As important as the LMP prototypes are, endurance racing would not exist realistically without the GT class. It’s the backbone of the series. Several local teams added color, bringing to the grid a Lamborghini Murciélago, a new Audi R8 LMS from Hong Kong, and an Aston Martin DBRS9. The usual suspects also made the haul: BMW Team Schnitzer; Larbre Competition with its Saleen S7R; Gulf Team First with a Lamborghini LP560 resplendent in blue and orange; a sole Ferrari F430 GT from AF Corse; and from the USA, a Jaguar XKR shared by Paul Gentilozzi and Marc Goosens. Porsche was represented by a trio of 997 GT3 RSRs. Team Felbemayr’s advantage was in having Norbert Singer and Rainer Gohl behind the scenes for the full ILMC season, and the experience of Weissach Flacht was instrumental as Porsche added yet another championship trophy to its cabinet.
Porsche AG as an official entrant has been, for the most part, absent from the major races since the final days of GT1 in 1998. Even though the Spyder RS was a Werks effort, it was handled by Team Penske in the ALMS. Porsche always seems to be an official part of any major race series purely because of the depth of the staff at Weissach, who all seem to be in pit row.
Toss in the GT3 Cup series that are run as support races throughout the world and in actuality Porsche will always be in part of the scene. However, for Porsche to show up on the grid as an official entrant means something special, and they made the most of this one. The GT3 R Hybrid already had a couple of races on it and the notoriety of the concept was a major part of the motorsport news cycle. For Zhuhai, the GT3 R Hybrid ran in a class officially known as GTH (wonder what the H stands for) and was guaranteed a class win. Logic dictates that if you are the only one running, it improves your chances considerably.
Practice sessions were hampered by steady rain, the results being a lot of yellow flags and time spent in the pits. The usual pre-race routine: tire and driver changes, other adjustments, and for a few of the local teams, a settling of nerves. How often do you get to mix it up with the big names? The press room was rarely quiet; the influx of domestic and the foreign made for lively chatter and the chance to learn about the local culture. One encounter in particular helped me considerably on understanding where the Chinese racing scene may be going. The editor of a magazine covering, as she said, “all things autosport in China,” handed me a current issue and asked what I thought. As with many Far East publications, it was high quality in terms of stock and print. What it lacked was content of actual cars. Her explanation, almost an apology, was that there is not an automotive tradition in China and they are trying to create one.
Dear reader: Did you know there is a “Scirocco Cup” series? Well, Blind Boy Ignorant here sure didn’t. VW stages these races on seven circuits throughout China, and naturally, a round would be one of the support races for the main event. In keeping with the current theme, the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia was on hand for its season-ending finale, with a huge hospitality tent above pit row. What better place to watch from?
The clouds parted for race day and the battle commenced at high noon with the pole-sitting Number 2 Peugeot getting a questionable jump on the rest of the field. An immediate rumble from the press room blamed the ACO officials for not issuing a penalty purely because of nationality. (Where have we heard that before?) The usual Audi pairings were changed for Zhuhai, with Tom Kristensen partnering Allan McNish in the Number 7 R15 and Dindo Capello with Romain Dumas in the Number 8. It took about 15 minutes for the Audi squad to get its game face on, and it started with Dindo doing a number on Sebastian Bourdais aboard Lion Number 1.