Patric Niederhauser wrests back championship lead
Mount Fuji smiled down beneficently on Patric Niederhauser. The GruppeM Racing driver from Switzerland was competing at Fuji Speedway on the fourth weekend of the 2018 Blancpain GT Series Asia. It proved to be a memorable occasion for both him and his team, as Niederhauser and co-driver Nico Bastian won the Sunday race in Japan. In combination with the points for a P4 in the first race of the weekend, it was enough to take him back to the top of the championship.
Expectations for the weekend had initially suffered a setback. The team fitted a set of used tyres in the practice sessions, and the Mercedes-AMG GT3 was clocking times somewhere in the mid-range. Despite a gratifying performance in the warm-up, Niederhauser and Bastian had to settle for eighth and ninth in their respective qualis, leaving them with a mountain to climb in the two races.
But when the chips were down, the duo pulled out all the stops. In Saturday’s race, Bastian worked his way through the field from ninth on the grid to hand over to Niederhauser in third place. The Blancpain GT Series Asia regulations have been drawn up to create a level playing field and to favour brand diversity at the top. A time handicap is therefore imposed on the Top Three for the next race. As a result of finishing third in the previous race at Suzuka, Niederhauser had to serve an additional five-second ‘success penalty’ in the pits and consequently came back onto the track in sixth place. A couple of impressive passing manoeuvres then got him back into a position where he was in contention for the podium again, though he ultimately had to settle for a creditable fourth.
The upside was that the duo were spared a time penalty in Sunday’s race. This time, it was Niederhauser and Bastian who benefited from the fact that the three cars in front of them the day before now had to spend longer in the pits. Using fine racing skill and superior speed, the two battled their way through to ultimately cross the finish line as winners, more than ten seconds ahead of their team-mates in the runner-up spot. It was Niederhauser’s third success in eight outings during the current campaign, and he now leads the table in the general classification by eight points.
Four questions for Patric Niederhauser
Congratulations on this successful weekend. Though earlier on, it didn’t look like it would turn out this way.
Thank you. Yes, that’s right. After our strong showing in the warm-up, I was optimistic, but quali was then a disappointment. Nico had problems, and the best he could manage was ninth. My flying laps were somewhat compromised by traffic. Also, there were some drivers ahead of me who were carrying less ballast due to the regulations. That’s why I qualified back in eighth place. At that point, I really thought it was going to be a tough weekend.
But then came your really strong performance in Race 1. How did you progress from ninth to fourth place?
It was clear to me that it was not going to be an easy race, especially as we still had to serve the success penalty and the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is not the best car for overtaking purposes. Nico got off to a great start, was aggressive and fought his way forward to third place in his stint. Because of the extra time we had to stand still in the pits, I then re-emerged in sixth place with a considerable gap between me and the car in front. At this point, I have to compliment our team, because the car went like a rocket. I managed to catch up and even got past two of our opponents. In the circumstances, fourth place really was the maximum we were going to get on the day, so we were correspondingly quite pleased.
Things then turned out even better on Sunday. How does it feel to have won the race?
I knew from the beginning that we were in with the chance of having a good race. The three cars in front of us on Saturday were the podium finishers and therefore had to serve a time penalty during today’s pit stop. For me, it was all about making good a few positions and handing the car over to Nico in one piece. I had a great start, and despite some bad luck on the first corner, I was able to gain some positions on the first lap. Nico eventually took the car over in fifth place and on fresh tyres. At this point of the race, we had some Gentleman class drivers ahead of us, but fortunately they had no answer to our pace. We were really delighted with this success.
You’re now heading off for the long summer break and won’t be back until late September when Shanghai hosts the next race weekend. Could it have worked out any better for you?
Going into the break as championship leader is perfect. Obviously, I would be happier if we had the opportunity to keep up the momentum next weekend. Between now and late September, I will spend some time on holiday and then get back to preparing for the two final race events. Shanghai is likewise a new track for me, but I’m really looking forward to the weekend. I hope I can extend my championship lead even further there.