For the second year running, the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup season will finish in China on 13th November in the Zhuhaï 6 Hours, in which the two-time F1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen will compete! From a sporting point of view, beyond a much sought-after victory on a prime market, the main centre of attention will be the attribution of the manufacturers’ title in LM GTE.
Many people’s eyes will be focused on the no. 96 AMG Mercedes-Benz SLS GT3 on the grid for the Zhuhaï 6 Hours. Not only because it will be the first outing of a car bearing the famous 3-pointed star in an ILMC race (in GTC accepted in China as in 2010), but also because it will be driven by Mika Häkkinen, the F1 World Champion in 1998-1999. The Finn, who won his two titles with the McLaren-Mercedes squad, has maintained strong links with the German make, which has entered this car under the AMG China team banner. Mika will be backed up by German Lance David Arnold and Cong Fu Cheng, the first Chinese driver to have raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2008. Four GTCs (three Audi R8 LMSs and the Mercedes-Benz) plus a Formula Le Mans complete the field of 29 entries for the final round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
The main sporting challenge in the race is in the LM GTE category. Ferrari will start the Zhuhaï event hoping to win the ILMC manufacturers’ title in this category. So far the Italian cars have had a great season with four wins in six races including three for the Fisichella-Bruni pairing not enough, though, to clinch outright victory in the title chase before the final round in Zhuhaï. Ferrari needs only one point to be crowned and beat BMW, while in the teams’ classification AF Corse has only 14 points in hand over BMW Motorsport.
Mathematically speaking, Peugeot is already assured of winning the championship title in the LM P1 manufacturers’ category (subject to the ACO confirming the results after the Zhuhaï event), and the Lion from Sochaux is determined to continue its winning streak. In fact, the French make has emerged victorious in all the ILMC rounds of the season so far with the notable exception of the Le Mans 24 Hours. For Peugeot as well as for Audi a win in China is of capital importance given what’s at stake in the world’s no. 1 motor car market. The outsiders in the duel between the diesel-engined prototypes will be Aston Martin Racing (3rd in the Petit Le Mans on 1st October), OAK Racing (3rd Silverstone, 11th September) with two LM P1s and Rebellion Racing with its Lola-Toyota not forgetting the Japanese entry of a Courage LC70 by Tokai University.
The economic stakes are equally as high for the manufacturers entered in LM GTE. Ferrari, BMW, Lotus, Corvette, Aston Martin and Porsche also have a solid foothold on the Chinese market: recently, the country became the leading importer of Porsches ahead of the United States! That gives an idea, above and beyond the final titles that will be awarded, of the intensity of the battle between the ILMC entrants.
In LM GTE Am, the Larbre Competition Corvette will be under no pressure as it already won the 2011 teams’ title in LM GTE Am at the Petit Le Mans. Obviously, it will be after a prestige victory in China. The same applies to Signatech-Nissan also victorious in the American event, whose sole rival will be the OAK Racing entry following the withdrawal of Level 5 Motorsports
Increased television coverage
This year, the Zhuhaï 6 Hours will benefit from increased television coverage in relation to 2010, proof of the growing interest in motor sport in China. Three channels will show the event: Guangdong Sport Channel, a powerful regional network covering the provinces of Guangdong and Chongqing (135 million inhabitants), will provide over 6 hours’ coverage on 13th November including five dedicated to the race. The major national TV channel, CCTV 5, will also cover the event in its programmes with information flashes and short programmes starting on 12th November. Finally, the national satellite network, Guangxi Satellite Channel will broadcast an 80-minute summary the day after the race. ESPN Star, a Pan-Asian broadcaster, will beam 3 hours live into South-Eastern Asian homes!
Obviously, Eurosport, the ILMC’s partner will finish the season with a flourish.
The final 1h 30m of the race will be shown live on Sunday 13th November from 08h30 to 10h00 (French time) in Europe (including France). Eurosport Asia-Pacific, another Pan-Asian network, will show the whole race live plus several summaries in the days that follow. Other agreements with several international broadcasters are in the process of being finalized.