The Absolute Racing endured a tough weekend during the opening round of the 2019 Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup but came out with overall podium finish and two GT4 Cup class wins at the Adelaide Parklands Street Circuit, Australia.
- Alex Au returns with a podium
- Tough weekend for Cup favourites Haryanto and Bhirombhakdi
- Williamson and Tanoto share GT4 Cup wins
The weekend’s double-header marked the start of a 10-race, five-circuit season over which the all-privateer line-up will vie for the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup titles.
Leading the Absolute Racing charge is the 2018 GT3 Cup champion Andrew Haryanto of Indonesia. Also making a return to the series is last year’s first runner up Bhurit Bhirombhakdi. Former Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup Am Cup champions Alex Au, Sun Jingzu and Daniel Bilski completed the five-car team in the GT3 Cup class this weekend.
Heading up the GT4 entry were the 2018 class champion Anderson Tanoto, the newly-appointed Audi Sport customer racing Asia Ambassador Ryan Liu Zexuan, and the experienced Australian driver Mark Williamson.
Qualifying on Friday brought a very strong performance by the China based team. Setting the grid positions for race one, Bhirombhakdi set a superb lap time of 1:21.920 min to sit in second on the time sheet. Bilski stopped the clock a mere hundredth of a second behind him, with Haryanto taking the final top four position. Sun also set a solid qualifying lap to put him on the third row of the grid for the start of race one on Sunday, two places in front of Au in the #178 CTVS Racers by Absolute Racing entry.
The final qualifying session got underway on Saturday morning. On this occasion the Absolute Racing GT3 class quintet were less spread throughout the field; Au took P4, Bhirombhakdi P5, Bilski P6, Haryanto P7, and Jingzu P8 for the starting grid of race two.
Australian driver Mark Williamson has taken GT4 Cup pole-positions on home soil. Reigning GT4 Cup champ Anderson Tanoto was second quickest in both qualifying sessions, while Ryan Liu was the third quickest of the three GT4 Absolute Racing driver entries.
With the ambient temperature hitting 40 degrees centigrade, the opening race of the 2019 Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup did not get off well for Absolute Racing GT3 top-contenders. Bhirombhakdi and Haryanto were immediately locked in battle, with Bilski trying to avoid contact. Haryanto ran wide, colliding twice with Bhirombhakdi when he attempted to rejoin. Both drivers were forced to retire. Haryanto was later handed a five-place grid penalty for the start of Sunday’s round two, putting him right to the back of the field.
Bilski was determined to start the Cup season with a podium finish and was involved in the battle for third place. In the first laps of the race he had the edge, but in the end the Australian driver had to settle for second. Hong Kong’s Au had a faultless race to finish fourth ahead of Sun who bounced back from an accident on Friday.
Absolute Racing’s Mark Williamson took the GT4 win ahead of Anderson Tanoto, who had taken the class lead early on. Liu was unable to start the 20-lap race after an incident in the second qualifying earlier in the day in which his car was badly damaged at the exit of the tricky turn eight.
The crowds arrived in their thousands as the Absolute Racing squad prepared for the second race early Sunday morning. In front of a record Adelaide 500 crowd of 91,500 people, Au had an amazing start to the race, moving from fourth to second. Even better, Bhirombhakdi jumped from sixth on the grid to first place by the first chicane. Au reclaimed the lead within the first lap to lose it again for the Thai driver at the halfway point.
Bhirombhakdi seemed able to win when an uncharacteristic error saw him retire while leading at the final turn of the penultimate lap of the race. Au ended up being the Absolute Racing best representative in the 20-lap race by finishing second. The Hong Kong driver lost two positions when he lost the battle with Bhirombhakdi for the first place position. With Bhirombhakdi’s misfortune, Au was promoted to second.
Sun and Haryanto had an eventful battle for the fifth position with Chinese driver taking the best, scoring valuable points. Starting from the very back of the grid, the Indonesian driver, who dropped to seventh in the closing minutes of the race, set the fastest lap of both the race and the entire weekend. Daniel Bilski steered the #27 red Audi to thesixth place.
At the conclusion of the weekend, Alex Au sits fourth in the GT3 Cup drivers’ championship standings, only 13 points behind the championship leader, followed by Bilski, Sun, Haryanto and Bhirombhakdi.
In the GT4 Cup class, Tanoto took the class win from pole-sitter Williamson. The pair fought hard through the intense heat of Australia,right up to the chequered flag. Williamson leads from Tanoto by two points in the class standings, courtesy of his two pole positions.
The Cup heads now to China for a double-header at the Zhuhai International Circuit on May 4-5.
Ingo Matter (Team Director): “The Adelaide Street Circuit is a great place to kick off the new season, and this year was no exception. This was a tough weekend for every driver because it was the first race and there were such high temperatures. I think that everyone has done an excellent job this week. We came very close to a race win today, but the lady luck was not in our favour. As a team we have enjoyed a competitive weekend and it is the positives that we take away from this weekend. We now head to Zhuhai where once more we can expect high temperatures and close competition.”
Alex Au (Race 2 – GT3 & Overall P2): “I am happy to be back in the Cup. The level here is unbelievable, with the top eight cars lapping within one second mostly. I guess I can’t be too sad about the second race result, but having led the race with a few seconds lead and then to lose it is a bit disappointing. I was looking forward to a great fight with Geoff (Emery), but I was denied that chance.”
Mark Williamson (Race 1 – GT4 Cup P1): “I had a good little tussle with Anderson (Tanoto). He had a great start, a much better start than me. He was much more aggressive in turns one and two, and I got past him into turn three, and he went back past round the outside of me. I got a couple of positions, got back on the tail of him and pressured him into a mistake.”
Anderson Tanoto (Race 2 – GT4 Cup P1): “Street circuits really test your concentration. I think that was obviously the case on Saturday when I was leading and I gave it up to Williamson. Today (Sunday) was payback time. What’s beautiful about the Audi R8 LMS GT4 is that Williamson, who has over 20 years of racing experience, and myself with only two years’ experience, are able to compete on the same level playing field and really push each other. That’s the beauty of this GT4 class, and I welcome many others to come and join us. It’s a lot of fun and the car is mega; it’s super quick.”
Pictures courtesy of Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup
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