Ordos, one of the 12 major subdivisions of Inner Mongolia, China, is probably not a place that you would commonly associate with racing. But yes, it is at the Ordos International Circuit that the China Touring Car Championship was held over the weekend that just past. At the kind invitation of Audi Sport Customer Racing in China, I made my way to Ordos for Rounds 5 and 6 of the Audi R8 LMS Cup, an all-new premier one-make GT racing series.
Uh huh – it was the same weekend that Miss World 2012 was crowned, but no I was busy chasing cars round the 3.751-kilometre Ordos track that has 18 corners and was built in 2010.
You can say that the circuit is practically in the middle of nowhere, in the desert land of Ordos, with lots of sand that makes the track slippery and also changes the track conditions from hour to hour.
Flying in from Shanghai via a domestic Air China flight, Ordos city is pretty much still under a lot of development. It has majestic contemporary structures with fanciful lights and towering modern buildings, some random fireworks in the middle of the day, while surrounded by lots of construction and more barren land. This is what the immediate surrounding area of the circuit looks like:
The Audi R8 LMS Cup 2012 is the first racing series from the brand and is based in China for the 2012 season. With five stops of two rounds per weekend, the Series kicked off in Shanghai, before going to Zhuhai and then Ordos. There are 16 cars altogether, all identical and serviced by a crew of 32 Audi technicians. There is the main overall racing category and also the amateur category.
Some drivers to look out for include:
Marchy Lee, Hong Kong
Asia leading GT racing driver
Alex Yoong, Malaysia
Former Formula 1 driver, head of Asian driver development for Caterham F1 team and ESPN STAR Sports F1 commentator
Adderly Fong, Hong Kong
Only 22 years of age, first time racing in GT cars having switched from single-seaters and already winning in this Audi R8 LMS Cup
… and of course, the superstar Aaron Kwok!
You should have seen the fans and the media crowd around him..
He has been racing on and off for more than a decade now, and is doing the full season of the Audi R8 LMS Cup this year.
Yup, he kept his shades on the whole time and the only time I ever got to see his eyes, was when he had to get his helmet on to get into the car.
I admit I was a little starstruck initially, but his friendly demeanour made him approachable (despite his watchful assistant being at arm’s length all the time) and I got his autograph!
Coming into Round 5 of the Audi R8 LMS Cup, Adderly Fong was holding the championship lead after winning Round 4. That was the race where Marchy and Alex met with an incident in the closing stages of the race, causing Marchy to DNF and Alex to drop to third place. Nonetheless, both Marchy and Alex – who have known each other since the age of 9 – understand that it is in the spirit of racing and the desire to win, hence putting it behind them and focusing harder on the races ahead.
Marchy was third fastest in Practice 1 on Friday and fastest in Practice 2 on Saturday morning…
… while Alex was second fastest in Practice 1 and third fastest in Practice 2.
Between these two, Adderly was a force to be reckoned with, coming in fastest in Practice 1 and second fastest in Practice 2 in his yellow KLM car.
Adderly was determined to hold on to his championship lead by the end of the weekend and had a goal to win both Rounds 5 and 6, but Marchy and Alex were not going to make it easy for him.
Alex was the first out of the pits for qualifying..
..but a problem with his car saw him forcefully retire from qualifying after clocking only one timed lap.
He told me later that a stone had found its way into the master cylinder and jammed his brakes, lodging itself deeper as he braked over the bumps, eventually causing the car to seize.
(No this wasn’t the stone that got wedged into his car – just a random stone I shot while waiting between sessions.)
The session was red-flagged until his car was safely taken off the track.
One of the vehicles that helped to get Alex’s car off the track, then got itself stuck in the gravel, but was removed quickly with the help of the tow.
Alex’s one timed lap was only good enough for fifth in qualifying, while Marchy took pole position, followed by Adderly and Charlie Ro-Charlz.
Now, Charlie (as pictured above) has an interesting story for the weekend. He was at Ordos to race in another series but half hour before qualifying of the Audi R8 LMS Cup, he was approached and asked to replace Zhang Ran, the only female driver of the Audi R8 LMS Cup series who unfortunately injured herself and could not race.
Charlie has never driven in the Audi R8 LMS before, but had no hesitation when approached. Jumping right into the Audi Castrol R8 LMS, he qualified in third place, just 0.657 seconds off Marchy’s time of 1:43.484.
