Castrol Racing Team’s Jake Dennis took victory in the final round of the Audi R8 LMS Cup season at China’s Zhejiang International Circuit, snatching the Round 10 win from OD Racing Team’s Mitch Gilbert after an 18-lap season-closing thriller.
Gilbert’s finish sees him take second in the championship, behind title-winner Alessio Picariello of MGT by Absolute.
Third across the line, despite carrying the full 50kg of success ballast after his stunning Round 9 overall victory, was new Am+ Cup winner David Chen of the Tianshi Racing Team.
While Picariello had wrapped up the overall title in Shanghai last month, and Gilbert claimed the runner-up spot after the final round, FAW-VW Audi Racing Team’s Cheng Congfu, sixth across the line in Round 10, finished third at the end of the season.
Round 10 saw Champion Racing Team’s Martin Rump blast through the pack after a startline hitch to finish fourth ahead Picariello, who made an uncharacteristic error while in the lead, putting pay to his hopes of ending the season with victory number five.
“Congratulations to all the Audi R8 LMS Cup teams and drivers. The Zhejiang International Circuit has seen a truly electrifying season finale of the sixth season of the world’s premier GT3 make cup,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia.
“This season has been nothing short of brilliant, with six different race winners in 10 rounds. We have seen established professionals challenged by talented newcomers, and superbly close and fair motorsport all season.
“We look forward to returning in 2018, with the Audi R8 LMS GT3 joined on the grid by the new Audi R8 LMS GT4, plus a whole new-look championship.”
Although Dennis had been the fastest man on track during qualifying, clocking the quickest lap of the weekend and the only driver to dive below the one minute 26 second mark, a five-place grid penalty for the incident in Round 9 put him back to the third row for the start of the 18-lap race.
Team Audi Korea driver Kyong-Ouk You was another driver penalised for the earlier incident. The Korean was handed a 10-place grid penalty and, as this was his third similar regulations infringement of the season, 10 championship points were deducted from his season tally.
That put Gilbert, who had put in another blistering qualifying session, on pole with Chen alongside, who was carrying 50kg of success ballast for the first time in his Cup career.
On the second row, Picariello lined up alongside Rump, and behind them Cheng and Dennis, gearing up for the first standing start of his GT career.
As the lights went out on the Audi R8 LMS Cup field for the final time this season, Gilbert was away, but Picariello was immediately alongside, diving past to lead the race. Rump was left stranded on the grid, eventually taking up the rear of the pack.
While it looked as though newly-crowned champion Picariello had finally got to grips with the tight and twisty 3.191km Zhejiang track, disaster struck when an uncharacteristic error saw him drop back down to the back of the field.
That gave the lead back to Gilbert, but Dennis had already worked his way up from sixth on the grid and was quickly on his tail, followed by Chen, Cheng and three-time Cup champion Alex Yoong in the official Audi R8 LMS Cup car.
While Gilbert, hotly pursued by Dennis, pulled away at the front, Rump was already closing in on Yoong having heroically picked his way up the order, getting past the Malaysian on lap 5. Picariello was also a man on the move, up to seventh by the end of that lap.
Rump continued his charge, passing Cheng and closing in on Chen. However, as he had proved in Round 9, no amount of pressure can unsettle the Tianshi Racing Driver and Chen held firm.
Still desperately looking to find a way past Gilbert on a track with few overtaking opportunities, Dennis finally made his move just four laps from the flag, diving past the OD Racing Team driver and setting off to take his first Cup victory.
While Dennis may have crossed the line almost seven seconds ahead of Gilbert, the Malaysian-born driver had raced with brains as well as talent to secure second in the championship standings.
The 21-year-old Chen proved once again he is an exciting new talent rapidly on the ascent, while Rump and Picariello had run out of laps to make any more headway.
Am driver Sun Jingzu of Milestone Racing and Team Audi Volkswagen’s Jeffrey Lee, second in the final Am+ standings, once again diced it out in a race-long duel. Sun finished ahead of his rival, crossing the line behind You.
There was disappointment for Shaun Thong of the Audi TEDA Racing Team, second in Round 9, who pitted with damage, rejoined, but then had to retire. Likewise for Audi Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee, who retired early in the race.
It was a fittingly nail-biting finale to a memorable season, where the combination of intelligent innovations, such as the push to pass system, success ballast and separate qualifying sessions for each race, had provided non-stop thrills.
The Audi R8 LMS Cup will be back for its seventh season in 2018, with more intriguing new features for the world’s premier GT3 makes championship.
Round 10 Results (18 Laps)
1. 19/Jake DENNIS(GBR)/G/Castrol Racing Team/26:12.706
2. 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+6.885
3. 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/+15.850
4. 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team/+16.182
5. 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute/+19.189
6. 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+22.650
7. 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+23.621
8. 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea/+35.463
9. 3/SUN Jingzu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+1:29.728
10. 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+1 lap
DNF. 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team
DNF. 88/Marchy LEE(HKG)/Audi Hong Kong