Suzuka, June 25, 2017 – It was a weekend of celebrations and tears for Audi drivers in Rounds 5 and 6 of the Blancpain GT Series Asia at the iconic Japanese Suzuka Circuit. Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong took their maiden series victory for Audi Hong Kong after a storming drive in Round 5 to lead the championship, while Alessio Picariello and Jeffrey Lee’s impressive Pro-Am teamwork secured them a podium finish in Round 6. However after a top three finish in Round 5, Sunday brought heartbreak for the OD Racing Team pair of Aditya Patel and Mitch Gilbert when victory was cruelly snatched from their grasp in a race-ending tyre blowout.
“The Audi R8 LMS showed excellent pace at Suzuka this weekend. Congratulations to all our drivers, and particularly Audi Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong on their maiden Blancpain GT Series Asia victory,” commented Martin Kuehl, Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia. “Alessio Picariello and Jeffrey Lee have proved to be the ideal Pro/Am pairing, showing just how competitive this driver combination can be.”
At the season mid-point and having topped the championship leaderboard after Round 5, Marchy Lee and Thong leave Suzuka second in the title chase, just eight points from the top of the leaderboard, while Gilbert and Patel remain very much in contention, 13 points adrift of the Audi Hong Kong pair.
Rounds 3 and 4 of the Audi R8 LMS Cup, held at Suzuka just two weeks ago, had given the Audi teams a well-received opportunity to get to grips with the technical track, and the Blancpain weekend got underway with strong qualifying for the Audi teams, with seven occupying the top 10 after the second session.
An excellent getaway from third by Marchy Lee at the start of Round 5 saw him immediately gain a position to go second. Patel was nudged out at the rolling start before coming under attack from his rivals, but held on to third. Marchy Lee was a man on a mission though, diving into the race lead by the end of the opening lap and putting his foot down to pull away.
Mindful of the seven second pit stop success penalty, courtesy of Audi Hong Kong’s second place finish in Round 4, Marchy pushed hard to create as much of a gap as possible before handing the car over to Thong. Cool heads in the Audi Hong Kong garage saw a seamless pit stop, with Thong rejoining in second. The 21-year-old Hong Kong driver came out fighting, snatching back the lead and setting off towards the flag with Gilbert in third. Thong crossed the line more than 16 seconds clear of his closest challenger, with Gilbert taking the final podium spot.
The Japanese duo of Naoto Takeda and Takuya Shirasaka took another podium for Audi, finishing third in the Am/Am category for KCMG.
Sunday brought rain for Round 6, adding the challenge of a greasy track for the 28-strong field. Starting from pole amongst an all-Audi two front rows, Picariello got away well to lead the pack followed by Gilbert running a strong second, however the Safety Car was called out almost immediately. Picariello and Gilbert again got away well at the restart, but KCMG by Champion Racing’s Martin Rump hit the barriers, triggering full course yellows. Rump was able to get the car going again, he and Rick Yoon finishing 14th.
As the rain increased, the drivers struggled for traction, with Picariello recovering well from a brief off, but Thong caught out at the restart and spinning onto the grass before rejoining.
The strong run by the 23-year-old Gilbert, a perfectly-timed driver changeover and storming charge from Patel saw the OD Racing Team seize the race lead going in to the second half. However, the lead changed several times before Patel was able to decisively pull away at the front, stretching a gap of almost four seconds. Then, disaster struck. With just 15 minutes remaining on the clock, the Audi R8 LMS picked up debris causing a puncture and a dramatic tyre blowout.
Jeffrey Lee, putting in one of the strongest drives of his career, kept the J-Fly by Absolute Racing car in podium contention throughout his stint, despite the treacherous conditions and intense challenges from his rivals. He crossed the line third, securing another podium finish for Audi.
The Blancpain GT Series Asia remains in Japan for Rounds 7 and 8 at the Fuji Speedway from August 19 to 20.