The searing heat of the Australian sun did nothing to cool the intensity of competition as the 2019 Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup season got underway with qualifying for Saturday’s opening round one. With ambient temperatures at the 3.219km Adelaide Street Circuit hitting 40 degrees centigrade and track temperatures even higher, it was experienced Australian GT campaigner Tony Bates who sealed pole position with a lap of 1:21.574.
The top seven GT3 Cup drivers were all separated by less than one second in an extremely close session with the Asian and Australian competitors neck-and-neck in terms of pace.
The electrifying atmosphere of the South Australian city proved infectious and, in front of more than 40,000 fans, the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup drivers delivered with a session full of thrills, spills and tumbling lap times at the top of the time sheets.
“That was one of the most exciting qualifying sessions in Cup history, our congratulations to Tony Bates for pole and all of the drivers for a great performance”, said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “Even in these extreme conditions, the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup field were at their finest. The scene is set for a very tight season opener.”
Joining Bates on the front row will be Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi. The Thai driver, the Cup’s GT3 championship runner-up last season, came within a whisker of snatching the top spot until he got two wheels on the grass on the way in to turn 14, spinning into the run-off on his final run. Nevertheless, Bhirombhakdi’s best lap was less than four tenths of a second off pole, good enough to secure him a place alongside Bates on the front row.
Another driver to pull off an eye-catching lap was Thai Super Series regular and former Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup Am champion Daniel Bilski. Having put the free practice sessions to good use getting to grips with the mighty new evolution Audi R8 LMS GT3, Bilski rocketed up the order in the closing minutes of the session to lock in P3 for Saturday’s race. Alongside him on the second row will be reigning Cup champion Andrew Haryanto, the Indonesian lightning fast in the first and third sectors but struggling to replicate his pace in the tricky mid-sector, which includes the notorious turn eight.
Sealing the first GT4 pole of the season was Absolute Racing’s Mark Williamson, the Australian pipping Indonesia’s Anderson Tanoto, the reigning GT4 Cup champion, and Ryan Liu of China to pole.
With the mercury nudging 40 degrees and cockpit temperatures well in excess of 50, driver fitness was paramount and physical stamina crucial to maintaining concentration.
Bates immediately shot to the top of the times at the start of the session, but it wasn’t long before fellow countryman and reigning Australian GT champion Geoff Emery set provisional pole for Audi Sport Team Valvoline, before clipping the kerb and spinning.
Emery’s provisional pole did not last long as Bhirombhakdi went straight to the top of the time sheets.
Bates then recorded what was ultimately an unbeatable lap, and he too was driving at the limit, spinning out of turn eight, and clipping the wall moments later. But the Tony Bates Racing driver had done enough. Bhirombhakdi’s late-session spin followed the two quickest times of the session in both sector one and two of the circuit but, nonetheless, the Thai had the satisfaction of joining Bates as the only two drivers to lap under the 1:22 mark.
Emery ended the session fifth quickest, and will be joined on the third row by China’s Sun Jingzu, his Absolute Racing team having worked quickly to repair the damage to his Audi R8 LMS GT3 after an off in the third free practice session. The Bend Motorsport Park’s Yasser Shahin starts seventh, the Australian lining up alongside Alex Au of CTVS Racers by Absolute. Au had been quickest in the earlier practice session, and both he and Shahin will be ones to watch off the start.
Qualifying for round two of the 2019 Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup begins at 09:55 (UTC+10:30), with the opening race of the season following at 13:20 local time.
The Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup is operated by Audi Sport customer racing Asia.
Qualifying round one results
1.24/Tony BATES(AUS)/GT3/Tony Bates Racing/1:21.574
2.59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/GT3/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing/+0.345
3.27/Daniel BILSKI(HKG)/GT3/Absolute Racing/+0.449
4.28/Andrew HARYANTO(INA)/GT3/Absolute Racing/+0.480
5.22/Geoff EMERY(AUS)/GT3/Audi Sport Team Valvoline/+0.565
6.13/SUN Jingzu(CHN)/GT3/Absolute Racing/+0.731
7. 7/Yasser SHAHIN(AUS)/GT3/The BEND – Motorsport Park/+0.870
8.178/Alex AU(HKG)/GT3/CTVS Racers by Absolute/+1.393
9. 8/Mark WILLIAMSON(AUS)/GT4/Absolute Racing/+6.535
10.89/Anderson TANOTO(INA)/GT4/Absolute Racing/+6.877
11.666/Ryan LIU(CHN)/GT4/Absolute Racing/+7.983