Zhuhai: Round nine preview

After Istanbul, the teams and drivers taking part in the 2005 season of the FIA GT Championship are heading even futher afield : back to the People's Republic of China, and the Zhuhai International Circuit, which hosted the final round of the 2004...

After Istanbul, the teams and drivers taking part in the 2005 season of the FIA GT Championship are heading even futher afield : back to the People's Republic of China, and the Zhuhai International Circuit, which hosted the final round of the 2004 season.

With everything still to play for, the battles should be fierce in the GT1 category. After three successive wins from the Vitaphone Racing Team's Maserati MC 12 cars, the Corvette and Ferrari cars will be keen to redress the balance - not to mention the Aston Martin DBR9, making it's first non-manufacturer entry, in the hands of Russian Age Racing. Add in the Lister and Saleens, there should be six different models of car competing for the overall honours. Although GruppeM has secured the GT2 Teams title, and the Drivers title is certain to go to their drivers, the fight is still on betwen Lieb and Rockenfeller, in the nr 66 Porsche 996 GT3 RSR, and the nr 88 crew of Sugden and Collard. The class will have some additional competition in the form of the Spyker, making its FIA GT debut, in the hands of Duncan Huisman and Menno Kuus, while Hong-Kong based team of Matthew Marsh and Darryl O'Young will enter their Porsche 996 GT3-RSR for Noble-GruppeM Racing. The G2 class will see the return of the Belgian Racing Gillet Vertigo, with Leinders, Kuppens and Vanina Ickx at the wheel, while the Team Amprex Lotus Elise will make its debut, driven by Tengku Djan Ley of Malaysia and Australian Paul Stokell.

With a full programme of support races, and plenty of national TV coverage, it should be an event to remember.

WHAT THE DRIVERS THINK

"Zhuhai is quite a narrow circuit. The weather is hard on both the cars and the drivers, with a high level of humidity. It's a very interesting place from the tourist's point of view, going via Hong Kong and then by boat to Zhuhai. Last year it took me a full 24 hours to get there. Quite a tiring journey physically, but very pleasant." Christophe Bouchut, Russian Age Racing Aston Martin DBR9

"The track is OK, perhaps with too many slow corners, but the fantastic thing is the atmosphere - so intense you can feel it. You are so far from home, and in contact with a completely different way of life that makes everything special.." Gabriele Gardel, Larbre Competition Ferrari 550 Maranello

"The Zhuhai International Circuit is in a great location, and the people in China are very nice. I think the Saleen has a good set-up for the circuit." Paolo Ruberti, Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7-R.

VITAPHONE TO DEFEND CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD

The Vitaphone Racing Team has pulled out a good lead in the Teams Championship, after three successive wins at Spa-Francorchamps, Oschersleben and Istanbul. After these victories for the Maserati MC 12, which has taken seven podium positions out of the last nine, the cars have been awarded extra ballast by the GT Bureau. With 40 kg for the nr 9 and 10 Vitaphone cars, and the nr 15 JMB Racing car, as well as 20 kg for the nr 16 JMB, the drivers will face a heavy task in China. However, with all four Vitaphone drivers in the top six, and with a 23 point lead in the Teams points, things are looking good. "For me, it is very nice to return to Zhuhai," Fabio Babini said. It is not an easy track for the ballast in the Maserati, but it is possible to improve the strategy for the race, and to take maximum points for the Championship. Last year, I had a problem with the brakes in the Ferrari, but I have more experience now, and I should not have such a problem with the Maserati."

GLPK CARSPORT LOOKS FORWARD TO ZHUHAI

The Corvette C5-R, victorious in Imola earlier this year, will be making the trip to Zhuhai for the first time. "I think that the circuit of Zhuhai should be good for our Corvette," Bert Longin explained. "There are rather difficult braking areas, and if I remember correctly, the circuit is also very bumpy. We absolutly have to try to finish on the podium and we hope for the highest position possible. However, it will absolutely not be easy, because the Maserati cars are fighting for the title, and so they will fight for every point. It will certainly be a very interesting race and we are very motivated after our difficult race of Istanbul. Hopefully our yellow Corvette can compete with the Maserati cars, so that we can give a good show, and, if possible, finish with our Corvette as the winner !"

