Absolute Racing’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi swept to victory in a shower of spray on a rain-soaked round four of the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup at the Zhuhai International Circuit. In the second drama-filled race of the weekend, reigning champion Andrew Haryanto of Absolute Racing crossed the line second after a charge from the very back of the grid, pushing his Thai rival every inch of the way in a white-knuckle, last-lap battle to the line. Ensport Motors by Absolute Racing’s Vincent Floirendo, meanwhile, continued his remarkable Cup return with a second consecutive overall podium finish, lifting his second Challenger Trophy in the process.
In the GT4 Cup, the developing rivalry between Cup newcomers Li Lin of LEO, winner in round three, and Grid Motorsport’s Tommy Chan saw the latter take his first victory in round four.
“Today was another dramatic Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup race under extremely difficult track conditions,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “We have now had four different winners in the first four races of the season, which demonstrates the competitiveness of this field.”
Championship leader and winner of round three, Yasser Shahin of The Bend Motorsport Park, endured a challenging race in which both visibility and grip were at a premium. Despite carrying the maximum 50kg success ballast, however, the Australian powered to a creditable fourth place, collecting 12 valuable championship points to strengthen his position at the top of the leaderboard on 70 points.
Daniel Bilski’s fifth place finish elevates the B-Quik Racing Team driver to second in the standings on 48 points, and although Tony Bates endured a frustrating outing in round four, he sits just four points behind in third (44 points) as the Cup leaves Zhuhai.
Bhirombhakdi’s victory in round four puts him level in fourth with Adelaide race winner Geoff Emery on 41 points.
In the GT4 Cup, Li is now on level pegging with Mark Williamson on 45 points at the top of the championship, while Chan and Anderson Tanoto are tied just two points behind (43 points). Floirendo leads the Challenger Trophy from Ma and Lin.
In the race to secure a coveted seat in the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup team at next year’s prestigious Suzuka 10 Hours, the combined results from the first two of four China rounds of the Cup see Bhirombhakdi and Shahin tied on 37 points, with Floirendo on 30 and Bilski on 28. The seat will be decided at June’s Shanghai double-header, the Road to Suzuka prize adding an extra level of intrigue to the intensity of the competition.
With the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup field shod on Pirelli wets for the race, the drama began early when pole-sitter Au was sidelined in the pits with technical issues. It was a crushing disappointment for the CTVS Racers by Absolute driver after his DNF in round three.
This meant it was Bates who led the pack as the lights went out and the field was released in a cloud of spray, the Australian deftly closing the door to Shahin and Bhirombhakdi and building up a lead of more than a second and a half on the opening lap.
Bhirombhakdi was on a charge though, finding his way past Shahin on the opening lap to move into second place. Behind the leading trio, Zun Motorsport Crew’s Ma Ka Chun found his way past Bilski with Floirendo following suit, demoting the B-Quik Racing Team driver down the order to sixth. Haryanto, meanwhile, was staging his comeback from the back of the grid, and was up to seventh behind Bilski by the end of lap one.
Lap two saw Shahin drop down the order to fifth before the first of three safety car interruptions when FEA’s Qu Pengfei had an off in his Audi R8 LMS GT4. When racing resumed, Bates went in too deep into a corner and Bhirombhakdi pounced, snatching the lead. Minutes later, Bates spun, but skilfully wrestled his car clear of the gravel. Haryanto, meanwhile, dived past both Shahin and Floirendo and up to fourth.
Although Tony Bates managed to rejoin the race, the safety car had already been called out and once again collected the field, led by Bhirombhakdi from Ma, Haryanto, Floirendo and Shahin.
It was then that misfortune struck for Ma, who dropped down the order after a spin in the tricky conditions. This allowed Haryanto to resume his charge towards Bhirombhakdi, who had built up an impressive margin of almost five seconds at the front of the field.
With just minutes left on the clock, Zun Motorsport Crew’s Lin Yiming lost grip on the wet track and spun into the gravel. That brought out the safety car for a third time, instantly eradicating Bhirombhakdi’s lead and closing up the pack.
With tensions at breaking point as the cars circulated and the clock ticked, it was touch and go whether racing would resume. Then, with the clock having ticked to zero, the safety car pulled off with a lap to go and the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup field treated the Zhuhai crowds to a thriller of a final lap. Bhirombhakdi put his head down and headed for the flag but knew on-track rival Haryanto was coming for him. The pair raced clean, fast and close, skilfully avoiding contact by mere centimetres. Ultimately, the Thai crossed the line to take his first win of the season with the Cup’s 2018 champion, Haryanto, just behind.
In the GT4 Cup, Tommy Chan won his race-long battle with Li Lin, with both drivers showing impressive pace on their first races in the Audi R8 LMS GT4.
The battle for the 2019 Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup’s GT3, GT4 and Challenger Trophy championship titles resumes on June 1-2, with rounds five and six held at the home of both the Cup and China’s Formula 1 Grand Prix, the 5.5km Shanghai International Circuit.
Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing) – winner, round four
“I started from P4, and I came into the lead and tried to maintain it. When the safety car came out, I thought ‘Oh God, not again!’ That closed everyone back up together. Andrew was very fast in the rain. I could see him coming – I could recognise the stripe on his car. I looked at the pit board and I thought maybe the race will finish behind the safety car, but we had one more lap and I thought Andrew would catch me. And he almost did.”
Andrew Haryanto (Absolute Racing) – 2nd round four
“I think the race director was very gracious to give us one last lap of racing. That was a lot of fun. I think it rains a lot in Thailand so Bhurit’s very good in the rain.”
Vincent Floirendo (Ensport Motors by Absolute Racing) – 3rd round four
“I was P7 at the start, so my strategy was just to keep cool, follow the cars in front of me. I knew it was very slippery and I hadn’t raced in the wet for a long time. Then I just kept following, kept my pace, kept my cool especially on all the tight turns. I took the dry line. I could see the top five or six guys overshooting the turns, so I was braking early and turning in early, and it all worked. At one point I was in P2 and I could see Andrew behind gaining on me. I didn’t want to risk defending, especially in the wet. It was a great race for me, overall and with the Challenger Trophy, and I look forward to the next race in Shanghai.”
Tommy Chan (Grid Motorsport) – winner round four GT4 Cup
“From the qualifying we knew we were actually quite close on pace as I was a tenth off Li Lin, but the rain shook things up a lot. I had a good start but I lost the lead into turn one, braking a little too early. I hung back and paced myself, went through the race lap by lap adapting to the changing conditions. Apparently, Li Lin was a little bit too late on the brakes and went off a little, and luckily I took the lead and held it to the end.”
Li Lin (LEO) – 2nd round four GT4 Cup
“Thank you to Audi China and to Absolute Racing for giving me this opportunity to race in the Cup and to learn. Yesterday, I was lucky and defended very hard right up to the last lap. What is good in the Cup is we have the same car, so from yesterday’s race we both learned from each other. You can see from both of our performances today, they were much better so I’d like to thank the Cup for providing us with this platform. Today I made some mistakes, but I’m happy with this result.”
Round four results
1.59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/GT3/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing/33:17.843
2.28/Andrew HARYANTO(INA)/GT3/Absolute Racing/+0.676
3.55/Vincent FLOIRENDO(PHI)/GT3-CT/Ensport Motors by Absolute Racing/+3.404
4.7/Yasser SHAHIN(AUS)/GT3/The BEND – Motorsport Park/+5.877
5.27/Daniel BILSKI(HKG)/GT3/B-Quik Racing Team/+6.275
6.77/MA Ka Chun(HKG)/GT3-CT/Zun Motorsport Crew/+9.004
7.11/CHAN Hung Wai(HKG)/GT4/Grid Motorsport/+12.231
9.24/Tony BATES(AUS)/GT3/Tony Bates Racing/+ 1 lap
DNF.777/LIN Yiming(CHN)/GT3-CT/Zun Motorsport Crew
DNF.178/Alex AU(HKG)/GT3/CTVS Racers by Absolute
Fastest lap: Bhurit Bhirombhakdi/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing/1:45.626/124.493 km/h
Championship points after round four
Audi Sport R8 LMS GT3 Cup classification after round four (top 10)
1. Yasser SHAHIN/70
2. Daniel BILSKI/48
3. Tony BATES/44
4. Geoff EMERY/41
5. Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI/41
6. Alex AU/30
7. Vincent FLOIRENDO/30
8. Andrew HARYANTO/24
9. SUN Jingzu/18
10. MA Ka Chun/16
Audi Sport R8 LMS GT4 Cup classification after round four (top five)
1. LI Lin/45
2. Mark WILLIAMSON/45
3. CHAN Hung Wai/43
4. Anderson TANOTO/43
5. SHENG Yanwen/15
The Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup is operated by Audi Sport customer racing Asia.