Back in GT there was the usual battle between BMW, Ferrari and Porsche, and it was to continue like that all the way to the flag. Missing from that GT scramble was the sole Jaguar XKR, which retired on lap 10 after getting up to a season-best fourth position. I spoke with members of the team the next morning before departing for Hong Kong, and the disappointment was deep. This had been a very difficult season for all involved in bringing the Cat back and there was nowhere else to go but up after constant component failure this season.
The race ended as it started, in the way of controversy. A late yellow wiped out the huge advantage of the TK/McNish Audi over the French Lion of Montagny and Sarrazin. A late pit stop got the Peugeot out first with TK emerging from the pits only to be held up by the other Team Peugeot that was some three laps down. This game was played just long enough for the lead Lion to build up an insurmountable gap before the Audi could get by to give chase. The second- and third-place Audi spots on the podium did not go down well with Allan McNish, who voiced his displeasure in the post-race press conference. Ah, the passion of sport.
Charly Lamm of BMW Team Schnitzer was pleased with taking the GT win for Munich. His squad had a mixed year with its M3; he didn’t want to be reminded of what happened at Le Mans but took the ribbing with good humor. Porsche and Ferrari filled podium positions two and three, respectively.
And what of the GT3 R Hybrid? How about sixth overall, three laps ahead of the winning BMW GT, in addition to being a couple of seconds a lap quicker than the rest of the GT field and with one less pit stop—although it could have been two less if Porsche management had wanted to show off. The line that Werks drivers Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister needed bathroom pit stops instead of for refueling was a recurring one. As noted earlier, for Porsche to be an official entrant, it has to be for something special. It was.
Jurgen Barth: On a Zhuhai
Jurgen Barth is, if anything, a well-seasoned traveler and a man who continues to wear many hats as an administrator and a racer. The former head of customer racing for Porsche was the pivotal link for bringing international sports car and sports prototype motorsport to the mainland of China.
ec: You have been involved with this from the start; how did the idea to race in Zhuhai happen?
JB: When we started the BPR series in 1994 we had been in contact with Mr. Suzuki, who had been the FIA Representative in the Far East. I knew him from the World Endurance Championship days when I was responsible for the transportation of the Group C cars and teams to Suzuka and Fuji for the races in Japan. He made the contact with Joe Lim and Steward Tan in Zhuhai and we were immediately cleared to run a race there.
ec: From that original contact, how long did it take to put together the race, and it was on a street circuit, wasn’t it?
JB: From the first meeting, I think it took altogether a bit more than half a year. This was the first event to be held in Zhuhai. Yes, we used a temporary street circuit for the BPR races in 1994 and 1995.
ec: When was the facility completed and the first race held?
JB: The permanent circuit was ready in November of 1996. The BPR was the first international event to be held on the new circuit. Porsche also came with the new GT1 for that race. The series then became the FIA GT but didn’t return to Zhuhai until 1999.
ec: How have the manufacturers responded to racing in China—are they supportive enough?
JB: Yes, the manufacturers have been really responsive. Porsche, BMW, Jaguar and Lotus already use the circuit as a showcase. Porsche, for example, came in 1995 to make local contacts. Horst Marchart, the boss of R&D in Weissach, held a meeting for the local officials from the government.
ec: Do you plan to continue to be involved with Zhuhai in the future?
JB: I hope to be. I have been a steward for GT3 races and am also a consultant. I enjoy Zhuhai and the area very much.