In terms of mainstream local motorsport, the average Australian is generally only conscious of the Virgin Australia Supercars championship. But with the decline of local manufacturing and fewer factory-backed teams in the Supercars championship, more categories are steadily gaining in popularity year-on-year.
GT racing is a burgeoning class of motorsport both among fans and competitors, especially in Australia thanks to headline events like the Bathurst 12 Hour. Designed as a middle ground where both amateurs and professional drivers compete together, the racing aspect provides an extra challenge for the gentleman drivers who flock to the category, while professionals racers are able to hone their skills in the hopes of getting noticed by larger race teams.
But like so many other extracurricular activities, a GT racing campaign takes huge amounts of money to run, and takes a lot of time in the seat to be competitive.
Which is where Audi’s R8 LMS Cup comes into play.
Created as a one-make race series (where all drivers are in the same car), all competitors are on an even playing field and the series is heavily backed by Audi Sport China. Meaning, instead of having to organise ancillary GT racing aspects like mechanics, transport and spare parts, Audi takes care of that side of the race weekend while all you have to do is buy the car and drive fast.
Now in its eighth season, this is the second time the series has come to Australia. The opening round begins in Adelaide during the Adelaide 500 weekend, before heading to various other Asian destinations like Shanghai, Suzuka and Sepang circuits.
Race weekends consist of 90 minutes practice time before qualifying sessions. Races then go for 30 timed minutes plus one lap.
Initially only open to drivers of GT3-spec Audi R8s, last year a GT4 category was added to the LMS Cup, which is intended for beginners. Whichever class you do go, costs for the GT4 spec race car are similar to an R8 road car’s price of $400,000, while the GT3 is closer to $700,000.
It’s a close-knit group, with an emphasis placed on the sharing of data, mechanics and driving instructors, but when the chequered flag drops racing becomes the priority and drivers pull no punches.
Melbourne Performance Centre (MPC) in Croydon, Victoria is the factory-backed workshop who runs Audi’s motorsport efforts in Australia, whether it be selling the cars, servicing, or trackside support.
“MPC exists because track time only accounts for the smallest proportion of the time and effort needed to field a competitive car,” says Troy Russell, part-owner of MPC.
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“GT3 racing is exciting racing because all cars have strengths and weaknesses. The cars are so reactive to a change as well, if we change rear ride height by one millimetre that’s a substantial change.”
“It’s why we always aim to set up the race cars in our specified shop, where we control the variables, compared with what we’ve got this weekend at the Adelaide 500 which is a marquee paddock with uneven ground, etc.”
The R8 LMS Cup is the kind of series that attracts people like Steve McLaughlan, who fields multiple Audi R8 LMS cars throughout Australia. Having spent his early years in rally cars, McLaughlan then applied himself to a working life before reuniting with motorsport throughout the 2000s.
It took a while to fully invest into one category, but Steve said “Troy convinced me to test drive the Audi R8 LMS and that’s how I arrived in the Audi family.”
Having been through multiple runnings of the Bathurst 12 Hour with professional European drivers, Steve’s grateful for Audi’s factory backed involvement.
“Audi Sport is able to send out drivers like Christopher Mies, the support particularly from Germany is helpful in being competitive.”
Audi China also provides driver training during R8 LMS Cup rounds for those who need it, with FIA World Endurance Championship star Weiron Tan dispatched to set lap times for the amateur drivers to try and match.
As for incentive to compete, various prizes like fully-funded seats in races like the 10 Hours of Suzuka to a one-of-a-kind “Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup edition” Audi R8 road car are on offer.
But really, the incentive for being in the series is a bit of “me-time” for the busy professionals who might spend 90% of their time in business.
It’s about as turn-key as motorsport can get, as long as you’ve got the money.