An ecstatic Alessio Picariello was crowned 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup champion in Shanghai after a white-knuckle run to victory in Round 8, gaining an unassailable points lead ahead of the season finale in Zhejiang in October. The 24-year-old Belgian’s fourth race win of the season secured the Team Cup for MGT by Absolute, and marked an emotional chapter in his nascent motorsport career.
“Congratulations to Alessio Picariello on his first Audi R8 LMS Cup championship, and to MGT by Absolute on their Team Cup win,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “The display of sportsmanship and intense competition at the Cup’s double-header in Shanghai was a fitting showcase for all of the Audi fans who attended the Audi Sport festival over the weekend.”
Chinese Cup star Cheng Congfu of FAW-VW Audi Racing Team delighted the legions of home fans that packed the grandstands at the Shanghai Audi International Circuit by taking second behind the new champion. Earlier in the day the Chinese star had also recorded a victory in the China GT Championship.
Cup newcomer and winner of Round 7, 19-year-old Dries Vanthoor of Castrol Racing Team, took the final podium place.
Picariello’s win takes him to 166 championship points, 59 ahead of Cheng, whose third podium finish this season elevates him to second on 107 points. With a maximum of 52 points on offer in the final two rounds of the season at the Zhejiang International Circuit on October 7 and 8, Picariello has wrapped up the title with two races to spare. Along with Cheng, still in contention to become the 2017 championship runner-up are OD Racing Team’s Mitch Gilbert (99 points), Team Audi R8 LMS Cup driver Alex Yoong (98 points), and Shaun Thong of Audi TEDA Racing Team (91 points).
“We are very happy and proud to have achieved this result before the final races, especially as the Audi R8 LMS Cup is so closely contested,” said Ingo Matter, Team Owner of Absolute Racing. “Alessio and the whole team performed flawlessly all season and it feels good to have the championship back in the Absolute Racing camp. Congrats also go to Sun Jingzu for his Am Cup double race win in Shanghai.”
In the amateur classes, Chinese drivers wowed the home fans. David Chen of Tianshi Racing Team took his fourth Am+ Cup win in six races ahead of Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan’s Jeffrey Lee. China’s Sun Jingzu took the honours in the Am class, beating class leader Bhurit Bhirombhakdi of Singha Plan-B Motorsport and Audi Hong Kong’s Lim Keong Wee.
Both the Am+ and Am Cup titles will be decided at the season finale at the Zhejiang International Circuit. Chen (141 points) has a 33 point lead from Lee (108 points) in the Am+ standings, while Bhirombhakdi (136 points) is 52 points ahead of Sun (84 points), just a single point away from the Am Cup title.
Taking his second consecutive pole, Vanthoor lined up for the standing start carrying 50 kilogrammes of success ballast courtesy of his Round 7 win on his Cup debut. Alongside him was Cheng, with Picariello, who had just to finish in second place behind his fellow countryman, Vanthoor, to clinch the title on the second row along with Thong.
On a dry track and under a sweltering Shanghai sun, the lights went out and the race got underway. While Vanthoor got away well, Picariello lived up to his ‘Belgian Bullet’ moniker, getting the jump on Cheng, rocketing past and pulling side-by-side with the race leader. This time, though, it was not to be, and Vanthoor held the lead with Picariello in furious pursuit and Cheng keeping a watching brief in third.
Vanthoor held the hard-charging Picariello at bay, but not for long. With the crowd on the edge of their seats, Picariello hunted him down, piling on the pressure and looming large in Vanthoor’s mirrors. Wheel-to-wheel across the start/finish line, each using their push-to-pass boosts and each adamantly refusing to concede, it was clear Picariello was unwilling to win the title with anything less than a Round 8 victory. In the heat of battle, Vanthoor ran wide at turn one and Picariello made his move on the inside, with Cheng following him through into second and Vanthoor slotting into third.
It was to stay that way until the chequered flag.
Behind the trio, Thong was busy keeping Gilbert and Rump at bay, but Rump’s race was soon to end in disappointment after he was forced to retire with a puncture. On the penultimate lap, Gilbert caught right up to Thong, getting alongside and making his move at the start of the final lap, with Yoong following him through. A furious Thong fought back, reclaiming the place from Yoong when his rival ran wide, to cross the line in fifth, just behind Gilbert.
Kyong-Ouk You of Team Audi Korea was seventh, ahead of Am+ winner Chen, who continued his remarkable development with the GT3 series. Sun took the Am Cup win from Bhirombhakdi, with Cup returnee Lim Keong Wee of Audi Hong Kong, third in class.
The Audi R8 LMS Cup drama is far from over. The Cup’s season finale, Rounds 9 and 10, will be held at the Zhejiang International Circuit with Chen seeking a prestigious Am+ title in his first full season of GT competition. The race for the final two spots of the overall championship podium is, also, wide open as the world’s only GT3 Audi one-make series heads to a brand-new circuit.
