|Menzel Thunders to First Zhuhai Victory in Season Curtain-Closer|
Newly-crowned 2010 Porsche Carrera Cup Asia champion Christian Menzel thundered to his first victory on the 4.319km Zhuhai International Circuit today, bringing to a close the thrilling 12-race season of the region’s premier GT championship.
Crossing the line in 2nd behind the Team StarChase two-time champion, was Team Jebsen’s Rodolfo Avila, who had started from 7th on the grid after triumphing over a challenging weekend. Third was LKM Racing Team’s Keita Sawa, who had just missed out on the podium in Round 11.
In Class B, Francis Tjia took his second series victory of the weekend and his career, with Pauian Archiland Team’s Jeffrey Lee of Chinese Taipei and Team Kangshun’s Ringo Chong of Singapore following him across the line.
After 12 spectacular races, which saw the Porsche Carrera Cup compete in four different cities, Red Bull Racing’s Marchy Lee finished runner up to Menzel in the championship standings, with Team PCS Racing’s Craig Baird, who was unable to make it to the final event, in third. With Mok Weng Sun having already wrapped up the Class B title in Shanghai last month, his on-track rival and off-track friend Chong was 2nd in the points at the end of the season, with Francis Tjia’s superb Zhuhai weekend putting him 3rd after his debut season with the series.
With non-registered driver and winner of Round 11 Allan Simonsen on pole for the final race, it was a determined Menzel who got the perfect getaway from 2nd on the grid to grab the lead.
Moments later, Simonsen was sidelined with a mechanical problem, putting him out of the race. Lee inherited 2nd, but Sawa was already looking to find a way past, while Avila was up to 4th and on a charge having got by Tjia and Wayne Shen, who was handed a drive through penalty for a start infringement.
Chong was also a man on a mission and up to 2nd in Class B behind Tjia by the end of the opening lap, with Jeffrey Lee hot on his trail. The Taipei driver got by the Singaporean and held on to 2nd until the flag.
Avila found a way past Sawa on the following lap to go 3rd, but the Japanese ace was not about to let go so fast, and tried to pressure the Macau racer into making a mistake.
Menzel meanwhile was away, and concentrating on pulling out a comfortable gap to ensure he left Asia with a winners’ trophy, Lee was running a comfortable second, and Avila managing to hold off a determined Sawa.
That was to change though, as Avila closed in on Lee mid-race and began to pile on the pressure. Just two laps from the flag, the Hong Kong racer made an uncharacteristic error, going off the track and into the gravel. He managed to keep his Red Bull Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup moving, and back onto the grass, rejoining the track and eventually crossing the line in 4th.
Behind Menzel, who had now built up an unassailable lead and was cruising to victory, all eyes were on Avila who was again coming under pressure from Sawa. However, the young Team Jebsen driver knew he only had to hold on for two more laps and held his nerve.
Former series regular Alain Li put his incident in Round 11 firmly behind him to finish an impressive 4th in Class B on his return, while Wayne Shen did well to plough back positions after this drive through penalty to cross the line 5th in the category ahead of Frenchman Jean Marc Merlin.
For Menzel, taking the Zhuhai victory which had eluded him for three seasons was the perfect end to the year: “We have always had bad luck here, but today we forgot all that had happened in the past. Yesterday, I wasn’t happy with 2nd but it was enough to get the job done (clinch the championship). Today, my 100% focus was to win this, and it is a good feeling to go home winning the final race and to take the trophy back to the German winter! I am champion again, and that is great. It may have looked easy, but it was not, and the points system made sure it was an exciting season. I hope to come back next season to defend my title.”
Team Jebsen’s Avila was thrilled to give his fans and team guests something to cheer about, having changed the gearbox after an incident in qualifying which saw him start Round 11 from the back of the grid: “It was a good weekend in the end! The car felt really good, and I wanted to give all our fans a great time today. I got a really good start and was chasing Marchy. I tried to get by at Turn 9, but he closed the door. I saw him start to make mistakes, and then he made an error and went off. Then I saw Sawa closing, but knew there were only a couple of laps to go.”
Sawa, competing in his third Porsche Carrera Cup Asia event this weekend having shared LKM Racing Team duties with former champion and now FIA World Touring Car Championship regular Darryl O’Young, felt he could have done more, despite finishing on the podium: “I wanted to give my team this result today, but personally I am still not satisfied. My tactics were to focus on the end of the race, and that is how I set my tyre pressure so for the first few laps it was slippery and difficult to control the car. I guessed something would happen in front of me. I kept a cool head, but the podium finish was my minimum requirement.”
In Class B, Hong Kong’s Tjia was justifiably proud of his well-earned back-to-back victories: “It is great! It’s very nice to have two wins in a row. Zhuhai is kind of my home track and OpenRoad Racing is based here. The team has done a great job, giving me a great car to do the business. It has been a fantastic season, and I will be back to do better in the championship. I am 3rd this season and I want to be the champion.”
Having wrapped up its most successful season since its debut in 2003, with record grids and the signature on-track excitement which has earned it an unrivalled reputation, the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia is already planning to build on its phenomenal success in 2011.