Absolute Racing ended its 2018 Blancpain GT Series Asia campaign with overall podium finishes and class podium and wins during a dramatic season finale on the Ningbo International Speedpark circuit last weekend (13/14 October).
Under moody skies and the threat of rain, the penultimate round of Blancpain GT Series Asia’s second season kicked off with Anthony Liu delivering another strong qualifying performance in the #37 Paragon Water Systems Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS. A lap time of 1:43.260 had put the bronze-ranked driver amongst his professional counterparts and his Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 fifth on the grid. #3 Absolute Racing driver Cheng Congfu was beside him in sixth with #7 Absolute Racing racer Andrew Kim in 12th.
The race had started with carnage on the first lap that Kim capitalised on to jump seven positions. The melee saw four cars eliminated, one of which was Liu’s Audi.
The other Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3s, meanwhile, were on the move with Cheng up to third and Kim fifth as the safety car was called out to clear the track of debris and the eliminated vehicles.
After losing a place just after the safety car was called in, Kim was the first Audi customer into the pits as the midrace driver change pit window opened at the 25-minute mark. Fong took the reins and emerged from the pits to immediately dive up the inside of a competitor to be running fifth.
Out in front Martin Rump had taken over from Cheng Congfu to emerge from the driver changeover in second and had built a gap of over 12 seconds between himself and the third-placed car, but also found himself over nine seconds from the race lead.
Those gaps were about to be reduced to almost nothing as the safety car was called out for the second time in the race with only 13 minutes remaining. This brought Rump in with a chance of victory, and Fong, who had got past former Absolute Racing driver Mitch Gilbert just prior to the safety car, in with a shot of the podium.
Rump crossed the line second, with Fong just two places back to secure a long-deserved Pro/Am victory for himself and Kim.
On Sunday, all three Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3s finished in the top six in round 12, with Cheng Congfu and Martin Rump fourth. That earned the Absolute Racing pair third place in the 2018 Silver Cup championship (164 points).
The result also helped Absolute Racing (213 points) to achieve third place in the season’s GT3 Teams championship.
In front of packed grandstands, Fong lined-up in the highest placed Audi R8 LMS GT3 in seventh, alongside Alessio Picariello, who was eighth and directly in front of Rump, who was ninth.
As the safety car was called out Fong had moved up to fifth and Picariello sixth, while Rump had dropped to 10th.
10 minutes passed until the safety car was called in, with Picariello on immediate attack. Fong, in front, was also trying to steal a march on a competitor in front but had his teammate, Picariello, to deal with in his mirrors. Amid the grappling for position, Fong was turned around and fell 10 places to 15th.
As the clock ticked towards the midrace compulsory driver changeover, Picariello had moved up to fourth and Fong up to 13th, with both staying out on track deep into the allotted 10-minute pit window in the hopes of making gains as the traffic thinned.
The strategy worked, with Liu, taking over from Picariello and emerging from the changeover in third, and Fong’s partner, Kim, emerging from the pit lane in 11th.
With the window closed, Cheng Congfu, having taken over from Rump. All of the Audi R8 LMS GT3 drivers improved on these positions on their way to the flag.
Liu put in a strong fight for what would have been the race win against his silver-ranked competitor and was unlucky to lose position with 10 minutes to go after back markers slowed him down.
Second overall equalled the Chinese privateer’s best finish of the season, and gave him his second Pro/Am winners’ trophy this season.
Cheng Congfu crossed the line in fourth, with Kim an impressive sixth and Patel seventh to close out a strong final weekend for the Audi customer teams and drivers in the region’s leading multi-marque championship.
With the dust settled after 12 rounds of action across four Asian nations, Cheng and Rump’s third in the Silver Cup standings was complimented by fourth place in the overall GT3 championship (116 points).
Liu finished fourth in the Pro/Am standings (141 points) after two wins in the last four races, with Kim and Fong classified seventh in class (113 points).
Ingo Matter (Team Director): “Congratulations to our crews on a great performance and success this weekend. This weekend races were an absolutely perfect showcase for GT racing, and amply demonstrates that this sport will always surprise, thrill and enthral us in many, many ways. Overall I’m pleased with how the team performed this weekend. We got the most out of the cars and the class wins and overall podiums show it. In terms of the championship, we have been a bit unlucky over the season but all in all we can be satisfied with what we achieved. We can build on that next year and we already look forward to fight back in 2019.”
Martin Kuehl (Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia): “The two podium finishes and two class wins this weekend delivered a successful finale to a challenging and highly competitive season for our customer teams and Audi Sport Asia drivers. The spirit is high and we will come back strongly.”