The elements conspired to ramp up the already- formidable challenge of the storied Suzuka Circuit as the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup took to the 5.807km Japanese track for round seven of the 2019 season. It was reigning champion Andrew Haryanto who emerged victorious, a pole-to-flag run in wet conditions marking his first win of the season. The result catapulted the Cup’s reigning champion into third place overall and right back in title contention with three races to go this season.
Second over the line despite carrying a hefty 40kg success ballast was championship contender Alex Au of CTVS Racers by Absolute ahead of Bhurit Bhirombhakdi of Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing. Au remains second, but closed the gap on overall points-leader The Bend Motorsport Park’s Yasser Shahin, who was fourth across the line in round seven.
The first ever locally-run Audi R8 LMS GT4 found immediate success when Cup debutant Shozo Tagahara took the Audi Team AS Sport entry to victory ahead of FEA’s Wang Dengjia of China. Wang’s teammate and GT4 Cup points-leader Sheng Yanwen is unable to race this weekend after damaging his car in a qualifying incident from which he emerged unscathed.
Vincent Floirendo of Ensport Motors by Absolute Racing, meanwhile, took his third Challenger Trophy victory of the season, beating Cup newcomer George Nakas of Absolute Racing, who impressed on his championship debut.
“Our Cup drivers overcame atrocious weather conditions, severely reduced visibility and one of the most challenging race tracks on earth today, demonstrating just how professional our all-privateer field is,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “Our congratulations to all of our podium finishers today, the championship battles are heating up nicely with just three races of the season remaining.”
Shahin retains his lead in the GT3 championship on 93 points, but Au’s push through the rain to second closes the gap to just nine points (84 points). Haryanto’s victory, however, propels him up the standings from sixth to third on 75 points, putting his title defence very much back on track. His perfect points haul – 26 points for pole position and the win – also make him a front-runner to win a seat on the Cup’s 2020 Suzuka 10 Hours team, awarded to the highest GT3 points-scorer over rounds seven and eight in Japan.
Bhirombhakdi now lies fourth on 64 points, equal with Tony Bates of Tony Bates Racing who is recovering from neck surgery and making his Suzuka debut this weekend.
In the GT4 standings, FEA’s Sheng retains the top spot on 67 points.
With the inclement weather disrupting the race programme, the qualifying session ahead of round seven saw Andrew Haryanto clinch his first pole position of the season, with Alex Au alongside and Yasser Shahin and Bhurit Bhirombhakdi on the second row. However, as the heavens opened just moments before the start, the race began behind the safety car.
With a little over 22 minutes of the 30-minute race remaining on the clock, the safety car released the field and the Cup lit up the gloom, bursting into life amid a shower of spray.
With the advantage of clear track ahead, Haryanto got away well, immediately pulling a gap from Au. But his rival was not easy to shake. However, as he pushed hard to catch up to Haryanto, Au was rewarded with increasingly dense spray the closer he got to his prey, and an error saw him back off and switch focus to learning where the hazards lay. Mid-way through the 13-lap race though, as track conditions improved, Au was confident enough to resume his challenging, setting the fastest lap of the race in his pursuit and with it claiming the Pirelli Best Lap trophy.
Behind the leading pair, Shahin was running third ahead of Bhirombhakdi until a spin by the Australian at the notorious Spoon Curve saw the Thai driver pass him and move up into podium contention.
The final few minutes of the race saw Au reduce the gap to Haryanto, setting the fastest time of the race on the penultimate lap, but he ran out of time to get close enough to make a move. The reigning champion took the flag and a well deserved first win of the season.
The Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup continues tomorrow (Saturday), with a rescheduled and shortened 10-minute qualifying session getting underway at 11:15am to set the grid for race two. Round eight gets underway at 15:00, prior to the Pole Position Top 20 Shootout for the Suzuka 10 Hours (all times UTC +9), in which three Audi R8 LMS GT3s are fielded.
