Tianshi Racing Team’s David Chen made Audi R8 LMS Cup history in the penultimate round of the 2017 season by becoming the first Am+ driver to take an overall victory. The 21-year-old Chinese ace, who joined the Cup from Round 3, also wrapped up the Am+ title with his fifth class win in seven races on the 3.191km Zhejiang International Circuit.
“My team set up the car so well,” said race winner Chen. “I was able to take a good position in qualifying and ultimately the race. I have to say it was the [start] accident that helped me a lot and I really do feel sorry for my team mate and the others. I also had a close moment there. I almost went into a barrier but managed to stay in front. I’m truly very, very happy. It’s a new track for everyone. It’s so good because I live more than an hour away, so technically not my home town but it is my home track.
I have to thank Shaun also. He didn’t do anything aggressive to cause something like we saw at turn 1. The track kind of helped [maintain my concentration]. Shaun was a little bit faster than me on probably the first three sectors, and the problem is those sectors are corner by corner and you can’t really overtake unless there’s a very big mistake. I tried to stay in the lead even though he caught up in those first three sectors. The key was to not make any mistakes on the hairpin and the straight and, if I could manage that, I could pretty much defend my position.”
Following a multi-car incident at the start, which took out three of the four top qualifiers, Chen withstood a ferocious challenge from second place finisher, Shaun Thong of the Audi TEDA Racing Team to take the overall victory. Malaysia’s Alex Yoong in the Audi R8 LMS Cup car took third after OD Racing Team’s Mitch Gilbert, third over the line having staged an impressive recovery from the early incident, was handed a post-race penalty.
Shaun Thong (Audi TEDA Racing Team): “It was an exciting race and everyone enjoys watching it better when it’s really close. I tried everything I could to overtake David down into the last corner, and use my last Push to Pass. I tried, but it didn’t quite work out but I don’t regret anything. David did a mega job and really held his line even though I was quicker than him. I think the track helped him a lot. It’s a tight, twisty track with really no opportunity to overtake apart from the last corner and turn 1. Turn 1 was permanent yellow which was a shame for me as that could be a really good overtaking opportunity. But starting from seventh and finishing second and fighting for the win on such a tight circuit, I think that was the maximum we could do today.”
Thailand’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi wrapped up the Am Cup honours even before the lights went out at the start of the 18-lap race, having earlier taken the class pole position and the title-clinching point that went with it. The Singha Plan-B Motorsport driver took the Am race win ahead of Sun Jingzu of Milestone Racing, who finishes the season second in the category.
Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (Singha Plan-B Motorsport): “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. This track is very new, so everyone is equal, so I think it’s fun!”
With newly-crowned champion Alessio Picariello of MGT by Absolute taking the 2017 overall title in Shanghai last month, the race for the overall 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup runner-up position will go down to the wire in the season-closing Round 10, with four drivers still in contention. FAW-VW Audi Racing Team’s Cheng Congfu, who finished Round 9 in fifth, leads the way on 117 points, while official Audi R8 LMS Cup driver Alex Yoong is four points behind (113). Thong (109) and Gilbert (108) are still very in contention, with 26 points on offer in Round 10.
“Our congratulations to David Chen and the Tianshi Racing Team on making Audi R8 LMS Cup history and also taking the 2017 Am+ Cup, particularly on the Cup’s debut at David’s home circuit,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “David has been a revelation this season, and his overall victory in Round 9 vividly illustrates how newcomers can develop within the Cup. We are looking forward to Round 10 when the overall runner-up will be decided after a four-way battle.”
Having clocked the fastest times in both free practice sessions, Cup newcomer Jake Dennis started the Round 9 from pole position for the Castrol Racing Team, with Gilbert alongside. Starting from the second row for the rolling start was Picariello and Champion Racing Team’s Martin Rump.
However, pre-race predictions were quickly upturned as the lights went out. Dennis was swamped, losing places and dropping him down the order and into the chasing pack. Seconds later, chaos ensued amongst the tightly-packed, hard-charging field. The resulting carnage saw the retirement of pole-sitter Dennis, Picariello – his first retirement of the season – Rump and Team Audi Korea’s Kyong-Ouk You.
