Andrew Haryanto and Bhurit Bhirombhakdi returned to the top step of the podium as the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup took to the 5.807km Japanese track of Suzuka for round seven and eight of the 2019 season.
- Haryanto wins race one as Bhirombhakdi wins race two
- Haryanto secures second seat on 2020 Suzuka 10 Hours Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup entry
- Title decision postponed for the season-finale
Absolute Racing eight car entry was absolutely stunning this weekend at Suzuka, including series newcomer George Nakas from Australia, who scored points for Challenger Trophy category.
With a win and a podium finish Andrew Haryanto got a seat on the Cup entry for the Suzuka 10 Hours in 2020, a prize available to the highest GT3 points-scorer over the Japan race weekend. He will join Chinese driver Anthony Liu, who already got his ticket in the team for the Japanese event.
With the bad weather disrupting the race weekend programme, the qualifying session ahead of round seven saw Andrew Haryanto clinch his first pole position of the season, with Alex Au alongside and Yasser Shahin and Bhurit Bhirombhakdi on the second row.
On Saturday Au took his third pole position of the season in the shortened, 10-minute qualifying session – rescheduled after Friday’s torrential rains – with a scorching lap of 2:04.633 on his very last run of the session. However, Au would start the race carrying the maximum 50kg success ballast, with Bhirombhakdi alongside with 10kg and second row starter Haryanto carrying 30kg.
The first race of the weekend started behind the safety-car due to the tricky weather conditions. With the advantage of clear track ahead, Haryanto got away well, immediately pulling a gap from Au. But his Hong Kong rival was not easy to shake. Mid-way through the 13-lap race though, as track conditions improved, Au was confident enough to resume his challenging, setting the fastest lap of the race in his pursuit and with it claiming the Pirelli Best Lap trophy. Au reduced the gap to the Indonesian racer, but he ran out of time to get close enough to make a move. The reigning champion took the flag and a well deserved first win of the season.
Behind the leading pair, Shahin was running third ahead of Bhirombhakdi until a spin by the Australian at the notorious Spoon Curve saw the Thai driver pass him and move up into podium contention.
Bates took fifth ahead of Challenger Trophy winner Vincent Floirendo and Cup and GT competition newcomer George Nakas. Chinese driver Zhang Dongqi crossed the finish line in second of the GT4 field.
Saturday’s race saw Bhirombhakdi moving first when the lights went out. Further back Tony Bates made an audacious move on the inside of Yasser Shahin to briefly climb to fourth, but the championship leader quickly reclaimed the position and set off on the hunt for Haryanto up ahead.
In dry conditions, Bhirombhakdi was untouchable at the front of the field after reaching the first place. Behind him though, Au, Haryanto and Shahin were battling it out. Haryanto to close up to Au, who was carrying 50kg of success ballast, and made his move in the last quarter of the race to seize second. Shahin increased pace and snatched the final podium place in the final stages of the penultimate lap from Au.
Bates repeated a fifth place-finish again, crossing the finish line ahead of Challenger Trophy winner Floirendo of Ensport Motorsport by Absolute Racing and Cup debutant Nakas, who continued his impressive debut in the Cup. FEA’s Wang Dengjia was second at the flag in the GT4 category.
With the title showdown set for the season’s finale at Malaysia, on November 23rd and 24th, five Absolute Racing drivers remain in GT3 championship contention, all separated by just 34 points: championship leader Shahin (108 points); Au (97); Haryanto (93); Bhirombhakdi (89) and Bates (74 points).
In the race to the GT4 title, FEA’s Sheng Yanwen retains the lead on 67 points. Second in the standings lies teammate Wang Dengjia on 54 points.
Ingo Matter (Team Director):“Congratulations to Andrew and Bhurit who delivered great performances and wins this weekend here in Japan. The cars ran smoothly the all weekend and the drivers behaved themselves pretty well on a tricky racetrack. Great to see the improvement of Wang and Georges over the weekend and some other happy faces in the paddock. The championship battle is wide open with two races left. We’re looking forward to seeing this season’s final installment of the title battle in November in Sepang.”
Andrew Haryanto (Race 1 – P1):“The safety car start definitely helped me in race one, so I managed to catch Alex a bit off guard, I think. I had a gap from thereon – because I had good visibility and I knew where the water was – it was pretty safe for me at the front. My race two start wasn’t very good. The car in front of me didn’t go as fast as I thought it would, so Bhurit got away. We knew that we had to catch Bhurit as he was the only guy with 10kg. I was lucky I didn’t spin or anything. It was a good weekend.”
Bhurit Bhirombhakdi (Race 2 – P1): “I didn’t perform very well actually in race one. I couldn’t see anything. There was water spraying and it was impossible to overtake. I had a good start for the race two. The race was what I had wanted to do, and I was lucky to make it.”
Alex Au (Race 1 – P2):“The safety car really didn’t help in race two. I wasn’t so much caught off guard, but the closer I got the more spray I got, so it wasn’t good for building a lap. You really have to learn how to drive the track first, so I backed off a bit and worked out how to drive the circuit, and then I pushed again. Towards the end of the race, I saw that everything had settled and conditions were better, so I pushed a little bit more just to see what the car could do.”
Yasser Shahin (Race 2 – P3):“I’m pleased with the result, given that it’s was first time at Suzuka. I think I had a pretty good start. I actually thought I had excellent pace. I settled into a good pace. A few laps in, I think I lost a bit and then found it and put it together for the last five or six laps. I think I was even faster, not slower. After Andrew overtook Alex you could just see Alex was weak in one, two, three. I found a few extra horsepower in the lungs and pushed a bit. I wasn’t far behind him and he did the courteous thing and made way.”
Vincent Floirendo (Race 1&2 – Challenger Trophy winner):“It was my first time in Suzuka. Thursday during practice, it was dry. The track was very difficult actually, but I was improving with better times by the second practice. And then it rained! I was behind Tony [Bates], and there was zero visibility, so we had to leave a gap. I just kept my pace, kept it safe – I could feel the car aquaplaning at some corners. It was a good race. I couldn’t get used to the track. I was learning a lot from the racing today. Slowly, my laps times were getting better. Hopefully next time! I need more time on this track. It’s a very challenging circuit.”
Pictures @ Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup