The global Audi Sport customer racing family reunites this weekend at Japan’s iconic Suzuka Circuit for a bumper weekend of competition. The 2019 Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup season resumes with its penultimate meeting of the year as the brand with the four rings contests the Suzuka 10 Hours with a strong three-car line-up on August 23-25.
“We’re excited to have the global Audi Sport family back together again at one of the world’s most challenging and historic race tracks this weekend,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “Suzuka will play host to a pivotal Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup double-header, both in terms of the GT3 and GT4 championships and also in deciding the second winner in our Road to Suzuka 2020 programme. In the headline 10 Hour race, we once more see Audi Sport Team Absolute Racing fly the flag for Asian motorsport as an official Audi Sport team.”
As the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup prepares to return to the 5.807km circuit for the second time following its debut in 2017, Australian Yasser Shahin of The Bend Motorsport Park leads the GT3 championship (81 points) with a 15-point advantage over Alex Au of CTVS Racers by Absolute (66 points). However, with four races to go, the title remains wide open. Au will start round seven carrying 40kg of success ballast courtesy of a pair of second-place finishes in Shanghai.
Contesting his first full Cup season and first year of international competition, Tony Bates of the eponymous Tony Bates Racing lies third in the standings (54 points), and will face the notoriously unforgiving Suzuka track for the first time. Conversely, Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi of Thailand not only has previous Suzuka experience under his belt, but excelled on the Cup’s debut at the circuit, taking both Am class victories in 2017. Equal on points with his Thai rival is reigning Cup champion Andrew Haryanto (49 points). The Indonesian Absolute Racing driver has yet to score a victory this season, and will doubtless go all out to get his title defence back on track at the weekend.
Challenger Trophy driver Vincent Floirendo of Ensport Motorsport by Absolute Racing returns for this third Cup weekend of the season having taken two overall podiums on his eye-catching Cup return at Zhuhai earlier in the year.
Floirendo is joined in the Challenger Trophy category by series newcomer George Nakas. The Australian classic and historic racing enthusiast was runner-up in his class at last year’s Phillip Island Classic, and class winner there in 2015. Nakas makes his Cup debut in an Absolute Racing-run Audi R8 LMS GT3.
Double GT4 class winner in Shanghai and current category leader Sheng Yanwen of FEA (67 points) will go head-to-head with reigning class champion Anderson Tanoto for the first time this year. Tanoto re-enters the Cup fray in Suzuka sitting fourth in the standings (43 points) after taking a class win and a podium in the opening rounds in Adelaide.
Making its debut with the Cup in rounds seven and eight is Audi Sport customer racing Japan team Audi Team AS Sport, with an Audi R8 LMS GT4 for experienced local campaigner Shozo Tagahara. A former Japan Super GT driver, more recently Tagahara has been contesting the country’s Super Taikyu Series.
All of the GT3 Cup entrants will be competing for both silverware and valuable championship points, but also for a coveted seat in next year’s Suzuka 10 Hours where the Cup will field a three-man entry. With China’s Anthony Liu clinching the first seat on the team after two sweeping pole-to-flag victories in Shanghai gave him an unbeatable points haul across the four China rounds, the second seat will be clinched by whoever collects the most points over the Suzuka double-header.
If any greater incentive were needed for the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup drivers to claim that seat, it will come courtesy of the dynamite three-car Audi Sport line-up contesting this year’s Suzuka 10 Hours. The event is the Asia round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, tying together five iconic global endurance classics into arguably the most important multi-marque GT3 series in the world. Audi Sport has won the manufacturers’ title every year since the series’ inception in 2016.
For the Suzuka 10 Hours, meanwhile, Audi Sport Team Absolute Racing is back after its strong race debut in 2018, which earned the team an overall-podium, this time with an all-German, all-FIA-platinum-graded line-up. Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Haase, both of whom raced with the team in 2018, are joined this year by Christopher Mies.
Joining them on the grid will be Audi Sport Team WRT, with Belgian Dries Vanthoor hot on the heels of his maiden ADAC GT Masters victory in The Netherlands recently, South African Kelvin van der Linde who was on the successful Absolute squad in 2018, and FIA WTCR driver Frédéric Vervisch. Local team Audi Team Hitotsuyama, meanwhile, reforms its line-up from the event last year: 2017 Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup champion Alessio Picariello reunites with Japan Super GT drivers Richard Lyons and Ryuichiro Tomita.
Two, fifteen-minute qualifying sessions for rounds seven and eight of the 2019 Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup begin at 13:10 on Friday, August 23, with the opening race starting at 17:25. Round eight gets underway at 15:00 on Saturday, August 24. Qualifying for the Suzuka 10 Hours, meanwhile, begins at 13:00 on Saturday, with a pole shoot out for the top 20 cars commencing at 17:30. The race begins at 10:00 on Sunday (all times UTC +9).
Both rounds of the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup will be live streamed on the Cup’s website and Facebook page