Motorsports

Published on August 19th, 2020 | by Amirul Mukminin

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TORO Racing Claims 1-2 Finish at CEC Opener

An inspired single-stop strategy by reigning champions TORO Racing saw them emerge with a 1-2 finish during the opening round of the 2020 China Endurance Championship [CEC] at Ningbo International Speedpark, the two Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVOs playing the long game in the 150-minute long race after the new Climax Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO dominated much of the early running.

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In the end, experienced Shanghai-based Italian Davide Rizzo charged through the field for well over an hour to claim a 40-second victory for he and reigning champion Eric Zhang, with Leo Ye and multiple Chinese GT champion Xu Jia second.

Coming into the round, there were no less than ten Mercedes-AMG entries shared across both the GT3 (outright) and GT4 categories, with reigning champions TORO Racing leading the way with their two high-profile entries, whilst T.K.R. initially entered two AMGs and Phantom Pro Racing another new AMG EVO, to add to their successful GT4 fleet which saw their two entries joined by two for the 300+ outfit.

Sadly the ongoing pandemic did delay the debut of a number of proposed AMG entries – including in the end the Phantom Pro and FFA GT3 teams, whilst the second of the T.K.R. Mercedes was eliminated in a high speed incident during practice on Friday, the car rolling at speed into turn one with Yang Haojie at the wheel, fortunately he was unhurt but the car was unrepairable ahead of the race.

Coming off the tail end of a hot summer, teams faced track temperatures of more than 50 degrees as they rolled out for qualifying where no-one could stop a front row lockout by the experienced TORO Racing operation, Xu Jia claiming an emphatic pole from reigning champion Eric Zhang who was sharing the #108 entry with Davide Rizzo, the two teams separated by just half a second, with the new Climax Racing Lamborghini third.

With ambient temperatures in the mid 30s (celcius) the field made their rolling 3:00pm start with all cars through the opening sequence of left-handers without incident, but very quickly it became clear that an off-season of almost 12 months had taken a toll, with a number of drivers taking time to dial themselves back into the challenges of GT competition. The order right through the field changed almost by the lap as one after the other, drivers started to explore the limits of the circuit, many of them finding the grass as a result.

One driver though that was up to the challenge was Min Heng in the Climax Racing Huracan GT3, the emerging GT star working his way through the leading AMGs methodically to take the front running just ten minutes in. He extended that advantage to more than 20-seconds by the time he hit pit lane at the 54-minute mark, which handed Eric Zhang the lead, the reigning champion having recovered from an early off which had handed team-mate Xu Jia the front running.

Zhang, Jia and Michael Lu in the #118 T.K.R. entry all suffered early setbacks, but the two TORO Racing entries were able to take advantage of their fuel strategy to reclaim the front running in the final 50-minutes, as Mike Zhou returned the #63 Huracan to pit lane to hand the car to Zheng Wancheng for the final run to the flag, Zheng leaving pit lane just as Leo Ye regained second place.

The Lamborghini attacked over the following laps, a fresh set of Pirelli DHD2 tyres providing additional grip as the leading AMGs ran to their fuel strategy, and despite closing to just on two seconds from the tail of the #33 TORO Racing Mercedes, the team were unable to shut the advantage down ahead of the chequered flag.

In the end, the three teams covered 84-laps of the 4.0-kilometre circuit, to finish three laps up on the #118 entry which suffered a mid-race setback avoiding a back-marker coming into pit lane.

Behind the quartet of GT3 cars, experienced campaigner Ling Kang and team-mates Li Lin and Wang Zhingwei claimed the win in the GTC category in the #606, 300+ Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo, the trio finishing three laps up on the SilverRocket Racing Type 991 Porsche GT3 Cup Car after a great early battle, the Porsche suffering a late setback and an additional pit stop on their way to eighth outright.

They may have missed the opportunity to campaign a GT3 for Ningbo’s opening round, but the experienced Phantom Pro Racing team – who had been victorious at Ningbo in the past – proved the wealth of that experience with a solid victory in GT4 for Chris Chia and Wang Hao, the pair in the end two laps up on fellow Mercedes-AMG GT4 drivers, Li Donghui, Yang Ruoyu and Lu Wei in the #555, 300+ entry.

Third overall in GT4 despite suffering a late setback were Porsche Carrera Cup Asia regular Cui Yue alongside Johnson Chen in the TORO Racing BMW M4 GT4, with Li Dongsheng, Lu Wei and Zhou Liyuan fourth in the second of the 300+ Mercedes, four laps up on the second Phantom Pro Racing entry of Naomi Zhang, Zhou Zonghong and Wei Tianyi.

Sadly the TCE category became a one horse race after the mid-race demise of the #48 P.MU Asia Audi RS3, leaving the class win to the #996 TA Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR of Wu Jiaxin, Maomao and Wan Cunfan, although they were lucky to complete the final leg of the race after a technical issue with the right rear tyre saw them crawling around the circuit over the final laps.

The second round of the 2020 China Endurance Championship is set for Shanghai International Circuit in four weeks time, with two additional rounds scheduled for Zhuhai and Wuhan to close out the season.

The China Endurance Championship is proudly supported by China Television Service Co. Ltd. who provide live-streaming and media services across China, notably hosting the production of CEC events since the series inception in 2018.

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