Superstar Aaron, who won the amateur class in Round 2 in Shanghai, but went into the wall in Round 3 in Zhuhai and had to miss Round 4, had no fears from the accident and qualified fastest of the amateur class with 1:46.855 in his dragon-liveried R8 LMS.
Qualifying was done on Saturday, while both races were on Sunday. On the way to the track from the hotel on Sunday, a low cloud of dust hung in the air and for a moment everyone was worried that the skies wouldn’t clear and cause poor visibility on the track.
Fortunately, it all cleared up and the racing was on! But before that, VIP guests of Audi were given hot laps on the track by drivers like Marchy and Alex.
When it was finally time to go racing, the pits were a hype of activity as drivers got fully geared up and into the cars to line up on the grid.
I’ve seen Alex’s helmet many times, but I saw something new on it this time – many cute stickers!
I’ve always loved the atmosphere on the grid, all that bustle just minutes and seconds before the five green lights go off.
No prizes for guessing, Aaron’s car had the biggest crowd around it, with everyone trying to get a photo of him.. including the grid girl assigned to his car.
Marchy had the perfect finish for Round 5, clinching the win from pole to flag.
Alex had a good start and managed to get to second from his fifth place on the grid. He wasn’t comfortable in the car, but tried his best to keep his position and finish the race, as Marchy was simply “too quick to follow”. Eventually he settled for second.
Adderly lost a few places when he made a mistake and it was Charlie who came in third – an impressive podium finish for his first ever Audi R8 LMS race.
In the amateur category, Aaron spun and did not finish first in his class. Instead it was Alex Au, new to the series, who took the win.
The starting order for Round 6 is based on the finishing order of Round 5, hence it was Marchy up front again.
He didn’t disappoint and took home another pole-to-flag win, making it the first back-to-back victory for the series.
Alex’s car ran into problems and he was unable to finish the race, costing him precious championship points.
Adderly came in second and Charlie made his Audi R8 LMS Cup debut even sweeter with a double podium finish, coming in third.
Aaron fought his way back to the podium for the amateur category, unable to get past Alex, hence having to settle for second place.
He was all smiles though, happy to bounce back after the horrifying accident in Zhuhai when the damage to his car was so bad it had to be sent back to Germany for repairs before coming back to China.
The championship leader is now Marchy, followed by Adderly just two points behind.
Other than the Audi R8 LMS Cup, other race series running the same weekend at Ordos were the China Touring Car Championship…
…and Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo Asia.
I don’t know if you noticed, but my photos are nicer than usual! Not praising myself though – credit goes to the Canon 300mm F2.8 lens that I was using for the weekend.
I had my trusty Nikon D90 with me (which is what I’ve been shooting with since 2009), but this time I decided to try something different and I lugged a huge backpack of borrowed equipment, including a Canon 1D4, 14mm and 35mm lens, on top of my D90 and its 50mm, 17-55m and 18-200mm. All that extra weight was totally worth the effort don’t you think?
I walked round the entire inside of the circuit on Saturday and the entire outside of the circuit on Sunday, with all the equipment mentioned above. No surprise that I’m aching now!
There were random spectators all around the track in the oddest of spots overlooking the track, including this guy below in ‘oppa gangnam style’ sitting on what seemed like an unfinished grandstand.
There were no major incidents for the Audi R8 LMS Cup this time – just a lot of spinning off the track and a little wall-slamming..
Ordos is a pretty technical track with lots of turns and not many long (enough) straights to recover. As Alex said, “Ordos has a lot of turns following each other so if you’re slow in one corner, you’re slow for the whole circuit”.
I enjoyed shooting at the track – although I’ve brought home lots of fine sand grains.
Grid girls will always be part of motorsports and there were many at Ordos…
… but the ones that left the greatest impression on me were the Audi ladies. Not because Audi invited me for this trip, but look..
The next stop for the Audi R8 LMS Cup will be in Zhuhai on 14-16 September.
Come back for interviews with Marchy Lee, Aaron Kwok, Alex Yoong, Adderly Fong and boss of the Audi R8 LMS Cup Rene Koneberg!
For more of my photos from Rounds 5 and 6 of the Audi R8 LMS Cup, view here.