Asian Le Mans Series, Round 1 - Zhuhai (China)
Vincenzo Sospiri Racing made their GT3 debut this weekend when the Italian team took part in the opening round of the 2016-17 Asian Le Mans Series. The team shipped their Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to China for the Zhuhai race at the beginning of September after completing a handful of tests in Italy. Further testing took place at Zhuhai in the days before the race weekend giving drivers Kei Cozzolino, Corey Lewis and Adrian Zaugg a chance to learn the circuit and familiarise themselves with the car.
Two sessions of official free practice took place on Saturday morning in the run up to qualifying and in the second session VSR was 6th fastest. The unwelcome guest for qualifying was rain and it was Zaugg who was entrusted to undertake the car's first laps in the wet. In the short, fifteen minute qualifying session the South African driver managed nine laps and set the 8th fastest time, one second off the Ferrari trio who headed the field.
Cozzolino was behind the wheel of the Lamborghini when the four hour race got underway and made a cracking getaway moving up to 5th place. The first of five cautions in the first hour neutralised the race briefly but by lap four Cozzolino was running in 2nd. As he chased down the Clearwater Ferrari in the lead he had Blomqvist in the BMW right behind him. For much of his stint Cozzolino was one of the quickest GT3 cars on track and the team took advantage of a second safety car to pit for fuel. The strategy paid off allowing Cozzolino to run well into the second hour of the race without further stops. By lap 48 he had moved into the lead and a perfectly timed safety car allowed him to bring the car in for Zaugg under yellows.
VSR's strategy was replicated by the leading Ferrari crews and when the race went green Zaugg was in 2nd place, sandwiched between two Audi's. On lap 59 he passed the Absolute Racing Audi to reclaim the lead of the race. When the second placed Audi pitted the VSR car was comfortably up front being hunted down by a trio of Ferrari's. Zaugg continued unperturbed at the head of the field and bought the Lamborghini in for Lewis with 1 hour and 16 minutes left to go. The pit-stop pushed the VSR car down to 3rd behind the Clearwater and Spirit of Race Ferrari's but when they made their final stops under green flag conditions Lewis once more took control of the race. A safety car just as the race moved into the final hour allowed the VSR crew to top the Lamborghini up with enough fuel to see them to the end without losing the lead. The field bunched up under the safety car and the top three GT3 cars were line astern when racing resumed. A puncture with half an hour to go forced Lewis to return to the pits, losing any chance of victory, but the lead he and his team-mates had established was enough to ensure that when the chequered flag fell the VSR Lamborghini finished 3rd - a remarkable achievement for the team's debut race in GT3.
The second round of the Asian Le Mans Series will be at Fuji in Japan on 3rd - 4th December.
Vincenzo Sospiri: I'm extremely happy about the result we achieved on our GT3 debut and I'd like to thank all my team for the amazing job they did, Lamborghini for their support and our drivers for the fantastic performance they put in today. We did very little testing before sending the car out to Zhuhai so to get a podium is really amazing and reflects the effort and hard work the whole team put in to make this project happen.
Kei Cozzolino: Everyone in the team did a fantastic job and the podium was a just reward for their hard work. The car was amazing to drive and I'm already looking forward to the next race.
Corey Lewis: I was very humbled at the opportunity to race here and I'm very happy to have got a podium in my first international event. Our car was really strong in the race and I was lucky to have two great drivers beside me. Vincenzo called the strategy perfectly and I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone at VSR and Lamborghini as well as my sponsors Monster Energy Drink and MOMO Motorsport.
Adrian Zaugg: It's been really great to be part of the VSR team this weekend and to make a podium finish on our debut was fantastic. They're a great team and I hope to have another chance to work with them.