Sawa Crowned 2011 Porsche Carrera Cup Asia Champion in Shanghai

Published on October 24th, 2011

Shanghai. LKM Racing Team’s Keita Sawa was crowned 2011 Porsche Carrera Cup Asia Champion today after the final, title-deciding race of the season held at the 5.5km Shanghai International Circuit.  The Japanese ace beat title rival Rodolfo Avila of Team Jebsen in a dramatic showdown to win the championship by a single point.

Winner of Round 12, and third in the championship, was Team StarChase driver Alexandre Imperatori, who put in another faultless pole-to-flag performance despite a Safety Car interruption. Second across the line was Avila, but his 18 points were not enough to beat Sawa.

Newly-crowned Class B Champion, Team BetterLife’s Wang Jian Wei of China, ended his triumphant debut GT season in style, taking the category victory in the final race of the year, ahead of Team Kangshun’s Ringo Chong and OpenRoad Racing’s Francis Tjia.  The trio finished the race in championship order.

Sawa, who thanked his LKM Racing Team for their support, and credited consistency for his championship win, had carefully planned his targets for the weekend, but had not reckoned on the technical glitch which made his win all the harder to achieve – and taste all the sweeter:  “My target was to make Rodolfo’s tyres work hard.  After he passed me, I knew there was still the situation of the gap to Alex, so I was still quite comfortable. In the middle of the race, my gear shift stuck so I tried to use the clutch to shift up.  After the Safety Car came out though, I just prayed!  During the last lap I was feeling very, very happy.  This is my third year of Porsche Carrera Cup Asia competition, and now my dream has come true.  I will never forget today.”

Race winner Imperatori, 24,  was upbeat, despite the blow dealt to his championship aspirations by missing out on two races:  “My thanks to Team StarChase and our partners TransAsia Airways and PICC Property and Casualty.  It’s a funny feeling (not to have won the title) having had so much success, but we showed our performance which was the most important from my point of view.  Congratulations to Keita – it was very close in the end, which is great for everyone.”

For Avila, also 24, the disappointment of missing out on the title was tempered by the adrenaline from two fantastic races:  “It’s been a great season and Team Jebsen and I have improved so much over last year.  We’re getting stronger with every outing.  This is just my third year in the series, and fourth in sports car competition, so missing out by just a single point is frustrating but at the same time a great achievement to come this close to winning such a competitive international championship.”

The final race proved as dramatic as the season.  As the lights went out, pole-sitter Imperatori led the field and immediately set about building a lead, but behind him, Sawa, LKM Racing team mate Tim Sugden, Avila and Class B sensation Davide Rizzo of Woyo Racing Team roared into turn one.  Avila knew he could not remain behind Sugden, but Rizzo was right on his tail forcing him to defend his position while looking to find a way past the Briton at the same time.

Imperatori had built a lead of 1.659 seconds from Sawa by the end of the opening lap, but the Japanese driver knew second was enough to win him the title. Avila, however, was far from done and got alongside Sugden on the following lap, but could not make the pass.  Rizzo kept up the pressure, and the Team Jebsen driver was well and truly sandwiched between the pair, allowing Sawa to extend his margin.

Behind them, Francis Tjia was running sixth overall, and second amongst the Class B category behind Rizzo, followed by Wang and the hard-charging Class A driver Henri Richard who was up to eighth.

Lap 5 saw Sawa slow with gearbox problems, and team mate Sugden arriving behind him fast going into the turn.  Rizzo got a good exit and charged into third behind Sawa, with Avila and Sugden in hot pursuit.  A coming together with Avila spelled disaster for the Italian as he picked up a puncture.

Racing to save his championship dreams, Avila took the charge to the struggling Sawa, passing him on Lap 6.  Imperatori had built up an unassailable lead at the front, while Avila knew that, unless misfortune struck his rival, it was all over.  All that changed in a second though, when debris on the track saw the Safety Car come out, closing up the field.  Imperatori had it all to do again, and Avila had a final chance to snatch the title from Sawa, who by this stage was praying hard.

When the Safety Car pulled off, the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia field sprang back into action for the final time in 2011, with Imperatori again getting away well and charging to the flag.  Avila crossed the line second, ahead of Sawa, with Sugden in fourth.  Richard finished fifth after a superb performance.

The drama of the final round was a fitting grand finale to what has been a spectacular ninth season for the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, with record grids and some of the most intense competition of its history.  The first season under the leadership of Porsche China has also seen the championship’s following gather momentum, and plans are already underway for a milestone tenth season in 2012.

text & pix: Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, PR Plus

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