The seventh season of Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup kicked off this weekend in the streets of Adelaide with the Asian fleet managed by Absolute Racing taking the weekend’s honours.
Series newcomer Andrew Haryanto was the first winner of the season and, as the highest overall points-scorer in the Australian rounds, the Indonesian has secured a drive on the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup team in the 2019 Total 24 Hours of Spa– a reward on offer to the highest points-scorer in each country on the Cup’s 2018 calendar.
The first ever visit to Australia was without a doubt one of the most challenging events in the Cup history, featuring two 17-lap races along the 3.2 kilometre temporary racing circuit – a venue completely surrounded by unforgiving concrete walls. This was a very physically demanding event for the drivers due to the demanding Adelaide street circuit layout and the usual warm ambient temperatures in March.
Thursday’s three practice sessions gave the Absolute Racing drivers the first taste of the gruelling circuit of South Australia. Qualifying on Friday. With all the drivers putting an impressive performance in the first day, the expectations were running high for Friday’s Qualifying.
Qualifying one saw four Asia-based drivers entering the top-10. Haryanto placed ProMax Team’s R8 LMS GT3 in fourth for the opening round of the season, followed by Bhurit Bhirombhakdi in seventh, Daniel Bilski in eight and Jeffrey Lee in ninth. But the best was yet to come in the second 20-minute qualifying session on Friday afternoon.
In Qualifying two, impressive Haryanto posted the third quickest time for Round 2 as Singha PlanB Motorsport by Absolute Racing’s Bhurit Bhirombhakdi qualified P5 for Sunday’s round 2. Jeffrey Lee clocked the seventh fastest time as Sun Jingzu’s blue Audi R8 LMS GT3 was ninth.
Saturday was a glorious day for Absolute Racing. Haryanto nailed down his and Absolute Racing first win of the season with a dominant Round 1 display, taking over the front on lap seven and holding off local racer Yasser Shahin for the final ten laps to the finish.
The Indonesian swooped through from the second row of the grid to amazingly take the lead at the first corner. On Lap 2 though, Haryanto ran wide at Turn 4, briefly losing the lead that he took back when his opponent did the same mistake on Lap 7. The Safety Car was called in on Lap 9 but it wouldn’t stop Haryanto run to the victory, crossing the finish line 1.7s ahead the remaining podium finishers.
Thailand’s Bhirombhakdi and Hong Kong based Daniel Bilski performed steadily, finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Series rookie Yang Xi took it easily and finished ninth.
On Safety-Car restart Jeffrey Lee and Sun Jingzu briefly came together at the fourth corner. The Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan car was too badly damaged to continue, while Sun managed to continue and finished the race in 11th.
Commenting about the first race of the season, Michael Schneider, Absolute Racing Team Manager, said “The Adelaide 500 is a great event, and the track is very challenging. As it was new for all our drivers, they needed some time to catch up with the local competitors. Every session the whole field merged closer together and we saw a great race today. It was an incredible race for Andrew Haryanto and unbelievable that he could secure the top step on his first appearance in the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup. All our drivers made us proud today.”
Carrying 30 kg of success ballast for winning the first race of the Cup, Haryanto knew in advance that a win would be tough in Round 2 but a podium position was not a mission impossible. The Indonesian maintained his third place at the start and kept his opposition at bay for 17 laps, crossing the line in third, propelling him to the top of the leaderboard. He was crown as the race weekend winner, getting a ticket to the much-wanted Spa-Francorchamps endurance classic.
Ever-improving Bhirombhakdi was also on the thrilling three-car-fight for third, crossing the finish line in fifth place. Unfortunately the Stewards deemed the Thai racer guilty for causing a collision on Lap 8 and imposed him a drive-through that resulted in a post-race 30-second time penalty, which dropped him from fifth to ninth.
Former touring car Chinese driver Yang Xi wrapped up his first Cup weekend with eighth position, benefiting from his opponents mistakes.
On Lap 7, Jeffrey Lee made contact with Sun Jingzu, turning the latter around at Turn 11. Sun was able to get his car going again, and rejoined the pack behind the Safety-Car. Lee kept his position but later in the race he also had an incident with former Absolute Racing GT4 racer Mark Williamson, with the pair spinning on track. The Taiwanese was handed a 30 second penalty for his contact with Sun, and a three-place Round 3 grid penalty for the incident with the Australian.
When the race was coming to an end, B-Quik’s Daniel Bilski and Sun were involved in another race accident. Sun was subsequently disqualified from the race as a consequence of the incident, also incurring a five-place grid penalty for Round 3. Bilski was classified in 13th, one lap down.
Further back in the field the new Audi R8 LMS GT4 made its Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup debut. The GT4 Cup will only commence in Nürburgring in May but Absolute Racing drivers and Cup mentors Adderly Fong and Franky Congfu Cheng drove the GT4 machinery this weekend as non-points-scoring guest entries. Fong started ahead of Cheng in both of the category’s exhibition races, winning the Round 3. Cheng got his “revenge” on Round 4.
The Cup will make the European debut on May 11-12 with rounds 3 and 4 to take place in support of one of the most important GT races in the world – the Nürburgring 24 Hours. The Cup’s second double-header will be held on the 5.148 km Grand Prix configuration of the circuit.
Round 1 Results:
1. 28/Andrew HARYANTO (INA)/GT3/ProMax Team
5. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI (THA)/GT3/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing
6. 27/Daniel BILSKI (HKG)/GT3/B-Quik Racing
9. 3/YANG Xi (CHN)/GT3/Absolute Racing
11. 13/SUN Jingzu (CHN)/GT3/Absolute Racing
12. 33/Adderly FONG (HKG)/GT4G/Absolute Racing
13. 88/CHENG Congfu (CHN)/GT4G/Hard Memory Hero Super Car Team
14. 7/Jeffrey LEE (TPE)/GT3/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan
Round 2 Results:
3. 28/Andrew HARYANTO (INA)/GT3/ProMax Team
8. 3/YANG Xi (CHN)/GT3/Absolute Racing
9. 59/Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI (THA)/GT3/Singha Plan-B by Absolute Racing
10. 88/CHENG Congfu (CHN)/GT4G/Hard Memory Hero Super Car Team
11. 33/Adderly FONG (HKG)/GT4G/Absolute Racing
12. 7/Jeffrey LEE (TPE)/GT3/Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan
13. 27/Daniel BILSKI (HKG)/GT3/B-Quik Racing
DSQ. 13/SUN Jingzu (CHN)/GT3/Absolute Racing
GT3 Cup Classification:
1. Andrew HARYANTO – 40 Points
7. Bhurit BHIROMBHAKDI – 12 pts
10. Daniel BILSKI – 8 pts
11. YANG Xi – 6 pts
12. Jeffrey LEE – 1 pts
13. SUN Jingzu – 0 pts
Photos courtesy of Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup / Sutton Images