Emerging from the fray in the lead was Chen, who kept his cool, put his head down and stormed off on the hunt for the chequered flag. Yoong gave chase, but the Malaysian star soon came under fire from Thong, who quickly claimed second place and began to reel in Chen.
Alex Yoong (Audi R8 LMS Cup): “What a nice surprise! I could see the carnage happening, and I think someone at the front had a slow start, so it was important to stay out of trouble. I was second at that point and I thought ‘this is quite nice, I could win this race’. But I had a lot of understeer in the first three laps and I was struggling with the braking as well. – bit of a soft pedal. I knew straight away I didn’t have the pace, so I let Shaun through in the hope he’d get the win. I saw this was a good chance for Phoenix Racing Asia to score some points; I saw Shaun behind me and Marchy behind him, and I thought ‘this is great’! I was struggling more as the race wore on, and Mitch had a good move on me.”
On the move was Gilbert, quickly fighting his way through from the back of the field to fifth behind Audi Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee. Just a few short laps later, Gilbert found his way past the Hong Kong driver after a tense battle for position.
At the front, however, Thong was finding little joy getting past Chen, the Chinese driver displaying superb defensive driving. Lights flashing, Thong repeatedly loomed large in Chen’s mirrors, but each time the nimble Chen brushed him off.
An equally enthralling cat and mouse fight was ensuing between Am+ driver Jeffrey Lee of Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan and Am driver Sun Jingzu of Milestone Racing, with Sun the ultimate victor, crossing the line eighth overall.
The closing laps saw Gilbert catch Yoong, the OD Racing Team driver emerging victorious from an epic door-to-door duel to deny the Malaysian a podium finish. However, his podium finish was forfeit after a penalty for a move on Cheng, giving Yoong valuable additional points for third.
After what must have seemed a lifetime to Chen, the chequered flag fell on what was an historic moment for the Cup when he crossed the line 0.694 of a second ahead of Thong, the Hong Kong driver taking his best finish of the season.
With Picariello having won the overall championship in Shanghai last month, Chen wrapping up the Am+ title after Round 9, and Bhirombhakdi claiming the Am Cup championship, Round 10 will decide which of the four drivers in contention for the runner-up spot will beat the competition and tame China’s tight and twisting Zhejiang International Circuit.
Round 9 Qualifying
- 19/Jake DENNIS(GBR)/G/Castrol Racing Team/1:26.519
- 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+0.164
- 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute/+0.453
- 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team/+0.767
- 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/+0.793
- 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+0.819
- 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team/+0.920
- 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea/+1.672
- 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+0.2.001
- 88/Marchy LEE(HKG)/Audi Hong Kong/+2.076
- 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/Am/Singha Plan-B Motorsport/+3.708
- 3/SUN Jingzu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+4.117
- 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+4.973
Round 9 Results (18 Laps)
- 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/26:40.213
- 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team/+0.694
- 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+15.677
- 88/Marchy LEE(HKG)/Audi Hong Kong/+21.797
- 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+22.778
- 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+44.571
- 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/Am/Singha Plan-B Motorsport/+1:00.322
- 3/SUN Jingzu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+1:27.643
- 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+1:35.815
DNF. 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea
DNF. 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute
DNF. 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team
DNF. 19/Jake DENNIS(GBR)/G/Castrol Racing Team
Fastest Lap: Mitch Gilbert/1:27.343
Am = Amateur Cup competitor
Am+ = Amateur + Cup Competitor
G = Guest Driver
Overall classification after Round 9 – Top 10
- Alessio PICARIELLO/166
- CHENG Congfu/117
- Alex YOONG/113
- Shaun THONG/109
- Mitch GILBERT/108
- Martin RUMP/61
- Marchy LEE/50
- David CHEN/49
- Dries VANTHOOR/42
- Kyong-Ouk YOU/29
Am+ Classification after Round 9
- David CHEN Weian/167
- Jeffrey LEE/126
- Anthony LIU/69
- Kane JIANG Xin/27
- Andrew KIM/15
Am Classification after Round 9
- Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI/162
- SUN Jingzu/102
- Rick YOON/47
- LIM Keong Wee/16
For additional details, visit www.audir8lmscup.com.