a high.”
Shane Van Gisbergen (K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3): "I am really looking forward to the Motul Sepang 12 Hours. It's been an awesome year for McLaren in GT racing with race and championship wins across the world, and to be a Kiwi and a part of it is very special. The Intercontinental GT Challenge trophy is up for grabs; hopefully we can have a good result and finish this year on a high.”