Quotes after Round 8
Alessio Picariello (MGT by Absolute)
“I would like to thank everyone for all the support, my amazing team Absolute Racing and MGT for everything they have done since 2015. They are my second family. If it were not for them, I would still be sitting at home. Thanks also to my family. ”
“Taking the championship with a win is such a great feeling. I wanted to win in Shanghai, that’s for sure. I had a really tough start to the weekend. I have never been that slow since I started driving GTs. It was really frustrating as it was a Belgian guy [Vanthoor] who was seven-tenths faster than me in the qualifying yesterday! I really wanted to bounce back.”
“I was already going to secure the championship if I finished second, but I was much quicker than him so I knew I could win this race. I wanted to get past because Cheng was right behind me as well. From the beginning, I wanted to win the championship, but I wanted to win races. I had a good fight with Vanthoor. He had to carry 50kg, which I’ve had to do a few times this year so I know how it feels. I knew he would struggle. We touched a couple of times on the straight, but he’s a great driver with a lot of experience, so “thank you” to him for being fair. I enjoyed the fight.”
Cheng Congfu (FAW-VW Audi Racing Team)
“It’s been a really tough weekend physically and mentally. Doing two championships [The Cup and the China GT Championship] in once race weekend, especially in this heat, is pretty challenging and a good test of my fitness, but I feel OK. With a third it would be tougher! It’s good to see Alessio winning the championship. I’m second in the championship now, and this year has been quite an improved season. My thanks to FAW-VW and Absolute Racing for their support. We all work very well and very hard. Now we move to a new circuit in Zhejiang, which will be a new challenge for all the drivers. With the team’s support I have good expectations of going there and achieving a good result.”
Dries Vanthoor (Castrol Racing Team)
“Big congratulations to Alessio for the championship and to Absolute for the Team Cup. Alessio is a great driver and you don’t win a championship by luck. It’s been a pretty good weekend with a first and a third, so I’m happy about that. I enjoyed the weekend a lot. It was a close fight with Alessio. We touched each other a few times, but I knew he was fighting for the championship so I wasn’t too aggressive. I didn’t want to ruin his championship, especially on my debut. I don’t think that’s the way to do it. Thanks to WRT and to Audi for a good event, and I look forward to the last round where we can have some more fun.”
David Chen (Tianshi Racing Team)
“I am extremely happy. Coming to Shanghai I had high expectations. As it’s in China, it’s my home track. I think having Dries as a teammate helped a lot. We worked together and I have to thank WRT and Tianshi for giving me a lot of good help over the weekend which improved me. I think the conditions today were a bit tougher than yesterday, but we put everything together and finished the race. For me, I almost wanted to keep where I am in the Am+ class but also try my best to keep up with the professionals in front, which I think I did this both days this weekend. I look forward to the Zhejiang races and hope for an even better result.”
Round 8 Qualifying
1. 2/Dries VANTHOOR(BEL)/Castrol Racing Team/2:06.016
2. 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+0.123
3. 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute/+0.187
4. 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team/+0.432
5. 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team/+0.641
6. 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+0.783
7. 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+0.919
8. 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/+1.021
9. 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea/+1.733
10. 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+3.229
11. 3/SUN Jing Zu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+3.291
12. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/Am/Singha Plan-B Motorsport/+3.321
13. 10/LIM Keong Wee(MAL)/Am/Audi Hong Kong/+3.362
Round 8 Results (13 Laps)
1. 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute/28:00.266
2. 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+1.930
3. 2/Dries VANTHOOR(BEL)/Castrol Racing Team/+6.951
4. 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+9.651
5. 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team/+11.390
6. 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+11.954
7. 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea/+13.203
8. 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/+20.103
9. 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+51.229
10. 3/SUN Jing Zu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+52.354
11. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/Am/Singha Plan-B Motorsport/+55.121
12. 10/LIM Keong Wee(MAL)/Am/Audi Hong Kong/+56.806
DNF. 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team
Fastest Lap: Alessio Picariello/2:08.551
Am = Amateur Cup competitor
Am+ = Amateur + Cup Competitor
Overall classification after Round 8 – Top 10
1. Alessio PICARIELLO/166
2. CHENG Congfu/107
3. Mitch GILBERT/99
4. Alex YOONG/98
5. Shaun THONG/91
6. Martin RUMP/61
7. Dries VANTHOOR/42
8. Marchy LEE/38
9. Kyong-Ouk YOU/29
10. Stéphane RICHELMI/25
Am+ Classification after Round 8
1. David CHEN Weian/141
2. Jeffrey LEE/108
3. Anthony LIU/69
4. Kane JIANG Xin/27
5. Andrew KIM/15
Am Classification after Round 8
1. Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI/136
2.SUN Jing Zu/84
3. Rick YOON/47
4. LIM Keong Wee/16