CHINA WELCOMES ILMC, MANUFACTURERS WELCOME CHINESE INTEREST Day two at Zhuhai and action at the track is increasing steadily as race day draws near. Today the two Official Free Practice sessions took place, and although the ambiance is friendly,...
CHINA WELCOMES ILMC, MANUFACTURERS WELCOME CHINESE INTEREST
Day two at Zhuhai and action at the track is increasing steadily as race day draws near. Today the two Official Free Practice sessions took place, and although the ambiance is friendly, the competition is fierce. With six entries in LM P1, one in LM P2 (which will actively compete with LM P1), two in LM GT1 and eight in LM GT2, the heat is on for Sunday's 1000km/six-hour race. Rolex is the Official Timekeeper for this inaugural event, which promises plenty of action at the Zhuhai International Circuit this weekend.
In LM P1, it's the fight between Audi and Peugeot that has everyone talking. It's been six years since Audi last committed to motorsport racing in China with the DTM. Motorsport titles with global reach have been particularly important in Audi's 30-year success story, including wins at the World Rally Championship in the eighties and the Touring Car World Cup in the nineties.
For the ILMC, Audi has two diesel R15 TDI cars driven by Rinaldo (Dindo) Capello (ITA) / Romain Dumas (FRA) and Tom Kristensen (DEN) / Allan McNish (MON). "China is a different country in many ways and it's nice to be able to experience that," said Rolex Testimonee and eight-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen. "The nature of this track is interesting: it has quite a few long straights but all of them lead into hairpin corners, which means maximum braking. So in that sense, the circuit is very abnormal to the others we have covered this season and it means we need to set the car up differently in order to conquer the challenges of this track. There are five hairpins where you arrive going close to 300 km/h and where you must aggressively brake, turn the car and find traction. Putting all the engine torque on the tires as you come out of the corners is very hard on them. I find corner 14, the last one, and 10, the left hand on the back, quite challenging. My favorite parts are turns 4 and 5, where you can run the car a little out on the curves and it gives a good feeling." In terms of predictions for the race, Kristensen said, "our times in Free Practice proved quite close, so I would say we will have to wait and see…"
In June it was the outstanding reliability of the R15 TDI, in what was the fastest 24-hour race in Le Mans history, which was crucial. However, "in the shorter ILMC races we mustn't just rely on this factor," says Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. "The performance has got to be right." In order to be optimally prepared for the three ILMC races the aerodynamics of the winning Le Mans car were modified and trimmed towards more down force because there are no straights at Silverstone, Road Atlanta and Zhuhai which are as long as those at Le Mans.
The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup brings Audi back to the global stage and will also be a good opportunity to demonstrate the brand's competence in motorsport in a country in which Audi has already assumed a leading position: in October, the one millionth vehicle was delivered to a Chinese customer - something no other premium automobile manufacturer has achieved to date.
However Audi are not the only ones with their eyes on the long-term goal. The 1000km of Zhuhai is also seen as a strategically viable race for Peugeot, who is currently leading the overall ILMC standings. Team Peugeot Total took a one-two victory in September at Silverstone, and followed up with another one-two victory in October at Road Atlanta for the Petit Le Mans. Peugeot currently has a 36-point lead over Audi at the top of the ILMC Manufacturer standings, and an 11th place for either of the two 908 HDi FAPs at Zhuhai would suffice to clinch the inaugural ILMC manufacturer title for Peugeot.
The Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, which was unveiled in January 2007, will also be making its final competitive outing in China, finalizing a race record that includes victories at some of endurance racing's most celebrated venues. "We hope to give this car the end it deserves by winning at Zhuhai, which would take its score to 19 victories out of 28 races," said Peugeot Sport's Technical Director Bruno Famin. Before arriving in Zhuhai, Famin admitted to knowing little about the track, "apart from the fact that it calls for repeated acceleration and braking. It is very slow, too, in contrast to Le Mans for which the 908 HDi FAP was originally designed. The brakes and transmission will be put to a tough test and both cars will run the same 'sprint' aerodynamic package we used at Silverstone and Road Atlanta."
The NDEG1 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP will be driven by Sebastien Bourdais (FRA) and Simon Pagenaud (FRA). Bourdais was one of the first drivers to race at Zhuhai in 1996. "I remember the track being very twisty, but it was a great fight! I don't think our car will be in its element, and we could even come under pressure from the LM P2 runners. The important thing, however, will be to beat our main rival, and that promises to produce another close contest." The NDEG2 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP will be driven by Franck Montagny (FRA) and Stephane Sarrazin (FRA).
The race in Zhuhai is also of particular interest to Peugeot as China is the PSA Group's second largest market after France. While the population of China exceeds 1.3 billion, less than five per cent of households own a car. The country recently emerged as the world's biggest car market. China was also chosen to host the worldwide launch of the Peugeot 408 earlier this year and the 508 will be launched here in 2011. Current Peugeot vehicle sales in China amount to 498,000 since 2004.
"Our presence at Zhuhai will support the brand in what is a key market," said Olivier Quesnel, Director of Peugeot Sport. "Whenever we race, our aim is obviously to win. For Peugeot Sport's first official visit to China, we will be hoping to wrap up the 2010 ILMC Manufacturers' title, but the taste of that will be even sweeter if we can combine it with a victory. That would allow us to round off what has been a particularly emotional 2010 season in style, and everyone in the team is ready for the battle."
This is the first time ever that China hosts an endurance event for sports prototypes, but this first will not be the last, as the ACO's aims to establish itself in China and Asia on a long-term basis. The ACO has said it hopes to attract Chinese teams and drivers to compete in the Le Mans races, with the hopes that they will come to France to participate in and try to win the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Qualifying for the 1000km of Zhuhai takes place tomorrow, Saturday 6 November, and the race will begin at noon (local time) on Sunday 7 November. There is a seven-hour time difference with central Europe.