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ZHUHAI AGAIN THROWS A CURVE BALL AT THE CHINA GT REGULARS

04 August 2017

Text/Photos: Motorsport Media

Rnd#5 2017 China GT Championship

Zhuhai International Circuit, China

29 July, 2017

ChinaGT_Zhuhai2_GT3_R1_start_290717_med ChinaGT_Zhuhai2_GT3_R2_Rump_Liang_300717_med ChinaGT_Zhuhai2_GTC4_R1_start_290717_med  

After a challenging campaign during the previous round of the China GT Championship at Zhuhai International Circuit earlier in the month, teams faced markedly different conditions the second time around, with high heat and humidity mixed with a revised balance of performance for many of the cars adding a whole new equation for the fifth round of the championship.

Qualifying on Friday saw one of the closest grids all season, with the title contenders right in the mix at the pointy end of the field, laying the foundation for some intense racing in the GT3 and GTC/GT4 classes, and the drivers didn’t disappoint.

GT3 was up first at mid-day, with the pole-sitting Bentley of Andrew Kim quickly swamped off the start into turn one, notably by team-mate Adderly Fong and Audi Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee, the two Hong Kong locals making contact soon after with Lee emerging the winner of that argument. By that stage JRM’s Maxime Jousse had forged through from the fourth row to the lead before opening a big advantage ahead of the compulsory pit stop.

Sadly, despite leading after the stop, team-mate Li Jiaqi spun on his first flying lap handing Alex Au a comfortable lead in the #06 Audi, a lead that looked certain to hand the team their first victory, but within minutes of the finish, points leader Xu Jia was hard into the barriers at the exit of turn ten immediately bringing the safety car into play, closing up the field for a final run to the flag.

Ultimately, despite the best intentions of Kings Racing’s Martin Rump and FAW T2M’s Martin Ragginger, Au held on to claim the win, with Rump second and Ragginger third.

In the opening race of GTC/GT4 the action was no less intense, with a great battle unfolding over the closing stages between the pole-sitting Spirit-Z Racing Audi R8 of Sun Zheng and Sunny Wong, GTC points leader Huang Hsi Chan in the D2 Lamborghini and the JRM Lamborghini of round four winner Will Bamber, Huang though holding out his rivals to claim his third win of the season.

Meanwhile, in the GT4 category, a great battle between the pole-sitting Lotus Evora GT4 of Anthony Chan and Ray Mak and the points-leading McLaren 570S GT4 of David McIntyre and Roelof Bruins was unfolding, the Lotus in the end gaining the upper hand over the closing laps with the McLaren second and Chen Yinian and Lo Sze Ho in the KTM X-Bow GT4 third.

GT3 – Round#5

The action started immediately with a drag race between Bentley Team Absolute team-mates Andrew Kim and Adderly Fong down to turn one. The big loser was pole-sitter Kim who made way for his former GT Asia co-driver, but in the process was swamped by the rest of the field, led by Audi Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee who was forced deeper into the corner under brakes than he would have liked.

In the end though the Audi veteran emerged second, with JRM’s Li Chao and Maxime Jousse and FAW T2M’s Bao Jin Long in close pursuit. Lee closed in quickly on Fong as the Bentley driver began to suffer quickly from tyre wear in the intense heat – the mercury hovering above 35 degrees C – with Lee under fire from the former Porsche Carrera Cup Asia winner.

Morris Chen’s weekend quickly went sideways at turn four after contact with Kuo Kuo Hsin in the D2 Lamborghini, the FAW T2M team-boss forced down pit lane for repairs, rejoining in front of the battle for the race lead between Fong, Lee and Jousse.

At turn 11 on lap six it all went wrong for Fong as the leaders moved past Chen, taking a tighter line into the corner, Fong moving across to the apex just as Lee was making an inside move for the lead. Sadly the two made contact, spinning Fong hard into the inside wall which caused significant damage to the rear of the ‘Hard Memory’ Bentley, forcing the team’s retirement.

As the melee unfolded between the leaders, Jousse slipped through to the lead, extending his advantage with every lap to pit at the very end of the compulsory pit stop window, handing Li Jiaqi an impressive lead.

Unable to breach the gap to the leader before the compulsory stops, Marchy Lee elected to pit at the mid-point of the race, sending team-mate Alex Au out in pursuit of Jiaqi, and incredibly just a lap after taking over from Jousse, the Porsche driver spun on the exit of turn four, handing Au an unassailable lead with just 20-minutes left on the clock.

Au’s pace at the front was impressive, but more impressive was the speed of Audi’s Martin Rump and Porsche’s Martin Ragginger who began their charge through the pack, closely followed by the recovering pole-sitting Bentley with Weiron Tan now behind the wheel. The pack closed in quickly on Jiaqi, the JRM team-boss sadly spinning again as they closed in, making their path through to second a lot easier than it could have been as they looked to close down the almost 22-second deficit to Au up front.

Au countered to be mere tenths slower than the battle-pack behind him, but with less than ten minutes to go, the field was brought under the control of the safety car after a big off for points leader Xu Jia on the exit of turn ten. The Audi driver admitted afterwards he’d made an error and run wide on the exit. The hit was obviously a big one, tearing the rear wing and the right front wheel from the car, the #07 Audi coming to a stop in the middle of the circuit facing the opposite direction to the flow of traffic.

Fortunately he emerged from the car winded but unhurt, walking to waiting officials unaided, but for his race-winning R8 LMS GT3, it was game over.

With just minutes to go in the race, the safety car pulled off with Au making a great jump to lead to the line, Ragginger was caught out behind after expecting a restart at a later point, whilst for third-placed Martin Rump who was circulating at an incredible pace to be a distant third by the time the safety car appeared, he was back in full-attack mode, moving to second on the final lap at turn seven to cross the line behind Au, with Ragginger holding out a charging Chris van der Drift for fourth.

Weiron Tan was fifth across the line lamenting the effect the heat was having on tyre wear and brakes on the big front-engined Bentley, admitting that fifth was the best they could have hoped for in the conditions.

Sixth was China GT rookie Maxx Ebenal who helped Kuo Kuo Hsin to his best result of the year in the D2 Mercedes AMG GT3. Round four winner Melvin Moh crossed the line seventh in the second of the Audi Hong Kong R8s he shared with the returning Lim Keong Wee, whilst Li Jiaqi recovered to be eighth, just ahead of Terry Huang in the TSRT Audi he shared with Italian Max Wiser, the pair admitting that their engine issues in the heat were continuing to effect their pace.

Ultimately Hiroki Yoshimoto would cross the line as the final classified finisher in the second of the FAW T2M Porsche’s, the team one of the fastest on the circuit in the closing stages, but a lap down after the opening lap contact at turn four.