02 May Russell Ward makes winning debut in the Blancpain Asia Series
Russell Ward’s quest for seat time in a competitive environment took him to the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, earlier this month as he made his debut in the Blancpain Asia Series behind the wheel of a Gruppe M run AMG GT4. The 20,000 mile round trip resulted in a win, a third place and first place in the Blancpain Asia GT4 standings.
For the Houston-based driver, the whole project came together extremely quickly. “I got a call right at the eleventh hour letting me know that there was an opportunity to race the AMG GT4 in the Blancpain Asia Series. It was Round One of the series at Sepang in and it was the debut of the car on that Continent. I jumped at the chance and three days after that phone call I was pulling out for my first laps in the Gruppe M Mercedes at the home of the Malaysian Formula 1 GP.”
Ward arrived at the unfamiliar 3.445 mile, fifteen turn venue in oppressive but not unfamiliar weather conditions. “It was 95 degrees pretty much every day. It would sprinkle rain throughout each day but it was so hot that it never really hit the track surface as it just turned to water vapor.” The Texan’s off-season work out regime soon paid dividends. “Sepang is right on the Equator and in that environment it is really crucial to be in shape, you need to be able to handle that level of cardiovascular load or you simply can’t perform. Within ten minutes, I was completely drenched in sweat. Luckily, in Houston, we do have a similar environment. While it’s not all year round, the temperatures in the Summer will reach the same types of levels so the heat combined with the 90% plus humidity did not come as a total surprise.”
With only a couple of hours of time on the simulator before the event, it came as somewhat of a surprise to see Ward grab pole for Race 1. Being the fastest car in class did have its drawbacks, however. “They did not separate the classes and I actually lined up for the start on the outside of Turn 1, Ward explained. “I immediately lost a spot into T1 and there is no way to snatch it back in the early corners but I was able to get him on the outside of T4, a ninety degree uphill right hander, which was immensely satisfying. Once I got in front I was able to stay there through a couple of full course yellows and under Green conditions I was able to benefit from the clean air and put down some pretty good lap times.” Ward’s relatively trouble free run to the flag gave him the first win of his career at this level.
The young Texan’s teammate, Reinhold Renger, started the Race 2. He too lost a spot at the start, but the German was able to quickly regain the lead and bring the car in for the driver change. The structure of the Blancpain Asia Series meant that it was not all plain sailing as Ward got into the car for the run to the flag. “Because of our victory in the opening race, we were given a 15 second pit stop penalty for Race 2. I left the pits in third spot about six seconds behind the second place car. I was able to catch him fairly quickly and I got past him in T9. Unfortunately we made contact on the exit of the turn and it knocked the rear toe out and I simply didn’t have enough car to fight with him after that.” Not willing to push the car, Ward settled for third place and a second visit to the podium that weekend.
For the Russell, the flying visit to Malaysia was a successful one in every respect. “I had to set the car up on my own in Sepang, I didn’t have Damien [Faulkner] to lean on and I think I did a solid job. I think that experience will be a big help this coming weekend at Mid Ohio.”
Round 3 of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, the Mid-Ohio SportsCar Showdown, takes place on May 6th. You can also get session-by-session updates from the Official Winward Racing Twitter and Instagram accounts at https://twitter.com/