Under azure blue skies, the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup was unleashed upon the iconic 5.807km Suzuka Circuit for round eight and the 88th race in its eighth season. Despite the abundance of the auspicious number eight, it was dazzling talent rather than luck which saw Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi soar to victory and race right back into the GT3 title fight.
Second over the line was reigning champion Andrew Haryanto. Added to his victory in round seven, the podium secured him a seat on the Cup entry for the Suzuka 10 Hours in 2020, a prize available to the highest GT3 points-scorer over the Japan race weekend. Championship leader and Suzuka newcomer Yasser Shahin of The Bend Motorsport Park extended his lead at the top of the championship standings by finishing third, after having got by pole-sitter Alex Au of CTVS Racers by Absolute on the penultimate lap.
As the Cup heads towards its climax in Malaysia, five drivers remain in GT3 championship contention, all separated by just 34 points: championship leader Shahin (108 points); Au (97); Haryanto (93); Bhirombhakdi (89) and Tony Bates of Tony Bates Racing (74 points).
“Our championship will once more go right to the wire with a five-way title showdown brewing for our season finale,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “Congratulations to all our drivers. We saw some impressive lap times, although many of our drivers were making their first appearance at Suzuka this weekend.”
Ensport Motors by Absolute Racing’s Vincent Floirendo won his fourth Challenger Trophy in six races, the Filipino driver continuing his eye-catching return to Cup competition this season.
Taking his second GT4 Cup victory in as many days was Audi Team AS Sport’s Shozo Tagahara, the successful Japanese driver giving both the paddock and the grandstands a masterclass of the Audi R8 LMS GT4’s formidable performance. In the race to the GT4 title, FEA’s Sheng Yanwen retains the lead on 67 points. Second is teammate Wang Dengjia on 54 points, with Tagahara just two points behind on 52.
While the Cup races are over at Suzuka for this year, Audi Sport will race on with three Audi R8 LMS GT3 entries in Sunday’s Suzuka 10 Hours.
Alex Au took his third pole position of the season in the shortened, 10-minute qualifying session – rescheduled after Saturday’s torrential rains – with a scorching lap of 2:04.633 on his very last run of the session. However, Au would start the race carrying the maximum 50kg success ballast, with Bhurit Bhirombhakdi alongside with 10kg and second row starter Andrew Haryanto carrying 30kg.
When the lights went out, it was the Thai driver who stole the march on Au, blasting past and snatching the lead in the run into turn one. Tony Bates made an audacious move on the inside of Yasser Shahin to briefly climb to fourth, but the championship leader quickly reclaimed the position and set off on the hunt for Haryanto up ahead.
Bhirombhakdi was on his most dazzling form, consistently pounding out quick laps at the front of the field, setting the fastest lap of the race on lap five and increasing his advantage as the minutes clicked by. Behind him though, Au, Haryanto and Shahin were battling it out, with Shahin hauling Haryanto in just four laps in, before easing off the pace and dropping back.
That allowed Haryanto to close up to Au and, with just two minutes remaining on the clock, Haryanto was all over the back of the CTVS Racers by Absolute driver, ready to exploit the smallest error. Haryanto made his move, his superior grip allowing him to tear round the outside at turn one to seize second. While Au valiantly tried to fight back, the 50kg of success ballast had taken its toll on his tyres and he had no answer.
By the penultimate lap, Shahin increased pace saw him close right up to Au, and the Australian snatched the final podium place in the final stages of the penultimate lap.
Tony Bates took fifth ahead of Challenger Trophy winner Vincent Floirendo and Cup and GT competition newcomer George Nakas, who continued his impressive debut. Shozo Tagahara took the GT4 honours ahead of FEA’s Wang Dengjia.
The eighth season of the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup will close out at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit from November 22 to 24, where the GT3 and GT4 champions will be crowned, and the final seat on the Cup’s 2020 Suzuka 10 Hours team decided.
The Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup is operated by Audi Sport customer racing Asia.
Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing) – Winner, round eight
“I had a good start. The race was what I had wanted to do, and I was lucky to make it.”
Andrew Haryanto (Absolute Racing) – Second, round eight
“The start wasn’t very good. The car in front of me didn’t go as fast as I thought it would, so Bhurit got away. We knew that we had to catch Bhurit as he was the only guy with 10kg. I knew that towards the second half of the race Alex would be struggling with 50kg. In the first two laps I was being overconfident – I think Yasser saw me going sideways here and there. I was lucky I didn’t spin or anything. It was a good weekend.”
Yasser Shahin (The Bend Motorsport Park) – Third, round eight
“I’m pleased with the result, given that it’s my first time at Suzuka. I think I had a pretty good start. I actually thought I had excellent pace. I settled into a good pace. A few laps in, I think I lost a bit and then found it and put it together for the last five or six laps. I think I was even faster, not slower. After Andrew overtook Alex you could just see Alex was weak in one, two, three. I found a few extra horsepower in the lungs and pushed a bit. I wasn’t far behind him and he did the courteous thing and made way.”
Vincent Floirendo, Ensport Motorsport by Absolute Racing – Winner Challenger Trophy, round eight
“Yesterday was a wet race. It was really raining hard so I couldn’t get used to the track. I was learning a lot from the racing today. Slowly, my laps times were getting better. Hopefully next time! I need more time on this track. It’s a very challenging circuit.”
Shozo Tagahara, Audi Team AS Sport – Winner GT4 Cup round eight
“It was a really fantastic weekend! I’ve been testing this GT4 car once every two months for the last year. I wanted to really show the performance of the car by racing it. This was my first race in the car. The GT3 is quite a difficult car for beginners. For drivers who want to try racing, the Audi R8 LMS GT4 is a really good start. It’s very close to a road car, so it doesn’t feel complicated. To learn how to race, it’s a good step. Practice and enter racing with the GT4, and then little by little you can go on to GT3. I have done a lot of Super GT and formula racing, but in the Cup I felt really relaxed and at home. Everyone really respects each other. Everyone was very nice to me and I really enjoyed racing with the Cup.”
Round eight results
1. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/GT3/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing/33:56.484
2. 28/Andrew HARYANTO(INA)/GT3/Absolute Racing/+5.829
3. 7/Yasser SHAHIN(AUS)/GT3/The BEND – Motorsport Park/+10.367
4. 178/Alex AU(HKG)/GT3/CTVS Racers by Absolute/+18.181
5. 24/Tony BATES(AUS)/GT3/Tony Bates Racing/+35.382
6. 55/Vincent FLOIRENDO(PHI)/GT3-CT/Ensport Motors by Absolute Racing/+1:09.801
7. 14/George NAKAS(AUS)/GT3-CT/Absolute Racing/+1:29.007
8. 505/Shozo TAGAHARA(JPN)/GT4/Audi Team AS Sport/+1 Lap
9. 18/WANG Dengjia(CHN)/GT4/FEA/+1 Lap
Fastest lap: Bhurit Bhirombhakdi/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing/2:06.050/Lap 5/165.84kph
Championship points after round eight
Audi Sport R8 LMS GT3 Cup (Top 10)
1. Yasser SHAHIN/108
2. Alex AU/97
3. Andrew HARYANTO/93
4. Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI/89
5. Tony BATES/74
6. Vincent FLOIRENDO/53
7. Anthony LIU/52
8. Daniel BILSKI/48
9. Geoff EMERY/41
10. SUN Jingzu/34
Audi Sport R8 LMS GT4 Cup classification (Top 5)
1. SHENG Yanwen/67
2. WANG Dengjia/54
3. Shozo TAGAHARA/52
4. LI Lin/45
5. Mark WILLIAMSON/45
Audi Sport R8 LMS Challenger Trophy classification (Top 5)
1. Vincent FLOIRINDO/53
2. Angelo NEGRO/27
3. MA Ka Chun/26
4. LIN Yiming/12
5. George NAKAS/12