The Audi R8 LMS Cup roars back into action this week, making its eagerly awaited debut at the famed 5.807km Suzuka Circuit, home to the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. Rounds 3 and 4 will see a 16-strong international field of proven professionals, exciting young talents and ambitious privateers take to the iconic 18-turn circuit on the Kii Peninsula of Japan’s Honshu Island.
“The famously demanding Suzuka Circuit is a definite highlight of the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup calendar. It is always our target to provide our teams and drivers with exciting opportunities to fully put their racing skills to the test,” commented Martin Kuehl, newly appointed Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “The healthy mix of professionals and amateurs on the grid sets the scene for a thrilling return to Japan for the Cup.”
Joining the Cup for the first time are Jiang Xin of China, competing with KCMG, and fellow countryman David Chen, 21, of new Cup team Tianshi Racing Team (TSRT) – a team that has enjoyed remarkable success with the Audi R8 LMS GT3 in the China GT Championship and GT Masters China. Both drivers will compete in the Am+ class.
Returning to the Cup are China’s Anthony Liu of Absolute Racing, who will compete in the Am+ class, and Bhurit Bhirombhakdi of Singha Plan-B Motorsport, who will compete in the Am class. Each will be looking to put their experience behind the wheel of the Audi R8 LMS GT3 to good use to catch the respective classification-leaders, Jeffrey Lee of Team Audi-Volkswagen Taiwan and Rick Yoon of KCMG.
Joining Bhirombhakdi and Yoon in the Am Cup is China’s Sun Jingzu with a second new team, Milestone Racing.
After just two races, held at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit last month, this year’s Cup is shaping up to be an epic battle of youth versus experience. Young-gun Alessio Picariello of MGT by Absolute laid down a strong marker for the season ahead, securing two pole positions, a win and a second place; and the fastest lap in each race to lead the championship on 45 points.
Just behind him is triple-champion Alex Yoong of Team Audi R8 LMS Cup, whose second round win sees the Malaysian on 31 championship points, just three ahead of Estonian Martin Rump of Champion Racing Team.
Highlighting the competitiveness in the Cup, five different drivers shared the six podium spots over the Malaysia race weekend. Joining the race winners, Picariello and Yoong, on the podium were Rump, Audi TEDA Racing Team’s Shaun Thong and 23-year-old Malaysian-born Mitch Gilbert of OD Racing Team.
2012 Cup champion Marchy Lee of Audi Hong Kong arrives in Japan carrying the momentum of two astonishing performances in the Blancpain GT Series Asia recently, where he claimed a pair of podium finishes.
China’s Cheng Congfu in the FAW-VW Audi Racing Team car will be another looking to build on a strong showing last month after his brace of fourth places in the Cup’s first two rounds in Malaysia.
Stephane Richelmi joins the Cup again as part of Castrol Racing Team. The Monégasque driver won the World Endurance Championship in 2016 as well as its showpiece event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, both in the LMP2 category. The 27-year-old is also competing in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup in Europe this year in an Audi R8 LMS GT3.
Team Audi Korea’s K.O. You will also be eager to make his mark on the championship as the Audi R8 LMS Cup field takes to the legendary Japanese race track for the first time.