As the mercury nudged 34 degrees Celsius, Audi teams once again dominated the China GT Championship double-header held at the 4.3km Zhuhai International Circuit in southern China. Audi R8 LMS Cup star Marchy Lee and Audi Hong Kong teammate Alex Au took their first GT3 win of the series in Round 5, with Estonian Cup youngster Martin Rump slicing through the field in the closing stages of the race to finish just behind the pair in second in his Kings Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 alongside teammate Wang Liang.
Rump was to repeat his dramatic, white-knuckled charge in Round 6, this time going one step further to record a second win of the season for himself and Wang.
The double-win continues the remarkable streak for the Audi R8 LMS GT3 in the championship, with the car being driven to victory in each of the six races so far this season.
While it was another strong weekend for the Lee/Au and Rump/Wang pairings, there was disappointment for Kings Racing team principle Xu Jia, who led the driver standings going into the weekend. An error saw him hit the barrier in Round 5 and the resulting damage could not be repaired in time for him to start Round 6.
After Round 6, Wang sits atop the GT3 driver standings on 85 points with Rump second on 83, having missed the first race weekend of the season.
In the GTC races, Audi R8 LMS Cup team Tianshi Racing Team (TSRT) secured their first win of the season when Cup driver David Chen and Jiao Peng took the chequered flag in Round 6, also securing the top podium spot for the Audi Challenge Trophy – a class for the highest finishing Audi R8 LMS Cup cars. The Spirit Z Racing pair of Wang Risheng and former Audi R8 LMS Cup driver Sun Zheng topped the Audi Challenge Trophy podium in Round 5 after finishing second overall.
Taking the opening stint for the #6 Audi Hong Kong entry Lee rocketed away as the lights went out, immediately diving up one place into second then building up a healthy margin before the mid-race handover to Au.
Behind the leaders, Max Wiser was making up for technical issues during qualifying which saw the #888 Tianshi Racing Team Audi post just two laps, ploughing through the field off the start from ninth on the grid to third in the running order.
Au took the reins of the #6 Phoenix Racing Asia-run Audi R8 LMS from Lee and blasted onto the track, taking the race lead with just 23 minutes remaining on the clock. Huang Chuhan, who had taken over from Wiser for TSRT, spun dropping the team to ninth by the flag.
However, it was Rump, taking the reins of his Kings Racing entry from Wang Liang in ninth, who was the man on the move, charging up to third after a number of breath-taking passes.
With just six minutes remaining, the drama intensified when Xu Jia crashed heavily into the barriers at the exit of turn ten. Although he walked away from the car unscathed, the incident brought out the safety car, closing up the field and reducing Au’s 26-second lead at the front to zero.
The race restarted with only enough time for a two-lap dash to the flag. Au showed his class and was untouchable securing his team’s first China GT Championship win of the season. For Rump, meanwhile in third, it was now or never. As a rival loomed in his mirrors, the Estonian made a last-gasp dash for second place, diving up the inside of the car in front on the final lap to make it an Audi 1-2 finish.
In the GTC race, Spirit Z Racing’s Sun Zheng and Wang Risheng took a hard-fought second place, with David Chen and Jiao Peng of Tianshi Racing Team just missing out on a podium finish in fourth. TSRT teammates Liang Kaifeng and Pu Shu, 11th in the race, joined the four on the Audi Challenge Trophy podium.
As the top qualifying Audi, Melvin Moh of Audi Hong Kong made a blinding start as the lights went out, diving up to second from third on the grid in the run into turn one. Lee, in the sister Audi Hong Kong car, started from the back of the pack courtesy of a post-race penalty after Round 5, but was quick to begin the fight back, picking his way up through the field as Moh dropped to third.
Lee was already up to fifth in the order by the time the pit window opened and he handed over to Au. Unfortunately, the mid-race point saw the retirement of the #888 of Wiser and Huang following a technical issue.
The second half of the race saw a battle of epic proportions. Lim Keong Wee, taking the second stint in the #16 Audi Hong Kong car, was promoted to second when the race leader landed a drive-through penalty, with teammate Au close behind in third and Rump, who had taken over from Wang in ninth position again, in indomitable form and on the power.
With 20 minutes remaining on the clock, a safety car period closed up the field and set the scene for an all-out attack in the closing stages. At the restart, Lim and Au were two abreast into turn one before becoming entangled in a five-car duel for position. In the high-speed melee, Au held on to second while a bold move around the outside by Rump saw the Estonian storm to fifth in the order. Lim lost out in the chaos and was pushed down to sixth.
As the field hurtled down the long main strait, Au’s rivals tore down the inside, a trio of professional drivers overhauling the seasoned amateur competitor and dropping him back three positions. That put Au one place behind Rump who had fought his way up to fourth. As the seconds ticked away, an adrenaline-fuelled charge by Rump saw him dive up to third, then second, and then take the fight to the race leader.
Seconds later, however, Rump found himself back down to third as the race-lead changed hands back and forth in the ferocious four-way battle at the front of the pack. As the 60-minute race clock showed just over two minutes remaining, Rump chose his moment perfectly seizing on a loss of momentum for the race leaders to get by both cars in one gargantuan leap into the lead, pulling away to a memorable victory.
The Audi Hong Kong duos of Lee/Au and Moh/Wee finished fifth and seventh respectively.
In the GTC race, David Chen and Jiao Peng took their debut series victory by a comfortable margin. Tianshi Racing Team-mates Liang Kaifeng and Pu Shu crossed the line fourth ahead of the Spirit Z Racing duo of Sun Zheng and Wang Risheng, making it three Audi teams in the top five.
The Audi R8 LMS GT3 will be back on track next month when the Blancpain GT Series Asia resumes, this time at Japan’s Fuji Speedway on August 19 and 20. The Audi R8 LMS Cup returns on September 9 and 10 for the penultimate double-header of the 2017 season at the Shanghai International Circuit in China.