Absolute Racing team director Ingo Matter says they’re “very honored” to be the first-ever Asian team to carry Audi Sport backing in Intercontinental GT Challenge competition this weekend at Suzuka.
Audi’s longtime Asian partner is fielding one of three factory-crewed Audi R8 LMS cars in Sunday’s ten-hour enduro, which serves as the penultimate round of the season.
The Chinese squad, which provides race operations for the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup and also fields GT3-spec Audis in Blancpain GT Series Asia and other regional championships, becomes the eighth different team to carry Audi Sport support in the SRO-run series.
Matter (pictured above, right), who co-owns Absolute alongside fellow ex-pat Fabien Fior (pictured left), said the added backing doesn’t change the team’s approach as it looks to play its part in Audi’s IGTC title defense.
Audi currently holds a seven-point lead in the manufacturers’ championship entering the inaugural Suzuka 10 Hours.
“The name Audi Sport bears some sort of reputation. It’s quite obvious,” Matter told Sportscar365.
“I wouldn’t say the pressure is on but you just feel honored and try to do a good job like you always do. There’s no big changes in terms of that.
“It’s good to be recognized as an Asian team, especially a Chinese team, to have that name and honor is very good.”
With Kelvin van der Linde and IGTC title contenders Christopher Haase and reigning series champion Markus Winkelhock all new to the team, Matter said the extra driver and engineering support helps give the team a fresh perspective.
As is the case with other Audi Sport-backed efforts, the core of the crew remains largely unchanged, although the team is utilizing one of Audi’s factory chassis that has been flown in from Europe.
“In all aspects, it’s more-or-less the same,” Matter said of the team’s makeup.
“It’s our normal crew, but of course you get support from Audi with engineering, which is always good to have.
“If there’s someone else there, it gives us new perspectives. We’re all open to it and we work quite well together.”
While considered the “underdogs” in the Audi camp when compared to the veteran WRT squad, which fields two additional factory-backed entries this weekend, Matter feels they’ll be able to benefit from local knowledge and past success at the Japanese circuit.
The team is coming off victory in last month’s Blancpain GT Series Asia round at Suzuka with Franky Cheng and Martin Rump in one of three Audis it fields in the SRO-run sprint series.
“We know the track quite well from previous years in GT Asia as well,” Matter said. “It’s good to know it but all of the Japanese teams know it, probably better than us.
“But it’s good for a change to be the underdog; we haven’t been that in a long time!
“The goal for us, in any race we participate in, is to be in front. So we’re working towards that. Obviously there’s a lot of factors from the outside. You never know.
“When you look at the entry list, it’s mega strong. You can literally go to almost every car and there’s [at least] one driver you have the deepest respect for.
“Let’s see; it’s a long race.”
Suzuka 10H the New “Bucket List” Race for Asian Gentlemen Drivers?
Matter feels the Suzuka 10 Hours could help take the place of Macau as the region’s aspirational GT race for gentlemen drivers.
A change in the sporting regulations in the FIA GT World Cup for 2017 prohibits Bronze and Silver-rated drivers from the famed street race in Macau, which he feels could open the door to further growth at Suzuka in the years to come.
“For me, when they announced it in the beginning of last year, it was quite clear that this event and the heritage of it will be great,” Matter said.
“The turnout here is amazing and I hope also when you look at the grandstands, I hope it will also be accepted by the fans.
“It’s amazing to have an event where you can look forward to as another ‘bucket list’ race, which helps for us, especially when you look at gentlemen drivers.
“The main bucket list [event] was Macau, and they can no longer participate in anymore.
“So maybe we can create a new event for them. Let’s see if it develops that way, but it would be nice. The potential is there definitely.”