Rounds 9 and 10 of the Audi R8 LMS Cup in Taiwan only added fuel to the fire ahead of what is sure to be an explosive competition at the 2016 season finale. This issue of the Cup newsletter takes you through the action that unfolded at the Penbay International Circuit in Taiwan. This month we explore how much of an impact the race success ballast can have on drivers' performances and we take a look at how competitors manage life on the road during a racing season. We also met with Taiwan star, and new 2016 Am Cup Champion, Jeffrey Lee. Don’t miss a minute as the latest Cup news comes straight to your inbox.
Alessio Picariello of MGT Team by Absolute (151 points) seized his chances over the Taiwan double-header race weekend to catapult himself into a 3-point championship lead in the Audi R8 LMS Cup. Just behind him sits Alex Yoong of Audi TEDA Racing Team (148 points), with Castrol Racing Team’s Rahel Frey (137 points) in close pursuit. Jeffrey Lee of Team Audi Volkswagen Taiwan also stole the show on his home turf, securing the 2016 Am Cup title on Sunday.
The day of action started with a stellar performance from Rahel Frey in Round 9. She got an early jump on pole-sitter, Alex – who carried an extra 50 kilos of race success ballast – and put clean air between herself and her competitors to cruise to the finish line. Alessio took her cue, getting past Martin Rump of Champion Racing Team and then Alex to move into second place, a position he held until the chequered flag. Martin also managed to get by Alex in Round 9 to claim his fourth podium of an impressive debut season with the Cup.
In the Am Cup class, Taiwan native Jeffrey Lee drove to victory, clinching the 2016 Am Cup title in front of local fans, with three races still to go in the season. Rick Yoon of Phoenix Racing Asia and Johnson Huang of Absolute Racing finished second and third in the class.
In the afternoon’s Round 10, Alessio drove to his maiden Cup win ahead of Rahel in second. Further back, Alex was embroiled in a tussle with Martin. After brief contact between the two, Martin suffered a burst tyre, bringing him into the pits early and allowing Alex to pick up more vital championship points with a third place finish. Cheng Congfu of FAW-VW Audi Racing Team and Aditya Patel of Team Audi R8 LMS Cup fought valiantly behind him, but in the end, they had to settle for fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Marchy Lee of Team Audi Hong Kong started the weekend in second overall, but saw repeated collisions with Jan Kisiel that put his car out of the race in Round 10. Jan managed to finish, but the two drivers will start with a 5-place grid penalty apiece for the Shanghai season finale next month for the altercation.
In the Am Cup, local star Jeffrey Lee used Round 10 to round out a perfect weekend, claiming first place ahead of Am Cup challengers Rick Yoon and EN Sport by Absolute’s Vincent Floirendo.
Five drivers head into the final race weekend in mathematical contention for the title. Two races to go, one more push for glory, do not miss it!
The race success ballast is an element not seen from the grandstand, but one that weighs heavily on the track. As Rahel Frey shot past Alex Yoong in Round 9, her lack of extra weight versus Alex’s 50kg definitely played into her hands.
Introduced in 2014, the regulation was designed to maximise competition in the Audi R8 LMS Cup, equalising the inherent advantage for the top performers who line up at the front of the grid and adding to the complexity of drivers’ racing strategy. After each race, the success ballast is applied as a handicap to the first, second and third place drivers for the ensuing round. In the Audi R8 LMS Cup, the race success ballast is: 1st place - 50 kg; 2nd place - 35 kg; 3rd place - 20 kg.
Drivers must evaluate the various physical implications of carrying extra kilos. For example, the added weight puts pressure on a car’s braking system, causing more rapid wear and impacting a driver’s brake points over the circuit. It also hinders acceleration, passes and as drivers charge off from corners.
Since the ballast has been introduced, no driver carrying the 50kg ballast has ever climbed the top step of the podium. This season, even the coveted second place remained elusive until the penultimate race weekend when Rahel clinched second with the top ballast. This handicap is the equivalent to having a baby giraffe as a passenger during a race in the second-generation Audi R8 LMS car.
Rahel Frey and Marchy Lee are the only competitors thus far this season to climb a podium step while holding 50kg. And Rahel Frey is the sole driver to improve her position with the 50kg ballast in 2016. This extra weight can impact lap times by full seconds. Martin Rump recorded a 2:02.39 lap during the Superpole shootout heading into Round 5 in Sepang, but while carrying 50kg ballast, he couldn’t push past 2:03.88.
The 50kg ballast isn’t the only speedbump for the pros. The only drivers who have been able to top the podium while holding 35kg are Edoardo Mortara in Round 6, and Alessio Picariello who climbed the top step in Round 10. Alessio has battled with this ballast all season. After clinching consecutive second-place finishes carrying 35kg, he missed out on a podium hat-trick while carrying 35kg in Round 5.
Last – and certainly least – is the 20 kg race success ballast for drivers in third. Though only a fraction of the top handicap, this ballast still plays a role in results.
Heading to our season final in Shanghai, Alessio will carry an extra 50 kilos, Rahel will carry 35 and Alex will carry 20. With the final two races just around the corner, drivers and fans can see, this regulation is not to be taken lightly.
Life on the road is more than just a professional metaphor for race car drivers. Our drivers will have driven a total of 849.5 kilometres on the track in Rounds 1-12 of the Audi R8 LMS Cup’s fifth season. But to even get to the circuits in the 2016 race calendar, they need to travel more than 12,150 kilometres – and that’s if they were to go directly from one circuit to the next without other stops. In reality, that’s merely a fraction of their true travel route. For drivers like Alessio Picariello and Rahel Frey, the distance between China – the location of the season opener and finale – and their home nations of Belgium and Switzerland is more than 7,600 kilometres each way.
This mileage plays into preparation plans ahead of each race weekend. “I like to arrive a few days early to a race to start adjusting to the site and the time zone. I also try to drink a lot of water because that is extremely important to do in the days leading up to a race,” says current points-leader Alessio Picariello. But this approach is all part of the individual driving strategy that varies from competitor to competitor, building off a driver’s personal style, physical health and race season schedule. For our drivers now, all roads lead to Shanghai, China. How they manage the trip there, and, ultimately, how they negotiate the 5.5km-stretch of tarmac, will decide who is crowned champion of the Audi R8 LMS Cup.