Rnd#7/8 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup
Shanghai International Circuit, China
9-10 September, 2017
Heading into the penultimate event of the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup at Shanghai International Circuit in China, Shaun Thong was staring down the barrel of an opportunity to move into a championship podium position, having come into the round within striking distance of second-placed Alex Yoong, his Phoenix Racing Asia team-mate.
Ultimately the weekend – which saw the Audi TEDA Racing driver assisting Lim Keong Wee with his return to the Cup, subbing for team-boss Marchy Lee in the Audi Hong Kong entry – would deliver much behind the scenes work for the 21-year old, who managed to maintain his championship position after two strong Cup performances which delivered two finishes inside the top five.
Conditions had been changeable throughout the opening 13-lap race, whilst in the second race, contact with team-mate Alex Yoong had an affect on Thong’s overall performance, forcing him into points conservation mode ahead of the final event of the season in early-October.
“We didn’t quite have the performance in qualifying we were hoping for, so that put us a little bit further back than I would have liked to be,” Thong explained.
“I qualified quicker than points leader Alessio Picariello to start alongside him, and I was actually up to fourth pretty quickly before it got a little ugly mid-pack over the opening laps. I was still carrying success ballast from finishing on the podium in South Korea, and that was a little challenging as the conditions became slipperier mid race.
“Despite that I could still battle with my title rivals, but not make a passing move that would stick, so it was pretty processional in the end on my way to a fifth placed finish.”
Second qualifying would net Thong a second row starting position, three tenths slower than pole-sitting Belgian Dries Vanthoor and alongside Picariello. A strong start was thwarted by action ahead of him, but very quickly the #8 TEDA Racing Audi was locked in a battle for a podium finish before coming into contact with Yoong in a four-way fight for third.
“Things were going pretty well, but the car setup wasn’t where it needed to be, so I just couldn’t break away from Mitch (Gilbert) and Alex (Yoong), and that meant we couldn’t escape what was probably inevitable contact,” Thong admitted.
“Mitch had squeezed me onto the grass on the exit of turn 15, and that allowed him to pull alongside on the run down the main straight which opened the door for Alex, and when I turned into one, we made contact and after that the car wasn’t 100%.”
Despite the setback, Thong was able to regain the position just half a lap later, holding the three-time Cup champion all the way to the chequered flag to claim a fourth placed finish behind newly crowned champion Picariello, Franky Cheng and Dries Vanthoor.
“Congratulations to Alessio for winning the championship, he put together an almost perfect season and proved the value of qualifying at the front of the field because once away from the pack, you’re relatively safe,” Thong admitted.
“When you start mid pack, it’s more of a risk because the cars are so closely matched, and when you’re looking for mere inches under brakes and in cornering, you can tear up your tyres pretty quickly too, so that can have an affect on your ability to move forward.
“We’re still in the championship hunt for a podium position, so all is not lost, and I’m still fifth in points and just seven points behind Alex (Yoong) who is the outgoing champion, and 16 points from second.
“Zhejiang is a circuit very few people have seen before, much less competed on, so it will level the playing field out again, so I look forward to a return to the podium and to bringing home some more trophies.”
For Thong though his next commitment will be back alongside team-mate Marchy Lee in the Blancpain GT Series Asia as that championship turns to Shanghai on 22-24 September for the penultimate round of the year, ahead of the final event of the 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup at Zhejiang on 7-8 October.