The 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup season was a fast and furious battle of experience versus youth, fought right up until the chequered flag fell on the tenth and final race of the year. Fully loaded with a battery of exciting new innovations and an intriguing international field, fans were treated to a season of intense, exhilarating races as the Cup blazed a trail through Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and China.After 10 gruelling races at five race tracks across four countries, the Audi R8 LMS Cup’s Heroes Night was cause for celebration. Honouring its champions as well as all the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup drivers, teams and partners, a dazzling awards night rounded out the season finale at China’s impressive new Zhejiang International Circuit on October 8.
“We congratulate our champions on their Audi R8 LMS Cup success, and our thanks to all our drivers, teams and partners for giving us such an exciting season,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “As the world’s premier GT3 brand Cup, we have once again produced a season packed with exceptional motorsport competition run to the very highest standards. We look forward to 2018, and the seventh season of the Audi R8 LMS Cup.”
Taking four wins and two podium finishes on his way to the championship, 24-year-old Belgian Alessio Picariello clinched the overall title in Shanghai in September, and in doing so earned the Team Cup for MGT by Absolute. To cap off what has been a stellar season for the driver dubbed the ‘Belgian Bullet’, Picariello also secured the Pirelli Best Lap Trophy, setting five fastest laps in ten races.
“It’s been a good season,” celebrates Alessio. “We’ve been really strong every weekend. The car the team has been running didn’t have any mechanical issues at all the whole year. We did the job when we could. I had a lot of good times this season. Suzuka for me was a great experience and a track I really wanted to try. I got a good surprise that I was really strong there. I have a good memory from Sepang also, because I was just really quick there and everything went smoothly. But I think the best memory is in Shanghai where I won the championship and I could fight with my fellow countryman Dries.”
Second in the title chase was OD Racing Team’s Mitch Gilbert, the Malaysian-born 23-year-old keeping his eye on the main prize as the battle for points and the runner-up position went right down to the wire in Round 10. FAW-VW Audi Racing Team’s Cheng Congfu of China finished the season third overall, scoring a memorable victory at the Cup’s debut at the iconic Suzuka Circuit in Japan. Three-time Cup champion Alex Yoong, in the official Audi R8 LMS Cup for 2017, finished fourth ahead of Audi TEDA Racing Team’s Shaun Thong, the 21-year-old experiencing a rollercoaster season’s end with a second place in the penultimate round at Zhejiang.
Young Estonian talent Martin Rump of Champion Racing Team suffered more than his share of ill-luck throughout the year meaning he was unable to show his true pace. He finished ahead of Audi Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee, the Cup’s first champion in 2012, who contested a partial season in 2017. Team Audi Korea’s Kyong-Ouk You had a challenging season, but never lost his passion. The cheerful Korean received a “Special Driver Award” at the gala in Zhejiang for completing his fifth straight season with the Cup.
Am+ Cup champion David Chen of the Tianshi Racing Team proved the revelation of the season. Joining the Cup from Round 3 with only half a season of GT racing under his belt, the 21-year-old Chinese sensation took six class wins and two podium finishes in the eight races he contested to sweep to the title. Entering the Cup history books in Zhejiang, Chen became the first amateur driver to win a race outright in Round 9, following it up with a third place overall finish in the final race.
David said that winning a race overall was the best way to win the class championship: “It’s amazing because I won the title in the best way possible. Not only did I win the championship for the class, but did so by winning the race overall, and again taking an overall podium in Round 10. It’s just amazing. I think I wouldn’t have done this without all the races I did before just to get to know the car, know the people, know everything. It’s great. The key to winning the Am+ Cup was about focusing on doing my best.
Chen finished ahead of 2016 Amateur Cup champion Jeffrey Lee, racing this season for Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan, who has contested every Cup race since it began in 2012. Third overall in the Am+ category went to Anthony Liu of Absolute Racing, with KCMG’s Jiang Xin and Andrew Kim of Audi Hong Kong Team rounding up the top five.
In the Am Cup, Thailand’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi who, like Chen, joined the Cup from Suzuka, continued his impressive return to motorsport competition by winning the title for Singha Plan-B Motorsport with five victories ahead of China’s Sun Jingzu of Milestone Racing and Rick Yoon of KCMG.
Speaking of his championship win, Bhurit said he learnt a lot this year after being away from racing for a while. “It feels good to win. I learned a lot [this season], because I stopped racing for a long time. I started last year and this is my second year back to driving, so I learned a lot from [the professionals], and from the tracks.”
