China GT Championship wide open after challenging Zhuhai round
The challenge at Zhuhai became a battle between Bentleys, Audis and Porsches.
After a solid start to the season at the Goldenport Circuit in Beijing the series moved south to China’s first permanent racing circuit at Zhuhai for rounds three and four in a weekend where changeable weather had a significant impact on the results, and initially disrupted proceedings after many teams and officials were delayed due to heavy rainfall across the region.
Once it had passed though, the event began with official practice proving a good indication of what could be expected across the two proposed 60-minute races with very little separating the top teams.
Ultimately victory at Zhuhai became a battle between the Bentley Team Absolute operation and the two Audi teams of points-leaders Kings Racing, and local heroes Audi Hong Kong, whilst for Porsche rivals FAW T2M and JRM, they too would figure prominently across the weekend.
In the end though, once the rain and the Safety Cars had cleared, it was the #08 Kings Racing pairing of Wang Liang and new recruit Martin Rump who emerged the winners of round three, whilst Audi Hong Kong achieved an impressive 1-2 in round four, Malaysia’s Melvin Moh - joined by new team-mate Eric Lo from Hong Kong - defeating team-boss Marchy Lee and Alex Au for the win and a strong haul of championship points.
Overall, the consistency of Goldenport’s runaway points leader Xu Jia has kept the Kings Racing team-leader on top of the drivers points heading into the third event of the season - again at Zhuhai - at the end of July.
Round #3 (60-minutes - 8 July)
Ahead of the opening race of the weekend, the weather started to close in with dark skies surrounding the Zhuhai circuit, but despite the threat, the race was declared dry and all cars began on slick tyres.
Off the rolling start, Vutthikorn got away strongly to lead into turn one, with team-mate Andrew Kim storming through from the second row to range up alongside and drop Eric Lo back into the clutches of Marchy Lee. The field got safely through the opening corner but the jotsling for position continued at the front, points-leader Xu Jia through on Li Chao for sixth place, whilst Kim made a move to recover third from Max Wiser on the start finish straight to start lap two, although it was short lived as the Italian came back at the Bentley driver into turn two, before applying the same pressure to Marchy Lee to take second the following lap.
On lap three a slow exit at turn seven allowed Wiser and ultimately Marchy Lee to move through on the race leader, the pole-sitter then coming under fire at turn 10 from team-mate Andrew Kim, the two making contact with Vutthikorn spun into the barriers on the exit of the corner. Contact was relatively minor, but for the Thai driver the bigger problem was the lack of grip on the wet outfield, a problem which eventually saw the Safety Car make the first of many appearances across the weekend so the #88 Bentley could be recovered.
Sadly for the Bentley Team Absolute operation, just as the Safety Car was due, Kim too spun off the circuit, this time on the exit of turn 11. The South Korean driver was quickly back on the circuit but not before both Eric Lo and Xu Jia had moved past him to make it an Audi 1-2-3-4 at the front of the field.
Once racing was underway again Wiser started to open up a lead ahead of the compulsory pit stops, as one by one, the field engaged their windscreen wipers with light rain beginning to fall, although not enough for any of them to come down pit lane to change to the control Pirelli wet weather tyre.
Sadly after being unable to record a time during the opening qualifying session, Kuo Kuo Hsin in the D2 Mercedes spun off in the challenging conditions at turn seven after working his way to the front of the field, a small fire breaking out in the front of the gorgeous yellow and green AMG GT GT3 before the safety crew arrived to put it out and recover the #2 entry.
That saw the Safety Car again on the circuit, with a number of cars coming down pit lane behind it at the 26 minute mark of the race with the pit window open for teams to start effecting their compulsory pit stops. Leading the charge was the #16 Audi from third position and the #911 Porsche of Li Chao.
Sadly for the second of the JRM Porsches, Li Jiaqi was the next casualty of the developing wet weather, the Chinese driver straight off on the restart at the final corner in the #991 Porsche and hard into the tyre barriers on the exit of the corner, spinning him to a stop as the second retirement of the race.
That saw the third Safety Car intervention with Marchy Lee diving into pit lane from second whilst Wiser followed on the next lap, handing Xu Jia the lead.
With the pit window clock winding down to zero, the points leader came down pit lane behind the Safety Car as Melvin Moh took up the front running in the #16 Audi, but under pressure from New Zealander Chris van der Drift with Alex Imperatori impressively up to position three.