RUSSIAN AGE RACING ENTERS ASTON MARTIN DBR9 FOR ZHUHAI

The Aston Martin DBR9, victorious on its FIA GT debut at Silverstone and a contender at Spa this year, in the hands of Aston Martin Racing, will be making its privateer debut in Zhuhai. The blue DBR9, raced by Russian Age Racing, will be in the hands of team regulars Christophe Bouchut, Alexei Vasiliev and Nikolai Fomenko. The team has already raced the car in the Le Mans Endurance Series. Bouchut said : "It is a real privilege to drive this car, which is generating a lot of excitement with the fans, even more than for the Ferrari. There are always lots of fans who want to see it, to touch it, and we are lucky enough to be able to drive it. I would like to give a big 'thank you' to Rob [Schirle], who has put in a lot of hard work to get this car for the last three rounds of the 2005 FIA GT Championship. It will be the first time that we can gauge its potential up against the Maserati and Ferrari cars; it will be really interesting. First and foremost, this is an excellent opportunity to test the car, in preparation for 2006. And then, this is the first time I will have the opportunity to drive an Aston, and first times are always lucky for me..."

VITAPHONE TO DEFEND CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD

The Vitaphone Racing Team has pulled out a good lead in the Teams Championship, after three successive wins at Spa-Francorchamps, Oschersleben and Istanbul. After these victories for the Maserati MC 12, which has taken seven podium positions out of the last nine, the cars have been awarded extra ballast by the GT Bureau. With 40 kg for the nr 9 and 10 Vitaphone cars, and the nr 15 JMB Racing car, as well as 20 kg for the nr 16 JMB, the drivers will face a heavy task in China. However, with all four Vitaphone drivers in the top six, and with a 23 point lead in the Teams points, things are looking good. "For me, it is very nice to return to Zhuhai," Fabio Babini said. It is not an easy track for the ballast in the Maserati, but it is possible to improve the strategy for the race, and to take maximum points for the Championship. Last year, I had a problem with the brakes in the Ferrari, but I have more experience now, and I should not have such a problem with the Maserati."

LAMMERTINK ENTERS FOR FINAL THREE RACES

Wolfgang Kaufmann and Luca Moro will be back in competition in the FIA GT Championship at Zhuhai, in the Lammertink Porsche, where they will hope to equal their Imola performance, which saw them finish on the podium with a fine third place. "I will be back with the team Lammertink and my co-driver Luca Moro for the rounds at Zhuhai, Dubai and Bahrain with the Porsche GT3 RSR," Kaufmann said. " We did some good set up work, and made some modifications to the car, in order to use the new DUNLOP tyres, which are perfect. Last time I was at Zhuhai was in 1999, when I had pole position!! On that occasion, I raced together with Bob Wollek in the Freisinger Porsche 993 GT2. So I have good memories... I love the track, I love Asia..."

THE VERTIGO RETURNS; FIRST APPEARANCE FOR THE SPYKER

The number of different makes of car will be increased by three at Zhuhai. Not only will a Lotus Elise take part in the G2 category, but it will be joined by the Vertigo Streiff, returning after appearances in Imola and Spa-Francorchamps. The car will be driven by regulars Bas Leinders and Renaud Kuppens, who will be joined by Vanina Ickx. Another car will be making its very first FIA GT appearance : the Spyker C8, competing in the GT2 category. The drivers for the Zhuhai round have been announced as Duncan Huisman and Meno Kuus, both from the Netherlands. For Dubai, the car will be in the hands of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Donny Crevels. Team Mananger Hans van Rennes explained : "Spyker Squadron is the race department of Spykercars, which started in 2000. A very young company but with a rich heritage going back to 1875.This is the first year of our new Spyder GT2R and we raced this year Sebring, Spa, Le Mans and of course the Ring where we came in second in GT2. It is the very first time a fully Dutch car with Dutch drivers has had a top two in a major race. Next year the plan is to run two cars at Sebring, Le Mans and all the LMES races plus some FIA GT." Alongside Hans van Rennes, the team's technical director is Peter van Erp.

VONKA READY FOR ZHUHAI CHALLENGE

Last year, Czech team Vonka Racing claimed the best result of its FIA GT career with third place at Zhuhai, in the final round of the 2004 Championship. The team is heading back to China this year, currently placed third in the GT2 Teams classification, behind new Champions Gruppe M and German team Proton. In Zhuhai, the team's Porsche GT3 will be driven by Jan Vonka, Mauro Casadei and Manfred Jurasz, who finished second in GT2 at Brno with the Renauer Porsche. "It should be remembered that Vonka is the smallest team, with the oldest Porsche GT3, the only car without a sequential gearbox, and it is currently third in GT2 !" Mauro Casadei pointed out. "The entry in Zhuhai is looking very tough, with new cars such as the Spyker, but we will be trying very hard. It will be difficult to reproduce the team's podium finish last year, but we will, as always, do our best."

