The Audi R8 LMS Cup moves into high gear this weekend as the sixth season of the prestigious one-make championship gets underway with Rounds 1 and 2 at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit.
With a raft of exciting new drivers, innovations, the addition of new Audi factory team WRT and two new race tracks on the calendar, this season is primed to be the Cup’s most competitive yet.
“The Audi R8 LMS Cup sits rightfully at the core of our expanding Audi Sport customer racing Asia program,” said Bernd Goeres, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia.
“This year we will see Audi race cars in more events and series than ever before in Asia, with the growth of our customer racing program mirroring the development of motorsport in the region.”
Constantly evolving to incorporate new markets and fresh innovations, the Audi R8 LMS Cup season sees a number of exciting developments.
The popular push-to-pass – whereby drivers receive a limited number of temporary boosts of 50 horsepower – returns, bringing an additional layer of strategy to each race.
For the first time in Cup history, the number of remaining push-to-passes that each driver has will be visible to all on an LED display on each car. Amateur competitors will receive double the engine boosts than their professional counterparts.
Leveling the playing field still further, the weight success ballast system continues in 2017 for the overall podium finishers.
The race winner will have to drive with an extra 50 kg in their car in the following race with the second place driver carrying 35 kg and the third place driver 20 kg.
The qualifying format has also been overhauled, now with two sessions, each setting the respective grid of the two races.
Leading the field of identical second-generation Audi R8 LMS cars is triple-champion Alex Yoong of Malaysia, who won his impressive third-consecutive title last year.
On his hunt for an unprecedented fourth, Yoong, who races for Team Audi R8 LMS Cup this season, will face some formidable foes.
One familiar face is Belgian driver Alessio Picariello, who finished just a single point behind Yoong in last year’s title fight. The feat was all the more impressive given that 2016 was the 23-year-old MGT Team by Absolute driver’s first full season of GT competition.
Also back for a second year is 21-year-old Estonian phenomenon Martin Rump of Champion Racing Team, who finished third in his debut season in the Cup – also his first away from single-seater racing. Cup champion in 2012, and fifth last season, Team Audi Hong Kong driver Marchy Lee is eager for a second championship title.
Joining the Cup full time this season are Mitch Gilbert of OD Racing Team and Hong Kong driver Shaun Thong of Audi TEDA Racing Team.
Gilbert started his Audi R8 LMS career in fine style at last month’s Blancpain GT Series Asia event winning the first race and climbing the podium again in the second, leaving him atop the overall championship standings alongside former Cup competitor Aditya Patel.
Thong, meanwhile, having worked his way to the Cup via the Audi Sport TT Cup and the Young Driver Development Program, is looking to make his mark in the first one-make series from the brand with the Four Rings.
KCMG’s Akash Nandy will also join the Cup in Sepang, following his appearance in the same event last season. Nandy comes from a strong background in single-seaters and posted some impressive lap times at the Audi Sport customer racing Asia testing event earlier this year.
Chinese motorsport hero Cheng Congfu returns in 2017 with FAW-VW Audi Racing Team, while Kyong-Ouk You continues to fly the flag for South Korea with Team Audi Korea.
Last year’s Amateur Cup winner Jeffrey Lee of Taiwan is back with Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan this season, continuing his appearance record with the Cup that goes back to its 2012 launch.
Back in action this season will also be Rick Yoon of KCMG. The South Korean gentleman driver, who finished third overall in last season’s Masters Cup, will be competing this year in the Amateur Cup classification.
For the opening two races Stéphane Richelmi from Monaco steps in for Cup newcomer and former Formula One driver, Will Stevens, who will join the Cup from the second event in Japan in June.
Richelmi competes in Rounds 1 and 2 as a guest driver for Castrol Racing Team in a car serviced by new Cup service provider WRT.
Audi factory team WRT, becomes the Cup’s fourth service provider, joining Absolute Racing, KC Motor Group (KCMG) and Phoenix Racing Asia to create even more compelling competition and broadening the choice of expert partners available for drivers.
To underline the Cup’s commitment to its gentlemen drivers, Am Cup competitors will not only receive double the number of push-to-passes than their professional counterparts, the classification winner will also receive free tires for the season.
In a further incentive, the Am Cup champion will win his team free entry into the prestigious Total 24 Hours of Spa in 2018.
That incentive is part of an agreement between the endurance event’s organizer, SRO, and the Audi R8 LMS Cup.
At the base of that agreement is a strategic partnership between SRO’s Blancpain GT Series Asia and the Cup. The calendars follow a similar route around Asia, with logistics support offered to teams taking part in both series. This resulted in six Audi R8 LMS Cup team entries at the Blancpain GT launch weekend in April in Sepang.
Pirelli joins the Audi R8 LMS Cup for the first time as official tire partner. The partnership sees the launch of the Pirelli Best Lap trophy, which is awarded to the driver who records the fastest lap of each race.
The total number of wins over the season will be tallied creating a mini-championship within the Cup over the season.
Following the Cup’s two races in Malaysia, the championship travels to Japan where it makes its debut at the famed Suzuka Circuit for two races from June 10-11.
The series travels next to the Korea International Circuit for two races in July. The 2017 season continues with a double-header at the Shanghai Audi International Circuit in September before rounding out the season at the new Zhejiang International Circuit in October.
Two qualifying sessions on the morning of Saturday will set the respective grids for Rounds 1 and 2, with Round 1 scheduled for 4:30 p.m. local time later that day. Round 2 will be hosted on Sunday at 12:35 p.m. (all times UTC+8).
Rounds 1 and 2 will be live streamed to Cup fans around the world. To watch the races in English, please go to www.audir8lmscup.com, while the Chinese live stream will be available at www.audir8lmscup.com/cn.
2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup
Provisional entry list –Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
1/Alex YOONG/Malaysia/Audi R8 LMS Cup
7/Jeffrey LEE/Chinese Taipei/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/Am
8/THONG Wei Fung/Hong Kong/Audi TEDA Racing Team
11/Stéphane RICHELMI/ Monaco/Castrol Racing Team/G
13/Kyong-Ouk YOU/South Korea/Team Audi Korea
15/Alessio PICARIELLO/Belgium/MGT by Absolute
18/Martin RUMP/Estonia/Champion Racing Team
31/CHENG Congfu (Franky)/China/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team
77/Rick YOON/Hong Kong/KCMG/AM
86/Mitch GILBERT/Australia/OD Racing Team
88/Marchy LEE/Hong Kong/Audi Hong Kong
Am = Amateur Cup Competitor
G = Guest Driver