An ecstatic Alessio Picariello was crowned Audi R8 LMS Cup champion in Shanghai after a white-knuckle run to victory in Round 8, gaining an unassailable points lead ahead of the season finale in Zhejiang in October.
The 24-year-old Belgian’s fourth race win of the season secured the Team Cup for MGT by Absolute, and marked an emotional chapter in his nascent motorsport career.
“Congratulations to Alessio Picariello on his first Audi R8 LMS Cup championship, and to MGT by Absolute on their Team Cup win,” said Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia.
“The display of sportsmanship and intense competition at the Cup’s double-header in Shanghai was a fitting showcase for all of the Audi fans who attended the Audi Sport festival over the weekend.”
Chinese Cup star Cheng Congfu of FAW-VW Audi Racing Team delighted the legions of home fans that packed the grandstands at the Shanghai Audi International Circuit by taking second behind the new champion.
Earlier in the day the Chinese star had also recorded a victory in the China GT Championship.
Cup newcomer and winner of Round 7, 19-year-old Dries Vanthoor of Castrol Racing Team, took the final podium place.
Picariello’s win takes him to 166 championship points, 59 ahead of Cheng, whose third podium finish this season elevates him to second on 107 points. With a maximum of 52 points on offer in the final two rounds of the season at the Zhejiang International Circuit on October 7 and 8, Picariello has wrapped up the title with two races to spare.
Along with Cheng, still in contention to become the 2017 championship runner-up are OD Racing Team’s Mitch Gilbert (99 points), Team Audi R8 LMS Cup driver Alex Yoong (98 points), and Shaun Thong of Audi TEDA Racing Team (91 points).
“We are very happy and proud to have achieved this result before the final races, especially as the Audi R8 LMS Cup is so closely contested,” said Ingo Matter, Team Owner of Absolute Racing.
“Alessio and the whole team performed flawlessly all season and it feels good to have the championship back in the Absolute Racing camp. Congrats also go to Sun Jingzu for his Am Cup double race win in Shanghai.”
In the amateur classes, Chinese drivers wowed the home fans. David Chen of Tianshi Racing Team took his fourth Am+ Cup win in six races ahead of Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan’s Jeffrey Lee.
China’s Sun Jingzu took the honours in the Am class, beating class leader Bhurit Bhirombhakdi of Singha Plan-B Motorsport and Audi Hong Kong’s Lim Keong Wee.
Both the Am+ and Am Cup titles will be decided at the season finale at the Zhejiang International Circuit. Chen (141 points) has a 33 point lead from Lee (108 points) in the Am+ standings, while Bhirombhakdi (136 points) is 52 points ahead of Sun (84 points), just a single point away from the Am Cup title.
Taking his second consecutive pole, Vanthoor lined up for the standing start carrying 50 kg of success ballast courtesy of his Round 7 win on his Cup debut.
Alongside him was Cheng, with Picariello, who had just to finish in second place behind his fellow countryman, Vanthoor, to clinch the title on the second row along with Thong.
On a dry track and under a sweltering Shanghai sun, the lights went out and the race got underway. While Vanthoor got away well, Picariello lived up to his ‘Belgian Bullet’ moniker, getting the jump on Cheng, rocketing past and pulling side-by-side with the race leader.
This time, though, it was not to be, and Vanthoor held the lead with Picariello in furious pursuit and Cheng keeping a watching brief in third.
Vanthoor held the hard-charging Picariello at bay, but not for long. With the crowd on the edge of their seats, Picariello hunted him down, piling on the pressure and looming large in Vanthoor’s mirrors.
Wheel-to-wheel across the start/finish line, each using their push-to-pass boosts and each adamantly refusing to concede, it was clear Picariello was unwilling to win the title with anything less than a Round 8 victory.
In the heat of battle, Vanthoor ran wide at turn one and Picariello made his move on the inside, with Cheng following him through into second and Vanthoor slotting into third.
It was to stay that way until the chequered flag.
Behind the trio, Thong was busy keeping Gilbert and Rump at bay, but Rump’s race was soon to end in disappointment after he was forced to retire with a puncture.
On the penultimate lap, Gilbert caught right up to Thong, getting alongside and making his move at the start of the final lap, with Yoong following him through. A furious Thong fought back, reclaiming the place from Yoong when his rival ran wide, to cross the line in fifth, just behind Gilbert.
Kyong-Ouk You of Team Audi Korea was seventh, ahead of Am+ winner Chen, who continued his remarkable development with the GT3 series. Sun took the Am Cup win from Bhirombhakdi, with Cup returnee Lim Keong Wee of Audi Hong Kong, third in class.
The Audi R8 LMS Cup drama is far from over. The Cup’s season finale, Rounds 9 and 10, will be held at the Zhejiang International Circuit with Chen seeking a prestigious Am+ title in his first full season of GT competition. The race for the final two spots of the overall championship podium is, also, wide open as the world’s only GT3 Audi one-make series heads to a brand-new circuit.
Round 8 Results
1. 15/Alessio PICARIELLO(BEL)/MGT by Absolute/28:00.266
2. 31/CHENG Congfu(CHN)/FAW-VW Audi Racing Team/+1.930
3. 2/Dries VANTHOOR(BEL)/Castrol Racing Team/+6.951
4. 86/Mitch GILBERT(MAS)/OD Racing Team/+9.651
5. 8/Shaun THONG Wei Fung(HKG)/Audi TEDA Racing Team/+11.390
6. 1/Alex YOONG(MAS)/Audi R8 LMS Cup/+11.954
7. 13/Kyong-Ouk YOU(KOR)/Team Audi Korea/+13.203
8. 99/David CHEN Weian(CHN)/Am+/Tianshi Racing Team/+20.103
9. 7/Jeffrey LEE(TWN)/Am+/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan/+51.229
10. 3/SUN Jing Zu(CHN)/Am/Milestone Racing/+52.354
11. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI(THA)/Am/Singha Plan-B Motorsport/+55.121
12. 10/LIM Keong Wee(MAL)/Am/Audi Hong Kong/+56.806
DNF. 18/Martin RUMP(EST)/Champion Racing Team