Ingo Matter, team principal for MGT by Absolute, accepted the Team Cup champions trophy: “The Cup is great! It was a great achievement to win the Team Cup. The team worked great together and the team spirit is one of our strong points. To hold together and work together to get all the cars fast rather than just one. It was good to win the title with Alessio before the last race as last season was quite cruel for everyone, so to have that one secured was good. Alessio didn’t put a foot wrong. It was also nice to see the three Absolute cars often running together at the front. For Alessio, last year was tough as it was his first season in GTs. This year, it doesn’t really matter where you put him – in Blancpain or in Europe – now he’s comfortable with the car, with the whole format and how GT cars drive. That was the biggest step, and the rest he just deals with it.”
The 2017 season brought a welcome addition to the superb line-up of Cup service providers in the form of Belgian-based Audi factory team WRT. WRT chose the Cup with which to make its Asian debut, continuing its long and fruitful association with Audi Sport as it set out to replicate its European success. WRT joined Absolute Racing, Phoenix Racing Asia and KCMG as an official Cup service provider.
In addition to the Cup’s service teams, a special award was also presented to Chinese newcomers Tianshi Racing Team (TSRT) at the season-end gala for their brilliant success with AM+ championship driver David Chen in the team’s first-ever season with the Audi R8 LMS Cup.
The Audi R8 LMS Cup also honoured TEDA, Castrol Edge, Pirelli, Champion, PPTV, CTVS and Auto Motor und Sport with Special Awards at the Heroes Night for their strong and enthusiastic cooperation with the world’s only GT3 brand series.
The Cup has a reputation for continually providing its drivers and teams with the newest and most exciting venues. And so it was in 2017, with series debuts at both Suzuka and Zhejiang. Pre-season predictions of a fascinating duel between some of Asia’s most successful and established professionals, its rising young stars and committed privateers proved to be right on the mark from the opening rounds at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit in May.
The compelling rivalry continued as the Cup made its debut at the legendary Suzuka Circuit, home to the Japanese F1 Grand Prix and a track which has humbled many of the world’s mightiest drivers. The 5.807km circuit provided what was arguably to be the greatest test of courage in Cup history, with its quick straights, chicanes, hairpin, esses and the notorious 130R, delivering two unforgettable races. Next it was on to the Korea International Circuit, the Cup returning to the F1-standard track for the fourth consecutive season.
Shanghai’s F1 circuit again delivered on its reputation for providing great racing, before the season culminated at the brand new Zhejiang International Circuit. The final event was held in partnership with the TCR International Series, featuring the Audi RS 3 LMS TCR race cars, bringing together the entire Audi Sport customer racing family.
New for 2017 season was the return of the Push-to-Pass – a 10-second, 50hp power boost – but this time each driver’s strategy was on full view via LED indicators showing fans and rivals alike when P2P was engaged, and a numerical counter displaying how many boosts remained. Separate qualifying sessions for each round meant there was everything to play for in every single race. All drivers competed in identical, high-performance Audi R8 LMS GT3 racing cars, while success ballast levelled the playing field yet further. Outright success was rewarded via the Formula 1 championship points scale.
Creating greater track time for Cup drivers, a strategic calendar alignment with both the new Blancpain GT Series Asia and the China GT Championship gave Cup drivers more opportunity to do what they love best – race the Audi R8 LMS GT3.
Shared grid of GT3 and GT4 race cars in 2018
The Audi R8 LMS Cup is now already looking ahead to next season – the Cup’s seventh. Many new innovations are already on the cards, as well as the addition of the exciting new Audi R8 LMS GT4 to the ranks of the world’s premier GT3 brand Cup.
Audi R8 LMS Cup 2017 Final Overall classification
- Alessio PICARIELLO/178
- Mitch GILBERT/134
- CHENG Congfu/127
- Alex YOONG/121
- Shaun THONG/109
- Martin RUMP/76
- David CHEN/67
- Marchy LEE/50
- Dries VANTHOOR/42
- Stéphane RICHELMI/25
- Kyong-Ouk YOU/25
- Akash NANDY/12
Final Am+ Classification
- David CHEN Weian/193
- Jeffrey LEE/144
- Anthony LIU/69
- Kane JIANG Xin/27
- Andrew KIM/15
Final Am Classification
- Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI/162
- SUN Jing Zu/127
- Rick YOON/47
- LIM Keong Wee/16