Round eight will be live streamed on the Cup’s website and Facebook page.
The Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup is operated by Audi Sport customer racing Asia.
Andrew Haryanto (Absolute Racing) – Winner, round seven
“The safety car start definitely helped me, so I managed to catch Alex a bit off guard, I think. I had a gap from thereon – because I had good visibility and I knew where the water was – it was pretty safe for me at the front. Four or five laps before the end of the race, I saw the lights coming and getting bigger and bigger. I was thinking in my head, ‘should I push more, or should I just leave it?’, so I opted for the safer way.”
Alex Au (CTVS Racers by Absolute) – Second, round seven
“The safety car really didn’t help. I wasn’t so much caught off guard, but the closer I got the more spray I got, so it wasn’t good for building a lap. You really have to learn how to drive the track first, so I backed off a bit and worked out how to drive the circuit, and then I pushed again. The more I closed the gap, the more spray I got so it was going to be impossible to overtake. Third place was looking further away so, for the championship’s sake, I didn’t try to push too hard in the middle of the race. I also went off a little bit at a couple of corners, which were good reminders not to overdo it. Towards the end of the race, I saw that everything had settled and conditions were better, so I pushed a little bit more just to see what the car could do.”
Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing) – Third, round seven
“I didn’t perform very well actually. I couldn’t see anything. There was water spraying and it was impossible to overtake.”
Vincent Floirendo (Ensport Motorsport by Absolute Racing) – Winner, round seven Challenger Trophy
“It’s my first time in Suzuka. Yesterday during practice, it was dry. The track was very difficult actually, but I was improving with better times by the second practice. And then today it rained! I was behind Tony [Bates], and there was zero visibility, so we had to leave a gap. I just kept my pace, kept it safe – I could feel the car aquaplaning at some corners. It was a good race.”
Shozo Tagahara (Audi Team AS Sport) – winner round seven GT4
“Thank you so much to everyone! I very much appreciate Audi Sport customer racing Japan, the team and everyone. Maybe it will be sunny tomorrow and we’ll have a good race. I hope everyone will enjoy it!”
Round seven results
1. 28/Andrew HARYANTO(INA)/GT3/Absolute Racing/33:40.885
2. 178/Alex AU(HKG)/GT3/CTVS Racers by Absolute/+2.201
3. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/GT3/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing/+21.637
4. 7/Yasser SHAHIN(AUS)/GT3/The BEND – Motorsport Park/+26.171
5. 24/Tony BATES(AUS)/GT3/Tony Bates Racing/+44.604
6. 55/Vincent FLOIRENDO(PHI)/GT3-CT/Ensport Motors by Absolute Racing/+1:06.854
7. 14/George NAKAS(AUS)/GT3-CT/Absolute Racing/+1 Lap
8. 505/Shozo TAGAHARA(JPN)/GT4/Audi Team AS Sport/+1 Lap
9. 18/WANG Dengjia(CHN)/GT4/FEA/+1 Lap
Fastest lap: Alex Au/CTVS Racers by Absolute/2:19.280/Lap 12/150.09kph
Championship points after round seven
Audi Sport R8 LMS GT3 Cup classification (Top 10)
1. Yasser SHAHIN/93
2. Alex AU/84
3. Andrew HARYANTO/75
4. Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI/64
4. Tony BATES/64
6. Anthony LIU/52
7. Daniel BILSKI/48
8. Vincent FLOIRENDO/45
9. Geoff EMERY/41
10. SUN Jingzu/34
Audi Sport R8 LMS GT4 Cup classification (Top five)
1. SHENG Yanwen/67
2. LI Lin/45
3. Mark WILLIAMSON/45
4. CHAN Hung Wai/43
5. Anderson TANOTO/43
Audi Sport R8 LMS Challenger Cup classification (Top five)
1. Vincent FLOIRINDO/45
2. Angelo NEGRO/27
3. MA Ka Chun/26
4. LIN Yiming/12
5. George NAKAS/6