Shaun Thong, who had been racing Audi TT cup in Germany, races TCR Asia and races Audi R8 LMS Cup is now showing his GT3 expertise.
After ten challenging rounds on Asia’s leading circuits, Hong Kong’s Shaun Thong leads the competitive Blancpain GT Series Asia championship with two races remaining after Shanghai International Circuit last weekend. His team-mate Marchy Lee and him won their second race of the season.
Thong was full of confident coming back to Shanghai, after two weeks competing at the same track during the Audi R8 LMS Cup, and despite inclement conditions which saw almost every session conducted in rain, he knew that the #5 Audi team would be in a position to challenge for the championship points lead despite coming in 33 points down on their title rivals.
From the outset it was clear that in any condition, the Audi R8 LMS GT3 was the car to beat, Thong and Lee and their Phoenix Racing Asia team-mates Alex Yoong and Alex Au were right in the mix at the front of the field, whilst their Audi R8 LMS Cup rivals Franky Cheng, Alessio Picariello, Mitch Gilbert and Martin Rump were also in the leading pack.
Qualifying saw Marchy Lee again battling at the front of the field in his session, to claim a second row start, whilst for Thong, he would again qualify faster than his mentor, but would ultimately start the second 60-minute race from the third row whilst their title rivals in the Mercedes would start further back.
On a damp track, Lee stormed off the start after the team elected to swap to slick tyres on the grid, pulling alongside the leaders on the run into turn one and just getting the nose of the re-liveried Audi Hong Kong Audi to the front before the pack forced him wide and back to eighth by the exit of turn three.
From there the Hong Kong veteran forged his way back through the field to pit in second place, the team stopping for what seemed like an eternity with the addition of five extra seconds success as a penalty for their Fuji podium last time out.
Despite that Shaun Thong charged out of the pits to be third and catching former Audi R8 LMS Cup rival Additya Patel with just under 30-minutes still on the clock. Patel though gifted the 21-year old with an opportunity after spinning on the wet astro-turf on the exit of the final corner as Thong closed in giving the #5 team second.
That soon became the lead after a drive-through penalty was handed to the race leader, handing Thong a lead he would not soon relinquish. Second win for the season and a 25-point addition to their points tally saw Thong and Lee move to within eight points of the championship points lead.
Starting the car for the second Shanghai race, Thong was faced once more with treacherous wet conditions, but despite wanting to challenge the lead pack, he drove a conservative stint to hold position ahead of the compulsory pit stop to hand over to Lee. Again forced to pit longer than their rivals – ten seconds this time due to their round nine victory – Lee battled hard to work his way from eighth to fourth, but was ultimately forced back to fifth in the final laps, mindful of the fact that the #5 team had now taken the championship points lead.
“We couldn’t have asked for much more this weekend,” Thong admitted afterwards. “Our experience at Shanghai I am sure helped to set the car up for the conditions, but the team made some great choices – especially with tyres in that opening race, and we were able to make the most of it.
“Our focus has always been the championship, so we were mindful of that and not getting caught up in other peoples incidents, so whilst we were capable in the second race of battling further forward, there are also risks associated with that, and as a result, we’ve turned a 33-point deficit into a four point lead heading into the final round at Zhejiang in two weeks time.”
The final event of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia will see Thong and Lee at the new Zhejiang International Circuit on 6-8 October September, a venue where just a week before Thong will compete in the final round of the Audi R8 LMS Cup in which the 21-year old is sitting fifth in points and looking to close out his first full season with victory.
Shanghai International Circuit, China (23 September, 2017)
Rnd#9 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia (60-minutes)
1. 5. Lee/Thong (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 26-laps
2. 86. Gilbert/Patel (Audi R8 LMS GT3) +2.578
3. 6. Yoong/Au (Audi R8 LMS GT3) +22.833
4. 66. Stuvik/Nemoto (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) +30.585
5. 20. Fong/Inthrapuvasak (Bentley Continental GT3) +43.847
Shanghai International Circuit, China (24 September, 2017)
Rnd#10 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia (60-minutes)
1. 99. Dienst/O’Young (Porsche GT3-R) – 24-laps
2. 6. Au/Yoong (Audi R8 LMS GT3) +16.398
3. 86. Patel/Gilbert (Audi R8 LMS GT3) +21.302
4. 98. Bamber/Hardeman (Porsche GT3-R) +31.059
5. 5. Thong/Lee (Audi Hong Kong Audi R8 LMS GT3) +58.219