Dries Vanthoor of Castrol Racing Team made a dream debut in the Audi R8 LMS Cup with a wheel-perfect run from lights-to-flag in Round 7, giving new Cup service provider WRT their first overall series victory. The youngster started the day with intent by claiming pole in the morning’s qualifying session before his podium-topping performance in the afternoon.
Reigning and three-time Cup champion Alex Yoong in the Phoenix Racing Asia-run Team Audi R8 LMS Cup car battled to take second. Just behind, championship leader Alessio Picariello of MGT by Absolute had surged past his rivals to claim the final podium place after starting from sixth on the grid, putting the 2017 Cup title just one win away from the 24-year-old star.
“Congratulations to Dries Vanthoor for his debut victory together with his team,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “As predicted the title race is really heating up in Shanghai, and all eyes will be on Alessio Picariello tomorrow to see if he can claim his first GT3 title.”
Picariello (141 points) has now extended his lead at the top of the overall championship to 51 points ahead of defending champion Yoong (90 points). FAW-VW Audi Racing Team driver Cheng Congfu of China (89 points) lies third, just a single point adrift of Yoong. Fourth is OD Racing Team’s Mitch Gilbert, two points further back on 87 points. Shaun Thong of Audi TEDA Racing Team is the fifth and final driver still in championship contention on 81 points.
In the Am+ category, David Chen of Tianshi Racing Team took his third class win in his five-race Cup career so far, ahead of Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan’s Jeffrey Lee. Milestone Racing’s Sun Jingzu took the win in the Am category ahead of Thailand’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi of Singha Plan-B Motorsport.
Chen’s win sees him increase his lead at the top of the Am+ standings to 115 points, but rival Lee is still in the title chase on 90 points, while Bhirombhakdi continues to top the Am Cup table on 118 points.
Vanthoor immediately took to both the 5.4km Shanghai Audi International Circuit and the Audi R8 LMS Cup like a duck to water, pounding to a convincing pole position for Round 7, ahead of KCMG-serviced Champion Racing Team’s Martin Rump of Estonia.
At the rolling start of the 13-lap race with a damp track cranking up the challenge, Vanthoor made a superb getaway and didn’t look back taking a convincing first Cup win.
Yoong, starting from the second row alongside Cheng, wasn’t about to make it easy for the young guns. Making an early move to get past Rump, Yoong’s tussle with the young Estonian was not over. After exchanging positions, the Malaysian made his pass stick at turn five and took his car home in second.
Rump’s podium aspirations were cut short at the end of the opening lap. Caught in a high-speed bottleneck amongst the hard-charging pack, the 21-year-old got on the damp trackside grass and spun. That put him right down the order and he later retired from the race.
Picariello, meanwhile, carrying 50kg of success ballast after his Round 6 victory, was a man on a mission, finding his way past Audi TEDA Racing Team’s Shaun Thong on lap two to go fifth behind Cheng, who was carrying an extra 35kg. Thong fought back, diving up the inside with a big move under braking, but Picariello swiftly reclaimed the position, sweeping past and pulling clear of his 21-year-old rival.
Cheng was next for Picariello to reel in. As Cheng fought to make inroads to Yoong ahead, suddenly the championship leader, Picariello, filled his mirrors. The MGT by Absolute driver made his move past Cheng on lap 10, claiming the final podium place and putting the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup title within touching distance.
Behind the race leaders, Gilbert came under fire from the impressive and formidably-ambitious Chen. The Chinese driver had a look, but wisely elected to back off, biding his time until mid-way through the race when he dived past. The closing minutes of the race saw Gilbert reclaim sixth from Chen, but the Chinese amateur driver had once again proved he has the pace to push the professionals in his first season with the Cup.
Team Audi Korea’s Kyong-Ouk You crossed the line in eighth.
All eyes will be on the Cup at 14:45 (UTC+8) on Sunday, September 10, as Picariello sets out to claim the Round 8 win that would claim the 2017 title as his own. Having missed out on the 2016 title by just a single championship point, the talented Belgian will be determined to keep his cool under the formidable pressure of the Cup’s international field.
Quotes after Round 7
Dries Vanthoor (Castrol Racing Team)
“I had a good getaway. I had a tricky turn one; it was a bit of an oversteering moment going in. Then Alex was up on the inside, so I had to defend. After that, it was a really tricky race. Raining then not raining, then wet in sector 1, then dry in sector 3. When it was raining properly, it was my first experience of Shanghai in the rain, which I must say was pretty cool. Alex was closing the gap and I was pushing as hard as I could. But as soon as it dried up, I could get my own laps and my own rhythm, create a gap and maintain it. Thanks to WRT and thanks to Audi for a great event. We hope for another good job tomorrow.”
Alex Yoong (Audi R8 LMS Cup)
“It was rather fun! I had a good start and thought about trying it [on Rump] down the inside at turn one, but the move wasn’t on. He came back at me at turn two, which I didn’t expect. We had contact but then I got him again at the hairpin. I managed to go round the outside and make the move work. It was really tricky in the first two laps as you could see the rain coming but you’re never really sure where the grip was. It’s changing from lap to lap. There was some time in the early laps and that’s when Dries pulled a gap. After that, it was a lot of fun because the changing conditions meant you’re always trying different lines. It was a lot of fun!”
Alessio Picariello (MGT by Absolute)
“I have quite a big gap in the championship so I’m not really thinking about it. I want to perform in every race. This weekend has been a bit frustrating until now because it’s the first weekend this season I’ve struggled this much in qualifying and in free practice. I wasn’t looking forward to Round 7, as I had to carry 50kg. Luckily there were some raindrops, and I love those conditions. I really had fun out there, and it actually helped me a little bit with the success ballast. I think P3 is a good result, but I want to win tomorrow. If I win, I win the championship, so it’s a good option!”
David Chen (Tianshi Racing Team)
“I think today I’m very happy. Since Suzuka, which was my first race with the Cup, sometimes I’ve felt I could do a big lap, but it’s difficult to put everything together because the level of competition in the series is very high. For me, in Suzuka and Korea, the result was quite good but I always felt I wanted more. I felt I still had a little bit missing here and there, always not being able to catch up in the race. But today I think I did it. The first four or five laps I did quite well and at one point, thanks to the tricky conditions which kind of slowed everyone down, I was able to move up. I think it’s overall very good experience and has shown how I’ve improved since Japan. I have to thank the Cup because I really learned a lot by joining it. I’m very happy.”
Round 7 Qualifying
1. 2/Dries VANTHOOR(BEL)/Castrol Racing Team/2:05.412
2. 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team/+0.325
3. 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+0.488
4. 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+0.537
5. 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team/+0.681
6. 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute/+0.690
7. 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+0.870
8. 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/+1.056
9. 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea/+1.849
10. 10/LIM Keong Wee(MAL)/Am/Audi Hong Kong/+3.429
11. 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+3.515
12. 3/SUN Jing Zu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+3.711
13. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/Am/Singha Plan-B Motorsport/+3.768
Round 7 Results (13 Laps)
1. 2/Dries VANTHOOR(BEL)/Castrol Racing Team/28:12.018
2. 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+2.868
3. 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute/+6.103
4. 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+10.283
5. 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team/+11.904
6. 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+12.979
7. 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/+18.732
8. 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea/+18.831
9. 3/SUN Jing Zu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+41.833
10. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/Am/Singha Plan-B Motorsport/+42.365
11. 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+50.558
DNF. 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team
DNF. 10/LIM Keong Wee(MAL)/Am/Audi Hong Kong
Fastest Lap: Alex Yoong/2:07.305/Lap 11
Am = Amateur Cup competitor
Am+ = Amateur + Cup Competitor
Overall classification after Round 7 – Top 10
1. Alessio PICARIELLO/141
2. Alex YOONG/90
3. CHENG Congfu/89
4. Mitch GILBERT/87
5. Shaun THONG/81
6. Martin RUMP/61
7. Marchy LEE/38
8. Dries VANTHOOR/26
9. Stéphane RICHELMI/25
10. Kyong-Ouk YOU/23
Am+ Classification after Round 7
1. David CHEN Weian/115
2. Jeffrey LEE/90
3. Anthony LIU/69
4. Kane JIANG Xin/27
5. Andrew KIM/15
Am Classification after Round 7
1. Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI/118
2.SUN Jing Zu/58
3. Rick YOON/47