Rounds 3 and 4 of the Audi R8 LMS series resulted in two entertaining and controversial races. They were held at Ordos in Inner Mongolia where the world’s fastest one make series continued to impress. Audi’s support of the series has assisted in making China the biggest market in the world for their brand. Audi provides for the series their LMS GT3 spec V10 powered car; producing 560HP it is one of the world’s most tried and tested GT race cars. The resources provided by Audi are impressive by anyone’s standard, including first class VIP hospitality for drivers, guests and sponsors. The cars are prepared by a team of European engineers and mechanics with some based in Asia and many flown in for each event, they are supported ably by Chinese, Malaysian and Philipino mechanics trained in the European way. Each car is equipped with video data logging and all drivers are debriefed by a team of dedicated data engineers. A unique point for this series is the open data principle that allows all data to be shared, giving drivers further down the field access to front running driver’s techniques and set up information.
Ordos is one of the newer circuits to be built in China and like many of their circuits a lot of thought has gone into the incorporation of Chinese symbols. The aerial view of the circuit represents a running Mongolian pony whilst the incredibly ornate grandstand replicates an eagles wings, of which there are many as the circuit is located on the edge of the Gobi desert. Which incidentally sweeps across the track regularly causing havoc for the drivers.
Interestingly the circuit is located in the newer Kangbashi city. This has been built to house more than 1 million people most of whom will be employed in the proposed vast coal mines planned for the region. As it is though is it home to only around 30,000 and as such has been termed one of China’s ghost towns. The city has an eerie end of the world feeling with the skyline full of massive unfinished skeletal tower blocks and is serviced by an impressive series of 6 lane roads that any city in Australia would be jealous of. It comes complete with operational traffic lights and almost no traffic.
Qualifying at Ordos took place under a new format where the fastest lap secured pole position for round 3 and the second fastest lap secured pole position for round 4. The 2012 Audi R8 LMS Champion Marchy Lee took the fastest lap for the first pole and Alex Yoong from Malaysia with the second fastest lap in the session took pole for race 2 on the weekend.
Audi factory DTM driver Rahel Frey from Switzerland took a close third in qualifying and was confident she could challenge for the win.
A new addition to the series was “Franky” Cheng Congfu, direct from competing in the Le Mans 24 hr race. Pole position in the amateur class was Alex Au for both races.
The controversy started on the run up to the line for the rolling start in race one. Some confusion with the starter resulted in March Lee being slow away from pole position and Alex Yoong jumping slightly early on the green light. The result for Yoong was a substantial lead going into the first corner and one that would keep him at the track late into the evening with stewards meetings.
Yoong managed to increase his lead over Marchy early on and Marchy in turn had to keep a close eye on Rahel Frey who was matching the front two drivers on pace. Recent British F3 podium place getter Sun Zheng was out of the race early with a technical issue. Frey was pushing Marchy hard for second place when she made a mistake and spun out on the tricky Ordos surface, falling back to seventh and allowing Marchy to work on closing the lead to Yoong.
Further back amateur pole sitter Alex Au was passed by French driver Hugo Ripert. A decisive moment came on lap ten with Marchy making an aggressive lunge at Yoong whilst lapping a slower car. Yoong anticipated the move and shut the door firmly thereby sealing the result for himself and crossing line first. Followed by Marchy Lee with Adderly Fong in third place. Fong made a great start from 7th on the grid and played a patient game in working his way to a well deserved podium place, followed closely by “Franky”.
The podium was somewhat tense due to the nature of the start. The results remained provisional until late in the evening when the race stewards decided that Alex Yoong had jumped the start. With the subsequent time penalty Yoong was relegated to 6th place and Marchy took the win that he thought he deserved. In the amateur Cup Au repassed Ripert on the penultimate lap the take the class win.
Round 4 saw Alex Yoong start from pole with Marchy next to him on the grid, behind him the impressive young Swiss driver Rahel Frey and guest driver Kiwi Earl Bamber. Bamber was driving Aaron Kwok’s R8 as the famous singer had other commitments for this race.
Yoong made a textbook rolling start and took the lead into turn one, to set up what would become a dominate win for him. Behind Marchy Lee was passed by Frey to put her into second, the rest of the pack held station through the tricky turn one turn two section of the track. The action for the first two laps was intense between “Franky” and Bamber, with Adderly Fong again playing a patient game and waiting for his chances.
On lap three Marchy hit Frey in an aggressive move that saw her spin down the order. The following lap Marchy pushed too hard and spun into the Ordos gravel and was out of the race immediately. Alex Au again headed the amateur class with a good lead as Hugo Ripert pitted with damage from an earlier altercation. The action was fraught throughout the field and this allowed Alex Yoong to open a 5 second gap out front. On lap five Sun Zheng’s car stopped on the main straight bringing out the safety car to bunch the field back up. By this time “Franky” was up to second place but was to fall victim to a puncture behind the safety car, which necessitated a pit stop. He rejoined the back of the pack and then began a storming drive back through the field.
All this action benefitted Adderly Fong and Earl Bamber who found themselves in second and third position. Yoong used all his experience to make a perfect restart, as Franky and Frey began an aggressive fightback through the field. With four laps to go Bamber passed Fong into turn two and then preceded to close the gap down to Yoong.
By the last lap Bamber was in a position to challenge Yoong, but laps ran out for him. Adderly Fong finished third on the road in another smart drive, however he would take the points for second place as Earl Bamber being a guest driver was not eligible for points in the series.
After pitting for a new tyre “Franky” Cheng Confu showed his recent Le Mans experience had benefitted him by charging through the field. He came together with Taiwan Audi dealer driver Jeffery lee on the last corner in an aggressive pass which ultimately did not work and saw Lee and “Franky” bash doors all the way to the finish line. Alex Au took another fine win in the amateur class.
The next Audi R8 LMS Cup race will be held at the exciting new Inje track in Korea in August. This is the series second year and sees it expand from China to Korea, Malaysia and the final round being held at the world’s toughest street circuit Macau. Unlike some earlier one make series based in Asia, the Audi R8 LMS Cup is here to stay.
Alex Yoong now leads the championship on 77 points, followed by Adderly Fong on 69 and Marchy Lee on 51.
Story by Mark Williamson
Photos by Mikko David