Unfortunately the weather again intervened, this time for former Macau Grand Prix winner Andre Couto, the Spirit Z Racing Nissan Nismo GTR driver off on the exit of turn seven and onto the wet grass. There was little he could do but hang on for the ride across the wet outfield and gravel trap on his way into the tyre barriers.
It was clear the Macanese driver was in discomfort afterwards, with the Safety Car deployed and the field ultimately shown the red flag.
Couto was extricated from the #23 Nissan and transported to Zhuhai hospital for medical checks where he underwent a CT scan that revealed a fracture to his L1 vertebra. From there the popular local driver was air-lifted to Hong Kong for surgery, with the hopes and thoughts of all the China GT family behind him.
With just on ten minutes remaining, the race director concluded the third round, with the results declared as a reflection of positions prior to the red flag - also taking pit stops into account - the end result of which saw the #08 Kings Racing Audi of Wang Liang and Martin Rump declared the winner, from the #99 FAW T2M Porsche of Bao Jin Long and Martin Ragginger, and the #06 Audi of Marchy Lee and Alex Au.
Xu Jia’s fourth placed finish kept his championship lead comfortably alive, whilst Max Wiser and Terry Huang were classified fifth for TSRT, ahead of the #911 JRM Porsche of Li Chao and Chris van der Drift.
Drivers quotes after Round #3
1. Wang Liang (#08 Kings Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3): “Probably today the starting position was not good (P7) but I gradually improved by overtaking cars to hand Martin the car to complete the job, I’m very happy.”
1. Martin Rump (#08 Kings Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3): “The weather has been really interesting, so we didn’t know what was going to happen from start to finish. Wang Liang did a really good job, he brought the car home to the pits in a great position. I jumped in and we decided to stay on slick tires. I made a few overtakes, then next moment, red flag, P1 and I’m here!”
2. Bao Jin Long (#99 FAW T2M Type 991 Porsche GT3R): “The goal was to safely bring the car back to Martin. With the weather being so unpredictable, and it being wet on the track, it’s been a great learning experience.”
2. Martin Ragginger (#99 FAW T2M Type 991 Porsche GT3R): “Of course, not doing the qualifying because an accident in free practice, it’s great for us to finish second today. I have to say good job for Bao at the start of the race and also to our team that fixed the car and made the right calls today.”
Round #4 (60-minutes - 9 July)
Off the line the two Bentleys charged into turn one at the front of the pack, whilst behind them points leader Xu Jia was forced wide onto the grass by one of the FAW T2M Porsches and back to the rear of the field.
Marchy Lee proved why he is still regarded as one of the best GT3 drivers in Asia, the Audi Hong Kong star jumping from ninth to third by turn four with team-mate Eric Lo right behind, whilst Wang Liang and Li Chao also worked their way forward.
Lee was quickly through on Vutthikorn after effecting the crossover on the exit of turn nine to be second by lap two as Eric Lo effected a similar move at turn 11. Li Chao dropped the Thai driver back to fifth at turn one, as Liang tried to follow him through, but the round three winner spun on the exit as he tried to get onto the throttle early, dropping him back down the order.
Sadly for Li Chao he suffered a similar fate a couple of laps later, battling with the #888 TSRT Audi, the JRM team boss recovering, but with visibility difficult and a fast corner leading into the area he had spun, he rejoined unsighted into the path of Vutthikorn, Xu Jia and JRM team-mate Li Jiaqi. All three cars were forced to take avoiding action, Jiaqi the worst affected as he spun as a result of being sent down the grass.
Vutthikorn continued to drop back through the field before finally pitting a couple of times before the team retired the #88 entry with a technical issue, a problem they couldn’t fix in time to have Adderly Fong complete his stint.
Sadly for the Bentley Team Absolute operation, the #09 Hard Memory entry of HG and Alex Imperatori too were unable to complete the full quota of laps after their own issue sidelined them just after the start of the compulsory pit stop window.
Kuo Kuo Hsin meanwhile was one of the fastest cars on circuit, the D2 Mercedes AMG GT3 driver through into the top ten and embroiled in a great battle with the very wide #99 FAW T2M Porsche of Bao Jin Long who had very little intention of making the Mercedes driver’s job easy. In the end the fight went all the way down to the compulsory pit stop.
