Asia’s hottest one-make race series blazes into its 5th season with a brand new car, the 2nd gen R8 LMS. We catch up with the series in Sepang, Malaysia.
It’s a widely known fact that to become a top-flight racing driver, one needs to have not only the formidable financial ability to fund a campaign, but also to start racing from a very young age. But what if life’s trials and tribulations enabled you to acquire the resources but not encounter the opportunities to go racing in your youth? Well one solution to that is the single-make race series.
The single-make race series is one of the most popular motorsports formats around. With everyone using the same machinery (usually sourced from the manufacturer itself), the racing then becomes not only more affordable, but a lot closer and more exciting as well. Small wonder then, that the Audi R8 LMS Cup has found so much success.
Inaugurated in 2012, the R8 LMS Cup is Audi’s first single-make series, and also one of the most prestigious in Asia. Organised by Audi China, the 2016 season is held over six weekends and will visit the continent’s premier racetracks, including the Shanghai, Sepang and Korea F1 circuits. Like many other championships, the R8 LMS Cup features a diverse driver lineup, ranging from professional DTM, Endurance, GT and Touring Car racers (including Malaysian ex-F1 driver Alex Yoong) to passionate gentleman drivers who are in it just for the love of the sport.
What is it that makes the R8 LMS Cup so prestigious? Well, the car, obviously. This championship is unique in being the only one-make series to race a full-on, FIA-homologated GT3-spec car, identical to those run in professional Endurance and GT series’ around the world. Other high-profile championships, such as the Porsche Carrera Cup, Lamborghini Trofeo and Ferrari Challenge, all use vehicles that are one or two rungs further down the performance ladder.
Despite its high performance credentials however, the second-generation Audi R8 LMS shares many components with the road-going R8 supercar – about 50% in fact. Of those systems that have been changed, most were for convenience or safety reasons; these include the suspension (now much easier to make setup changes), the brakes (to withstand the constantly high temperatures and forces of racing) and the interior (stripped and caged for weight reduction and protection).
What hasn’t changed are the skeleton and beating heart of the car. The part-carbonfibre, part-aluminium Audi Space Frame chassis is identical in the R8 road car and LMS (albeit with a lightweight full-carbon body and aero package draped on top of the racer), as is the dry-sumped 5.2-litre engine. In fact the V10 in the race car is less powerful than that found in the R8 Plus road car (585hp plays 610hp) – an air intake restrictor ensuring horsepower doesn’t exceed the various race series’ regulations.
A tour of the R8 LMS and pit garage by Alex Yoong.
In fact so closely related are the road and race cars that they were developed in tandem for more than two years before launch to minimize compromises, and are even produced on the same assembly line at Neckarsulm in Germany.
If all that sounds like a recipe for success, that’s because it is. Amazingly, the new R8 LMS won the first event it ever took part in, the grueling 2015 ADAC Nürburgring 24h race, as well as securing a 1-2-3 finish in the Sepang 12h race later that year.
A lot of that could be down to the R8 LMS’ user-friendliness. This being a customer racing car, it needs to be approachable in addition to being fast. So despite being shorn of four wheel drive (as stipulated by FIA regulations), the combination of a quick-shifting pneumatically activated six-speed gearbox with paddle shifters, paired with ASR traction control, helps keep even inexperienced drivers pointing in the right direction.
So, what of the racing in Sepang? Well, in the first race, local hero Alex Yoong got the jump on the others at the rolling start, storming from 4th to 1st by Turn 1 and holding the lead till the end. Guest driver Edoardo Mortara (who normally races in DTM), who qualified on pole, briefly defended his lead before relinquishing it to Yoong, while female Swiss driver Rahel Frey overtook overall points leader Alessio Picariello late in the race and clinched 3rd.
Compared to the processional first race, the second race of the day was a much more nail biting affair. Following his earlier win, Yoong was slapped with a 50kg success ballast, and would end up finishing in 6th. Pole-sitter Mortara, who finished P2 earlier also had to carry ballast (35kg), and was hounded from lights to flag by 23-year old Picariello, who was nipping at his heels all the way to a finishing margin of just 0.5 seconds. Shadowing the lead pair was Frey, who was waiting to pounce on any mistakes made by them. None were made though, and she crossed the line in P3 to secure a double podium. Now who says females can’t drive, eh?
Picariello, Yoong and Frey on celebrate after race one.
Single-make racing may not have the glitz and glamour of F1, but it certainly has the capacity to provide some cracking action nonetheless. Key to its appeal though, is the resemblance to cars we might actually be able to see on the road. Becoming a pro race driver may be an impossibility for 99.9% of us, but thanks to one-make racing, we can at least keep alive the dream of someday battling wheel to wheel on track, even if only for a day or two.
The next round of the competition will take place in the Korea International Circuit on September 24th-25th. For more Audi R8 LMS Cup action that took place over the weekend, you can visit www.audir8lmscup.com or www.audi-motorsport.com.