CHINA GT CHAMPIONSHIP WIDE OPEN AFTER CHALLENGING ZHUHAI ROUND
15 July 2017
Text/Photos: Motorsport Media
Rnd#3/4 2017 China GT Championship [GT3]
Zhuhai International Circuit, China
7-9 July, 2017
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.
Qualifying – Round#3 (7 July)
Hot off an impressive victory in the Pirelli World Challenge in the USA, Hong Kong’s Adderly Fong was the pace-setter in opening qualifying, setting a blistering 1:35.490, a full half second faster than Audi Hong Kong’s Melvin Moh and new Kings Racing Audi recruit Martin Rump.
Alex Au was the pace-setter in the second leg of qualifying, handing the #06 Audi Hong Kong entry he shares with Marchy Lee a front row start for the weekend’s opening race, whilst Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak’s 1:37.9 was enough to give he and team-mate Adderly Fong the top spot. Eric Lo’s China GT debut saw the second Audi Hong’s second entry grab third ahead of the second Bentley Team Absolute entry of Weiron Tan and Andrew Kim, and returning 2016 China GT race winners Max Wiser and Terry Huang in the #888 Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra.
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.