Excitement builds in Zhuhai, China

Near Macau, Zhuhai is where IndyCar should be racing too….rather than spending the money on a new circuit in Qingdao

The excitement is building up at the Zhuhai International Circuit. On Sunday, the Chinese track will host the final round of the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. A prestigious victory in the biggest car market in the world and the battle for the title in LM GTE are what’s at stake in the 2011 Zhuhai 6 Hours.

Just one race to go and Peugeot will be crowned 2011 ILMC manufacturers’ and teams’ champion. Mathematically speaking these two titles cannot escape the French make no matter what the result of its main rival, Audi, on Sunday at the end of the Zhuhai 6 Hours. But this race whets the appetite of the major manufacturers like almost no other: for them victory in China, now the biggest car market in the world, is of capital economic importance.

Nonetheless, neither Peugeot nor Audi, which have both entered two cars, can afford to trip up as the other entries in LM P1, Aston Martin , OAK Racing and Rebellion Racing, three teams ending their season on a high note are ready to take full advantage of any slip-ups of the part of the French and German cars.

Since Aston Martin’s return in September with its V12-engined prototype in a Lola chassis from the previous years, the British manufacturer has met with considerable success including victory at Laguna Seca (in the American Le Mans Series) followed by third place overall in the Petit Le Mans. Rebellion Racing won the Le Mans Series manufacturers’ title with its Lola-Toyota as well as scoring a telling fourth place overall at Silverstone. OAK Racing’s third and fifth places at Silverstone followed by fourth and seventh in the Petit Le Mans show the qualities of the Sarthe-based team after an unlucky start to the season. “We’ve all got great memories of this circuit," smiles Jacques Nicolet, the OAK Racing boss who has entered three cars, two LM P1s and an LM P2, for the Chinese event. “In 2010 we finished on the topmost step of the podium in LM P2 and we clinched our ILMC title (in LM P2). It bodes well for the final round!" In addition, it is worth noting the exceptional presence of a Japanese Courage-Oreca LC70 entered by Tokai University.

Beyond the vital economic battle that will also rage in GTE, the Zhuhai 6 Hours will prove decisive for the attribution of the manufacturers’ and teams’ titles in LM GTE Pro. BMW is still in with a small chance of beating the leader, Ferrari. The German make has no choice but to go for victory as this season it has scored only one win, the Sebring 12 Hours, compared to its Italian rival’s five successes. Finishing on the podium, which BMW has done since the start of the championship, will not be enough unless it’s on the topmost steps! In the manufacturers’ classification Ferrari has a 28-point lead over its German rival, and in the teams’ ratings, AF Corse is only 14 points in front of BMW Motorsport.

In LM GTE Am on the other hand, the Larbre Competition Corvette will not be under any pressure as Jack Leconte’s squad clinched the 2011 LM GTE Am Teams’ title at the Petit Le Mans. Corvette works driver Olivier Beretta will join the French team for this round, and will share the car with regulars Patrick Bornhauser and Julien Canal. The same applies to Signatech-Nissan, which also won the LM P2 championship title at Road Atlanta: its sole adversary will be the OAK Racing OAK Pescarolo.

At the end of the Zhuhai 6 Hours the curtain will fall on the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. In 2012, this series created in 2010 which has relaunched the concept of the international endurance challenge in sparkling fashion, will be replaced by the FIA World Endurance Championship, a much more detailed presentation of which will be given to the press in Zhuhai on Saturday 12th November at 12h30.

China increases its investment in motor sport even further

The Zhuhai International Circuit located right next to Macau and Hong Kong is the first track built in China for motor racing. It’s thanks to this circuit opened in 1996 that motor sport has been able to gain a foothold in the most highly-populated country in the world. The first ILMC finished in Zhuhai in 2010 with Peugeot and Ferrari winning the manufacturers’ trophies in prototypes and GT respectively. The strong local support from the government of the Guangzhou province and the Zhuhai municipality has been a major factor in the organization of the second running of this race.

Local teams will again be present in force in the 2011 Zhuhai 6 Hours. A Formula Le Mans and two Audi R8 LMSs in the GTC category in the hands of drivers from the Popular Chinese Republic, Hong Kong and Taiwan will carry Chinese colors. The GTC category will be reinforced by two more cars entered by Asian teams – the Japanese Audi R8 LMS from the Hitotsuyama squad and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 by the AMG China team. Not content to bring former F1 double champion Mika Hakkinen out of retirement, the team has paired him up with local star, Congfu Chen, the first Chinese driver to race in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2008. China likes endurance; it is a popular branch of motor sport that is accessible to everybody as proved by the Drivers’ Parade organized for the first time in the centre of Zhuhai (1.3 million inhabitants).

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