This past weekend, the Audi R8 LMS Cup was at Korea’s F1 track for a thrilling double header, featuring hard-fought battles, a dominant win by Cup debutant Jean-Karl Vernay and a dramatic victory for Rahel Frey. The first all-Asian team at the Nürburgring 24 Hours took a fantastic 12th-place finish in Germany, further extending the reach of the Audi Sport customer racing Asia programme. Back in the Cup, the standing starts have proven to be an exciting new innovation. With Rounds 3&4 complete, we look ahead to the Cup’s debut in Chinese Taipei. Finally, we meet series newcomer Thomas Fjordbach of Denmark. Join us and read all about it!
Swiss female driver Rahel Frey leads the Audi R8 LMS Cup championship following her Round 4 victory this past weekend at the Korea International Circuit. In a complete reversal of fortunes from her disappointing Round 3, the Castrol Racing Driver drove from 15th on the grid to cross the line second, before a penalty to Jean-Karl Vernay promoted her to first.
Frey now leads rival Aditya Patel, fourth in Round 3 and third in Round 4, by just two points, with Thomas Fjordbach third in the championship standings. In the Amateur Cup, Ashraff Dewal leads Daniel Bilski, with each driver taking a category win in Korea.
The weekend featured several drivers making their Cup debuts, including Vernay, as well as former Formula 1 test driver Ryo Fukuda, Andrew Kim, who will join the Cup for the rest of the season, and Jake Parsons, who races in Formula Masters China Series, part of the Volkswagen Group China motorsport family.
An exciting Superpole saw Vernay beat out Frey for pole position and the action started from the moment the lights went out in Round 3. Vernay scored a dominant victory in Saturday’s race, with Fjordbach second and Fukuda third. But the race also spelled disappointment for Frey and Audi Korea driver K.O. You, who were both forced to retire early.
Redemption came on Sunday, however, with Frey’s victory – and championship lead – and You’s second-place finish. Patel finished third, rounding out a solid weekend for the Team Audi R8 LMS Cup driver.
The Audi Sport customer racing Asia team of Alex Yoong, Marchy Lee, Franky Cheng and Shaun thong made history at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, with a fantastic 12th-place result from more than 150 entries and becoming the first all-Asian Audi team to compete at the iconic endurance race.
“It’s the first time for all of us racing together and we’re pretty happy,” said Yoong, a Cup regular along with Lee and Cheng. “It’s a challenging and unique race track due to frequent weather changes, high speed corners and the traffic is like being on a highway. It’s all about rhythm here!”
After qualifying 32nd, the Audi race experience team elected Yoong to take the first stint in the #15 Audi R8 LMS ultra. The first six hours went smoothly, with Lee taking over from Yoong, followed by Thong, who races in the Audi Sport TT Cup, and Cheng. At night, a mix of dry and wet weather conditions added further challenges. Describing the experience of driving at night, Lee said: “I’ve been racing for 20-something years, but racing here at night was insane!”
Overnight the team found success, making up 10 places to find themselves 15th with seven hours remaining. The sun came out for the final hours of the race and the team moved up to 14th and then, in the final hour of the race, 12th.
“To finish a 24-hour race is very difficult and we have to thank the Audi race experience team for all their hard work – the car didn’t have a single problem this weekend,” Lee said. “This is our first year of the programme and we’re hoping – and aiming – to do better next year.”
One of the new innovations for the 2015 season, the introduction of a standing start for the second race of each race weekend has been a welcome addition for both drivers and fans.
“I think it’s what GT racing needs,” India’s Aditya Patel of Team Audi R8 LMS Cup said. “The noise of the cars on the grid is great for fans. As a driver, I think the combination of rolling and standing starts is perfect. It’s going back to how we started with go karts and formula cars.”
Both Patel and winner Rahel Frey had a strong start in Round 4, with Frey going from 15th on the grid up to seventh by the end of the first lap, before working her way to her first victory of the 2015 season.
Frey knew she needed to have a good start in order to make her way through the field, but the Swiss driver for Castrol Racing Team said that standing starts were never 100 per cent.
“I think you’re always a little bit nervous for a standing start because it’s never 100 per cent guaranteed,” Frey said. “You set your position and then the launch control system initiates so there’s less knowns, there’s less control. As a driver, I’m not always comfortable with this, but it’s something you have to learn, to trust in the technology.”
The Audi R8 LMS Cup makes its debut at the Penbay International Circuit in July and for Jeffrey Lee, who has raced with the Cup since it began in 2012, Rounds 5&6 will be his first opportunity to race at home.
“I’m really looking forward to racing in Chinese Taipei,” Lee said. “I have a lot of friends there. I would also like to bring the Audi R8 LMS Cup to my home and let people see the truly international field and high standard of racing.”
Lee, who had a great weekend with a fifth-place finish in Round 3 and a fourth-place finish in Round 4, said that he has a few advantages going into the double-header at the 3.5 km Penbay International Circuit.
“I usually go to the circuit once a month to practice, so I’m familiar with the characteristics of the track,” Lee said. “The weather is relatively hot, but we’ve gotten used to it so that could be another advantage.”
Asked to describe the circuit, Lee said that the combination of the narrow track and tight corners made it a challenge. With the heat, tire strategy was also an important factor. With the challenges and the competitiveness of the Cup, Lee predicted a tough battle as the championship approaches its season mid-point.
“The Audi R8 LMS Cup car is relatively wide and there are not so many overtaking opportunities and contact is also very common,” Lee said. “I think the races will involve a lot of hard fights and fierce competition.”
Denmark’s Thomas Fjordbach, 22, is one of several young talents competing in the Audi R8 LMS Cup. This month, we catch up with the Federal-Mogul Motorparts Racing Team driver about racing in Asia and being part of the Audi R8 LMS Cup.
Why did you start racing in Asia and why did you want to be part of the Audi R8 LMS Cup?
The reason I came to Asia is because I want to be a part of what is going on here and because the market here is growing. Two years ago, I raced in the Scirocco R-Cup China, which was great because all the cars were the same – it was driver against driver, like the Audi R8 LMS Cup.
What’s your experience been of the Audi R8 LMS Cup?
This weekend’s been better. In Zhuhai, in the first race I forgot to press the Push-to-Pass button and five cars got past me at the start. I ended up overtaking four of them again, but I had already made my race that much harder.
You have a busy 2015. Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing.
In addition to the Cup, I’m racing in Europe with the Blancpain Sprint Series in an Audi R8 LMS ultra.
The Audi R8 LMS Cup makes it easy for me to live overseas [in Denmark] and come here to race. The set-up of the series means that we’re all under one central structure – it would be much harder if I had to arrange my own team and do everything on my own.
How did you get your start in motorsport?
I started six years ago in karting and I did three years of karting. Now I’ve done three complete years of cars, with this being my fourth year and my third in Asia.