Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport Customer Racing Asia.

It’s been a big week for the Audi R8 LMS Cup, with two major announcements about the developments for 2018. Although exciting in the whole scheme of things, there has been some negative feedback from fans, industry people and former drivers. So I contacted Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport Customer Racing Asia, to clarify some of the decisions that have been recently announced.

Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport Customer Racing Asia.

The biggest announcement of all is the fact that the Audi R8 LMS Cup will now be exclusively privateer. This is a very big change in terms of Asian motorsport. To see one of the leading single-make series in the region now excluding professional racers and concentrating only on amateurs. Could this signal the start of the demise of Audi Motorsport in Asia?

Martin is reassuring of the successes that Audi customer entries and privateers have had in 2017, and Audi’s continuous support of both classes: “The Cup is an important part of our fast-growing Asian motorsport platform. Within our overall strategy, we both focus on privateers and professional entries. Last year saw more Audi customer entries in Asia than ever before. In 2017, along with another exciting Cup season, customer teams for example, won China GT, and the Silver Cup in Blancpain GT Series Asia. We will continue to serve the future spectrum of motorsport in Asia with the Cup refocused on privateers who are the backbone of customer racing around the world. And with leading professional teams competing for trophies in multi-brand series in the region with support from Audi Sport customer racing Asia.”

So what does being exclusively privateer actually mean?

One of the most exciting one-make series in Asia.

Every driver who competes in an FIA regulated series has a ranking based on age and racing experience. The FIA Driver categorisation is the basis for all FIA Championships that use the driver system, and can be adopted by any series. A driver’s ranking will be adjusted throughout their career according to changes in age and racing success such as wins in higher championships, entry to Formula 1 and so forth.

“The Cup is Bronze,” Explains Martin Kuehl. “But final categorisation will be done by a steering committee. Meaning that a driver who is FIA Silver by age, but amateur by race history can be discussed.”

This means that only Bronze ranked drivers can compete. Basically any driver who was over 30 years old when their first license was issued with little or no single-seater experience, any driver over 30 previously categoris

2017 champion Alessio Picariello.

ed as Silver but with no significant results, or any driver under 30 years old with a license for the first time during the year of his/her first categorisation (development drivers).

FIA Silver drivers must be under 30 years of age but with no success in series above high-level international karting competitions.

So how does this affect the 2018 season, and the level of competition we’ll see?

Well for starters all the big names from previous years in the Audi R8 LMS Cup – race and championship winners – will not be seen on the grid. Therefore triple Cup champion Alex Yoong will not be racing, along with the likes of Marchy Lee, Martin Rump, and most notably 2017 champion, The Belgian Bullet: Alessio Picariello, and upcoming star- 2017 championship runner-up Mitch Gilbert.

But not all is lost for the star professional drivers as Audi will be introducing a Star Mentoring program to the Cup. Does this mean that Asian legend Alex Yoong will be continuing with the series?

3 time Audi R8 LMS Cup champion Alex Yoong.

“Alex Yoong is a three-time champion of the Cup and an Asian Audi legend already. We have just announced the new Cup format. More details about future plans will be released later.”

You may be thinking that the quality of racing will be greatly diminished now that the series won’t have any star drivers, or even be thinking that the Audi R8 LMS Cup will now become a development series. But with the ever-growing customer entries and an open data policy, Martin begs to differ.

“The Audi R8 LMS Cup remains the only full-spec GT3 brand cup in the world. Offering its customers the chance to compete at the highest level of GT racing within a competitive learning environment. Driver development has always been an important facet of the Cup, and we will continue to put this to the forefront of our series, to offer great racing, great circuits and a great environment for customers to further develop their skills.”

And as for the open data policy whereby all drivers can view each other’s racing data: “The Cup had an open data policy for its first four seasons, and we had incredibly close competition throughout. I don’t think open data means less mixing up of race winners, I think the opposite is true. All drivers have access to all data, so if anything, race and sector times are likely to get even closer. Apart from open data, the Cup will continue to feature a success ballast system to spice things up at the front.”

2016 Amateur champion Jeffrey Lee.

With the change to become a purely privateer series next year, and with the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia continuing with its success with the inclusion of both pros and amateurs, is it fair to say that the PCCA is now officially “the premier one-make series in Asia?”

“The Audi R8 LMS Cup remains the only full-spec GT3 brand cup in the world,” clarifies Martin. “In 2018, the Cup will provide an equitable, challenging and attractive racing environment at iconic locations. This is paired with additional exclusive experiences for our competitors during race weekends, like Audi Sport street car experiences. The Cup is unique, and we are expecting to see very close racing in 2018, which will continue to excite our fans.”

Another major announcement made during the week is that the Audi R8 LMS Cup will be supporting the very popular Australian V8 Supercars at the prestigious Adelaide 500 event next March. This is a big coup for Audi as it will be the first time the LMS Cup races in Australia. And the Adelaide 500 (formerly known as the Clipsal 500) is one of the biggest motorsport events Down Under.

I had to ask Martin if this simultaneous announcement was to ease the news of changing to privateer, and wouldn’t the pro/Silver drivers have benefitted more from racing in such a big event?

Leon Bignell MP, South Australia Minister and Sport for Tourism and Martin Kuehl signing the Adelaide 500 deal for 2018.

“Audi Sport customer racing Asia is always looking for fruitful partnerships with the world’s leading events and series. It has always been our strategy to present our drivers with new challenges and exciting locations, no matter whether they are pros or privateers.  Our Australian debut at the Adelaide 500 is the extension of that. In terms of the Spa 24 Hours announcement, we want to offer our drivers rewards that are exclusive and ‘hard to buy’. Every racer wants to take part in ‘blue riband’ events such as these.”

Is this the start of an exciting long-term relationship with Australia’s third most popular sport? “We are very excited to see our Audi R8 LMS GT3s and GT4s racing around the streets of downtown Adelaide. It has been a pleasure to work with the team from the Adelaide 500 since we started talks this year. All of our attention is now going towards our first shared event on March 3-4, 2018 in Australia.”

So it seems that Audi Motorsport in Asia will be continuing to grow around the region, and that he changes to the Audi R8 LMS Cup should be seen more as a rejuvenation, rather than a step down. Either way, the Audi brand is as strong as ever, and 2018 will continue to show us that this one-make series is still an important player in Asian motorsport.