Three leading drivers from Formula Masters China Series (FMCS), China and the region’s leading international junior single-seater championship, impressed on their debuts in the Audi R8 LMS Cup in Shanghai at the weekend, with new FMCS champion Martin Rump (19) and Alessio Picariello (22) each taking top five finishes in both races.
Estonian Rump, Picariello of Belgium and Yuan Bo, who won the 2015 FMCS Best Chinese Driver Trophy, received the call-up to compete in the season finale of the Audi R8 LMS Cup just weeks after completing a successful season in FMCS. While the three had previously tested the Audi R8 LMS Cup car, this was their first time racing in the international sprint-race series and all three drivers rose to the challenge as they went up against the likes of eventual 2015 Audi R8 LMS Cup champion and former Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong and sports car specialists such as Cheng Congfu, Marchy Lee and Rahel Frey.
Founded by Volkswagen Group China in 2013, FMCS continuously seeks out new opportunities for its drivers to further their careers equipped with the motorsport foundations they build with the junior single seater series. Working in close collaboration with the GT series which are part of the Volkswagen Group China motorsport family, FMCS alumni have found success with the Audi R8 LMS Cup, the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia and the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia.
The double-header at the Shanghai International Circuit saw the drivers return to the F1 track where they had celebrated success at the FMCS season finale.
Rump and Picariello made an immediate impression in Qualifying, both advancing to the Audi R8 LMS Cup Superpole shootout – a single timed lap for the top eight drivers in Qualifying. Rump’s Superpole lap landed him a spot on the second row of the grid, while Picariello would ultimately begin the opening Round 12 from sixth. Yuan suffered a broken fuel pump just as Qualifying began and was unable to participate in the session, meaning he would start the first race from the back of the grid.
For much of Round 12, Rump and Picariello were locked in a tight battle with Rahel Frey for the final podium position. First it was Rump that stayed close to the former DTM driver. After Picariello found a way past Rump to move up to fourth, the Belgian began to pile the pressure on Frey. However, the vastly-experienced driver defended expertly, and ultimately Picariello crossed the line fourth ahead Rump. Yuan, meanwhile, worked his way up through the field from the back to finish a creditable 12th in his first Audi R8 LMS Cup race.
“It’s my first time in a GT car and it’s completely different to racing in a formula car, but I felt pretty comfortable this weekend,” Picariello said. “My goal was just to learn as much as possible. In Round 12, I managed to get past Martin and I tried to pressure Rahel, but she has much more experience and I couldn’t find a way past her.”
With the fastest lap times from Round 12 setting the grid for 12-lap Round 13, Picariello started from fourth on the grid. Rump lined up on the fifth row, with Yuan on the seventh. Picariello soon found himself battling with Yoong and, in the latter stages of the race, found a way past the Malaysian. Rump also got by Yoong, finishing the race just behind Picariello in fifth. Yuan added a second 12th-place finish to his weekend, capping off what he described as a valuable learning experience.
“The experience in formula cars really helps when you move into GTs, and I’m grateful to have had the experience of joining the Cup this weekend,” Yuan said.
Rump was also grateful for the opportunity. “It feels great to have gained the experience here and I’m really pleased that there are opportunities via FMCS to race with other series within Volkswagen Group China,” Rump said. “My goal is just to keep driving and gain as much experience as I can.”
The trio’s Audi R8 LMS Cup debuts come following the announcement of several unique experiences for FMCS drivers, which were unveiled at the 2015 FMCS season finale. Rump will be back in the Audi R8 LMS Cup car for the official 2016 season test, alongside Australian Nicholas Rowe (17) and Chinese Jeffrey Ye (18), who earlier this year was signed to the Audi Sport customer racing Asia Young Driver Development Programme. 2015 FMCS runner-up Jake Parsons (20) of Australia and South African Matthew Swanepoel (20) will make their debuts in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia in the opening round of the 2016 season, while Malaysian Daniel Woodroof (19) was rewarded with a place in the shootout for the 2016 Porsche China Junior Programme.
FMCS tire partner Giti has also rewarded Rump, 2014 FMCS champion James Munro and 2013 FMCS runner-up Afiq Yazid with the opportunity to take part in next month’s Sepang 12 Hours, forming an all-FMCS team.
Said Dominic Lyncker, Head of Group Sports Car, Motorsport and Car Culture, Volkswagen Group (China): “We are delighted with the performances of Alessio Picariello, Martin Rump and Yuan Bo at the weekend, not only showcasing their skills and speed in the highly-competitive Audi R8 LMS Cup, but in also representing Formula Masters China Series. Our goal at FMCS is both to provide a platform on which young drivers develop a sound, professional motorsport foundation, and to present opportunities for our brightest talents to advance their careers. We are proud and encouraged that our drivers performed so well this weekend in Shanghai.”
As FMCS prepares for its fourth season in 2016, the junior single-seater series will host a Winter Race from January 21-24, 2016 at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit F1 facility in support of the Asian Le Mans Series. The Winter Series presents the ideal opportunity for teams to evaluate new talent and for drivers to complete their preparations for the 2016 season.