Dubai Autodrome, Dubai 11-13 January, 2018
Shaun Thong and his Phoenix Racing Asia team-mates made their Dubai 24-Hour debut with one of the strongest lineups of Hong Kong stars ever assembled, contesting the twice around the clock classic in the new Audi R8 LMS GT4, the five icons crossing the line over a lap up on the field with an almost faultless run before being handed a post-race penalty for a driver grading issue, dropping them to second.
Joined by his mentor and Asian GT team-mate Marchy Lee, motorsport pioneer Charles Kwan, and established Hong Kong GT stars Darryl O’Young and Adderly Fong in what was arguably the most experienced and successful driver lineup in the history of Hong Kong motorsport, the team were quickly on top of the new R8, despite the fact that it was a markedly different car to drive than the GT3 R8.
“The circuit was incredible, and the R8 GT4 was impressive,” Thong admitted. “I wasn’t sure what to expect after three seasons running with the R8 GT3, and whilst it was clearly different in the handling and the aero to the GT3, it was an easy car to extract speed from, and that played into our hands perfectly – the road car air conditioning didn’t do us too much harm either!”
Starting from fifth in class after a sterling effort by Marchy Lee in qualifying, the team suffered an early setback with a deflating tyre, dropping them back to tenth before fighting back to lead the field by the 12-hour mark, the five-man team consolidating their advantage to be more than two laps up throughout the closing stages of the race.
Despite a comfortable lead, a minor glitch in the paddle-shift system forced two early stops to replace the steering wheel, whilst Thong also suffered a tyre deflation, but apart from those setbacks, the car ran flawlessly for the full 24-hour distance.
“I completed three double-stints in the end,” Thong confirmed. “I got in for my first stint as the sun went down, and that was interesting because the track lighting wasn’t all that great so there were plenty of blind spots, but I enjoyed it. I did a second double-stint just after midnight, then another one early in the morning, and by that stage we were well in front, but despite the best efforts of Marchy, Charles, Adderly and Darryl, we were penalized post-race for an infringement which none of us expected.
“It turned out that international driver gradings issued at the end of last year had changed for one of our drivers, and that classified them as being unable to complete more than a certain time behind the wheel, they completed around 20-minutes more in the end, so that’s what the penalty related to, frustrating that it wasn’t made obvious before the race, but those are the rules. Ultimately we dropped back to second behind the other Phoenix Racing Audi, so it was still a 1-2 finish for the team.
“It’s always frustrating to lose a race in this fashion, but we did everything we could to win the race, and in our minds, we achieved that goal with some very good driving and some great team strategy. It was a good event for us, for the Tarmac Works/Race24HK Audi team and for Hong Kong, and I was proud to be a part of such an important team and hope that we get the chance to do it again some time soon.”
For Thong his focus now turns to the forthcoming season, with a number of announcements due in the coming weeks about his 2018 schedule.
“I can’t say too much just yet, but you could expect to see me back behind the wheel of an R8, and within the Asian region somewhere, beyond that, you’ll just have to wait!”