Dries Vanthoor of Castrol Racing Team made a dream debut in the Audi R8 LMS Cup with a wheel-perfect run from lights-to-flag in Round 7, giving new Cup service provider WRT their first overall series victory.
The youngster started the day with intent by claiming pole in the morning’s qualifying session before his podium-topping performance in the afternoon.
Reigning and three-time Cup champion Alex Yoong in the Phoenix Racing Asia-run Team Audi R8 LMS Cup car battled to take second. Just behind, championship leader Alessio Picariello of MGT by Absolute had surged past his rivals to claim the final podium place after starting from sixth on the grid, putting the 2017 Cup title just one win away from the 24-year-old star.
“Congratulations to Dries Vanthoor for his debut victory together with his team,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “As predicted the title race is really heating up in Shanghai, and all eyes will be on Alessio Picariello tomorrow to see if he can claim his first GT3 title.”
Picariello (141 points) has now extended his lead at the top of the overall championship to 51 points ahead of defending champion Yoong (90 points). FAW-VW Audi Racing Team driver Cheng Congfu of China (89 points) lies third, just a single point adrift of Yoong. Fourth is OD Racing Team’s Mitch Gilbert, two points further back on 87 points. Shaun Thong of Audi TEDA Racing Team is the fifth and final driver still in championship contention on 81 points.
In the Am+ category, David Chen of Tianshi Racing Team took his third class win in his five-race Cup career so far, ahead of Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan’s Jeffrey Lee. Milestone Racing’s Sun Jingzu took the win in the Am category ahead of Thailand’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi of Singha Plan-B Motorsport.
Chen’s win sees him increase his lead at the top of the Am+ standings to 115 points, but rival Lee is still in the title chase on 90 points, while Bhirombhakdi continues to top the Am Cup table on 118 points.
Vanthoor immediately took to both the track and car like a duck to water, pounding to a convincing pole position for Round 7, ahead of KCMG-serviced Champion Racing Team’s Martin Rump of Estonia.
At the rolling start of the 13-lap race with a damp track cranking up the challenge, Vanthoor made a superb getaway and didn’t look back taking a convincing first Cup win.
Yoong, starting from the second row alongside Cheng, wasn’t about to make it easy for the young guns. Making an early move to get past Rump, Yoong’s tussle with the young Estonian was not over. After exchanging positions, the Malaysian made his pass stick at turn five and took his car home in second.
Rump’s podium aspirations were cut short at the end of the opening lap. Caught in a high-speed bottleneck amongst the hard-charging pack, the 21-year-old got on the damp trackside grass and spun. That put him right down the order and he later retired from the race.
Picariello, meanwhile, carrying 50kg of success ballast after his Round 6 victory, was a man on a mission, finding his way past Audi TEDA Racing Team’s Shaun Thong on lap two to go fifth behind Cheng, who was carrying an extra 35kg. Thong fought back, diving up the inside with a big move under braking, but Picariello swiftly reclaimed the position, sweeping past and pulling clear of his 21-year-old rival.
Cheng was next for Picariello to reel in. As Cheng fought to make inroads to Yoong ahead, suddenly the championship leader, Picariello, filled his mirrors. The MGT by Absolute driver made his move past Cheng on lap 10, claiming the final podium place and putting the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup title within touching distance.
Behind the race leaders, Gilbert came under fire from the impressive and formidably-ambitious Chen. The Chinese driver had a look, but wisely elected to back off, biding his time until mid-way through the race when he dived past. The closing minutes of the race saw Gilbert reclaim sixth from Chen, but the Chinese amateur driver had once again proved he has the pace to push the professionals in his first season with the Cup.
Team Audi Korea’s Kyong-Ouk You crossed the line in eighth.
All eyes will be on the Cup at 14:45 (UTC+8) on Sunday, September 10, as Picariello sets out to claim the Round 8 win that would claim the 2017 title as his own. Having missed out on the 2016 title by just a single championship point, the talented Belgian will be determined to keep his cool under the formidable pressure of the Cup’s international field.
Round 7 Results:
1. 2/Dries VANTHOOR(BEL)/Castrol Racing Team/28:12.018
2. 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+2.868
3. 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute/+6.103
4. 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+10.283
5. 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team/+11.904
6. 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+12.979
7. 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/+18.732
8. 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea/+18.831
9. 3/SUN Jing Zu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+41.833
10. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/Am/Singha Plan-B Motorsport/+42.365
11. 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+50.558
DNF. 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team
DNF. 10/LIM Keong Wee(MAL)/Am/Audi Hong Kong