Sadly though for Hsin, despite battling hard - and successfully with the #888 Audi of Max Wiser - he would work his way through and onto the tail of the top six before a spin at turn ten with ten minutes to go, ending a frustrating weekend for the D2 team.
Up front Weiron Tan was continuing to push, but his pace couldn’t match that of Marchy Lee behind him, in just a couple of laps, the Phoenix Racing Asia team boss closed in under the rear wing of Tan but he wasn’t able to effect a pass, even whilst the race leader negotiated the spinning Jiaqi at turn four. In the end he elected to make his compulsory pit stop early in an effort to jump the #05 Bentley.
In the end the strategy worked, Au inheriting the lead after the stops were completed with a hard-charging Melvin Moh closing him down at more than two seconds a lap for an Audi Hong Kong 1-2.
Unfortunately for the #991 entry, a third spin, this one again at turn four, ended in the gravel trap and an early shower for Jiaqi, their second DNF in two days.
Ultimately, after catching race leader Au, Melvin Moh moved into the lead with a trouble-free pass with more than a quarter of the race still remaining, whilst behind the two Audi Hong Kong entries, Andrew Kim was hanging on to a distant third ahead of the two Kings Racing Audis and Chris van der Drift in the JRM Porsche.
Ultimately though the man on the move was China GT rookie Martin Rump, the young Estonian charging across the closing laps to catch and pass Andrew Kim for position on the final lap to make it an Audi podium lockout, with Moh comfortably clear of Au at the front.
Kim held on for fourth ahead of points leader Xu Jia who retained his championship lead after the fourth round, whilst Max Wiser crossed the line sixth to make it five Audis in the top six.
Chris van der Drift finished seventh for JRM, leading home the twin FAW T2M Porsches of Martin Ragginger and Marco Seefried as the final finishers of what had been a punishing weekend of China GT.
The China GT teams will now enjoy a short break before returning to Zhuhai for the third event on the calendar at the end of July (28-30).
Drivers quotes after Round #4
1. Melvin Moh (#16 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3): “Yesterday with the rain was not ideal, so we spoke and agreed that we HAVE to win today, so I’m very happy for the team and thanks to Eric for such a strong start.”
1. Eric Lo (#16 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3): “The weather was definitely the most challenging thing this weekend, but collaborating with Melvin has been the best thing about the event.”
2. Marchy Lee (#06 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3): “Our car had great performance and I am really happy with the way everything turned out this weekend - looks like Zhuhai is my lucky track!”
2. Alex Au (#06 Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3): “We were under plenty of pressure today, but I kept the car steady until the end, so second for us is a great result, two podiums from Zhuhai this weekend.”
3. Wang Liang (#08 Kings Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3): “Yesterday we had a good result, but we weren’t able to duplicate the result today, but we have recorded some good championship points this weekend.”
3. Martin Rump (#08 Kings Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3): “Unbelievable, two times on the podium, very good job from Wang again, like yesterday he came in to the pits with the car close to the front and I just had to drive and try as hard as I could. It was so hot this time, but all the crowd and the fans in the stands helped so much, I just had to keep it cool and keep a cool head - unbelievable!”
2017 GT3 Driver’s Championship points (after four rounds of 12)
1. Xu Jia (72-points), 2. Bao/Ragginger (50), 4. Melvin Moh (45), 5. Wang Liang (42), 6. Martin Rump (40), 7. Lee/Au (33), 9. Li/van der Drift (32), 11. Fong/Inthrapuvasak (31), 11. Eric Lo (31), 14. Kim/Tan (28), 16. Morris Chen (22), 17. Yoshimoto (19), 18. Wiser/Huang (18), 20. Keong Wee (14), 21. Li/Jousse (12), 21. Xu/Yokomizo (12), 25. Marco Seefried (3), 26. Han Huilin (2), 26. Couto/Tan (2), 26. Sun/Wang (2), 26. HG/Imperatori (2), 33. Kuo Kuo Hsin (0)
2017 GT3 Team’s Championship points (after four rounds of 12)
1. Kings Racing (125-points), 2. Audi Hong Kong (78), 3. FAW T2M (73), 4. Bentley Team Absolute (63), 5. JRM JiaRui-TengDa (44), 6. TSRT Tianshi Racing Team (18), 7. Spirit Z-Racing (4), 8. D2 (0)
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