HONG-KONG TEAM AND MATTHEW MARSH TO RACE IN ZHUHAI

Hong-Kong driver Matthew Marsh, who finished in fourth place in last year's Zhuhai race with the GPC Ferrari 360 Modena, will be back this year, driving a Porsche 996 GT3-RS. The car, which Matthew has raced in this year's Le Mans Endurance Series, will be entered by Noble Group - Gruppe M. Marsh will share the car with fellow Hong Kong driver Darryl O'Young, who has also been part of the team in the LMES. The duo scored their first points during September's LMES round at the Nurburgring. "I'm really excited about the race next weekend," Matthew said. "The Hong Kong team has been very well received in the media across Asia. Everyone is behind this first effort from an Asian team, a Chinese team, a Hong Kong team, to race in top-level international sports car racing. Now that we are, if you like, coming home, the reaction is bound to be fantastic. Perhaps some people were a bit surprised by how competitive we were in Europe. We'll certainly be shooting for a podium finish in Zhuhai." The concept of a Hong Kong team had its first outing at Zhuhai last year. " GPCGiesse supported the idea,and ran us in their Ferrari 360," Matthew continued. "Charles Kwan and I raced to fourth place in the GT2 class. This proved the concept was sound and the Hong Kong based Noble Group came on board as title sponsor for our Le Mans programme. They've been sending us off to our LMES races with much enthusiasm and now they'll be able to watch us at home, it's great. Sadly Charles is in retirement now but he has been ably replaced by Darryl O'Young against whom I race in Carrera Cup Asia. Hopefully Charles will come to Zhuhai to cheer us on."

LOTUS EXIGE TO RACE IN FIA GT AT ZHUHAI

Another car will join the FIA GT Championship at Zhuhai : a 400 bhp Lotus Exige 300RR GT car, which will race in the G2 class. This is not the first appearance of a Lotus in the Championship : the Lotus GT1 was one of the stars of the first season in 1997, while a Lotus Elise has competed in G3 at Spa in previous years. This car is jointly operated by Malaysia 's Proton R3 and Amprex racing teams. It entered both the Japanese Super GT Series Malaysian round in June and the Merdeka Millenium 12 Hours Endurance Race in August. It suffered an engine failure in the Super GT race but won the Merdeka 12 Hours Endurance overall with Japanese driver Genji Hashimoto, Malaysian driver Tengku Djan Ley and Australian driver Tony Ricciardello. The car also registered a fastest time of 2: 13.970 to start the race on the pole. Head of Division of Lotus Cars Asia Pacific, Mr. Oh Ka Beng commented on the car's participation in Zhuhai: "For Lotus Cars, it is an opportunity for the southern China motorsports enthusiasts and local Lotus fan/owners to witness live the one and only Lotus GT based prototype in action, following the recent victory in the annual Merdeka 12 Hour race at Sepang. This will also demonstrate the same chassis technology used in the road going Elise." Since the car has not been homologated by the FIA, it is not allowed to enter the GT2 class of the FIA GT Championship, therefore it will take part in the new for 2005 Group 2 class. Group 2 is technically similar to GT2 but the car must have entered a national GT series (such as the British GT Championship) before it can be admitted. In the Japanese Super GT series race, the organizers required the team to drop the car's engine power to 320 bhp before allowing the car to compete in the GT300 class. But in the FIA GT Championship the car's output will be back to its 400 bhp maximum but its weight must be increased by at least 50kg. The car's biggest rival will obviously be the GT2 class dominating Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, in particular the works supported GruppeM team. Porsche's 911 GT3 RSR has a power output of 480 bhp but its weight is in excess of 1050 kg, so it is going to be an interesting contest between the two cars.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Vanina Ickx , Christophe Bouchut , Wolfgang Kaufmann , Mauro Casadei , Nikolai Fomenko , Manfred Jurasz , Genji Hashimoto , Charles Kwan , Fabio Babini , Tengku Djan Ley , Paul Stokell , Duncan Huisman , Darryl O'Young , Bas Leinders , Gabriele Gardel , Bert Longin , Paolo Ruberti , Donny Crevels , Jan Vonka , Matthew Marsh , Renaud Kuppens , Menno Kuus , Luca Moro , Tony Ricciardello
Teams Aston Martin Racing , Larbre Competition