Absolute Racing’s Sun Jingzu of China emerged victorious from a gripping Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup Round 5 as the championship made its debut on China’s Ningbo International Speedpark.
Second, following a valiant charge to the podium after being shunted to the back of the pack, was Australian Yasser Shahin in the The Bend Motorsport Park liveried Audi R8 LMS GT3.
Taking the final podium place was championship points-leader, ProMax Team’s Andrew Haryanto, who crossed the line first but was handed a 30-second post-race penalty for a first turn clash with Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi.
The Thai driver fought back, recovering to finish fifth behind Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan’s Jeffrey Lee.
In the GT4 Cup, Indonesian Anderson Tanoto took the win, leading home Chinese superstar actor and singer Han Geng of Hard Memory Hero Super Car Team, who was making his Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup debut at the Ningbo track.
Taking home GTC Cup glory on the category’s debut was Jeffrey Zee, making his first Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup appearance, in a Spirit Z Racing Team Audi R8 LMS Cup car.
“Today, our drivers treated us to an extremely exciting race, which leaves everything wide open in the championship at the half-way point,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia.
“Another hard fought wheel-to-wheel race has given us our fourth overall race winner from five races so far this season.”
Led away at the start by Bhirombhakdi from pole, who was carrying the full 50 kg of success ballast, the field thundered into the first turn, the Thai driver chased by fellow front-row starter Sun, who tried to go around on the outside into turn one.
However, Haryanto was also a man on the move from a starting place of third on the grid, catching Bhirombhakdi at the first turn with an attempt to dive up the inside.
Contact was made spinning the top two championship front-runners and dropping them down the field. Cup stewards later handed Haryanto a 30-second penalty for the incident, demoting him to third in the finishing order.
Sun and Absolute Racing teammate Yang Xi benefited from the early race incident but, as the pair fought it out at the front, Shahin – who had qualified just seven-thousandths of a second from pole but started five places back due to a penalty incurred in round four – had closed right up from seventh on the grid and was up to third by turn one.
However, the Chinese duo both ran wide onto the grass, briefly giving Shahin the lead. As the pair returned to the track, contact was made with Shahin, spinning him around and dropping him to the very back of the field.
Sun set off in the lead pursued by Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan’s Jeffrey Lee who had climbed to second from the back of the grid on the opening lap. Lee had been unable to qualify after a technical issue kept his car out of the morning’s qualifying session.
Third in the order was Yang ahead of Haryanto who had quickly recovered from the incident with Bhirombhakdi and was again on the move. The championship-leader Haryanto passed Yang before reeling in Lee and diving by and setting off on the hunt for the race leader.
Hunting down Sun, the Indonesian dived past on lap three and set about pulling out a gap from his rivals.
There was early heartbreak for Yang, who retired after three laps while running fourth. His retirement promoted Bhirombhakdi up the order to fourth, but the drama was not over for the Thai.
Shahin, meanwhile, was storming back from the rear, the 22-turn, tight, twisting Ningbo circuit combined with extreme heat and humidity making his task all the more physically and mentally demanding.
Pounding in a series of quick, faultless laps, the Australian climbed up the order to fifth behind Bhirombhakdi by lap six. However, on the following lap a coming together between Lee in third and Bhirombhakdi behind saw the Thai dropped back down the order.
Lee, who received a 30-second penalty for the incident with Bhirombhakdi, held on to second, but Shahin was 10 seconds behind and closing fast.
Lap 12 saw Shahin make his move on Lee, who tried to defend and then reclaim the position, but the hard-charging Australian would not be stopped. Although Haryanto had pulled out an unassailable lead in front, Shahin was determined to catch Sun and challenge for second in the remaining few laps.
In the final meters to the checkered flag, Sun and Shahin had the audience on their edge of their seats as the Australian fought tooth and claw to find a way past Sun, but the on-form Chinese driver held his nerve to storm across the line second on track, half a second ahead of his rival.
After the race, Sun was promoted to race winner, with Shahin second. Haryanto’s race-winning margin of almost 20 seconds meant that, even with a 30-second penalty, he retained third place.
Anderson Tanoto had put in strong laps throughout all of the official Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup sessions and led home Han Geng in the GT4 Cup, for his first class win of the season.
At the season midpoint, Haryanto leads the GT3 Cup on 86 points, with Bhirombhakdi second, just 12 points behind (74 points). Shahin sits third on 58 points with Sun (53 points) completing a top four that is separated by only 33 points after five rounds.
The action continues on Sunday, with qualifying for round six at 10:50, and the race getting underway at 14:35 (all times UTC +8).
1. 13/SUN Jingzu(CHN)/GT3/Absolute Racing/29:34.421
2.74/Yasser SHAHIN(AUS)/GT3/Absolute Racing/+0.553
3.28/Andrew HARYANTO(INA)/GT3/ProMax Team/+10.331
4.7/Jeffrey LEE(TPE)/GT3/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+57.387
5.59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/GT3/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing/+57.954
6.95/LI Xue Feng(CHN)/GT3/Absolute Racing/+1:21.903
7.98/Jeffrey ZEE(CHN)/Cup/Spirit Z Racing Team/+1 lap
8.89/Anderson TANOTO(INA)/GT4/Absolute Racing/+2 laps
9.9/HAN Geng(CHN)/GT4/Hard Memory Hero Super Car Team/+ 2 laps
DNF.3/YANG Xi(CHN)/GT3/Absolute Racing