Phoenix Racing is a name that is synonymous with sportscar racing around the world. After celebrating multiple victories at some of the most prestigious endurance and GT races in the world, the people behind the successful Phoenix Racing team decided to expand their horizons.
“We had been competing in European racing for over fifteen years,” explains Team Principal Ernst Moser. “With championship victories in DTM and numerous wins at some of the most prestigious endurance races in the world such as Bathurst 12 Hour, the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and the 24 Hours of Spa, we knew we had the potential to enjoy successes elsewhere and build the Phoenix Racing brand.”
As arguably the world’s most important emerging market in, Phoenix Racing’s attentions were drawn to the fledging GT and touring car racing scene in Asia. “The Asian market was of great interest to us,” Moser continues. “We set about putting together a programme to compete at a major race somewhere in Asia.”
Plans began to come together for an entry in the 2015 12 Hours of Sepang, which is usually held after the end of the European season in December. Phoenix travelled to Malaysia with a pair of Audi R8 LMS and some stellar driver line-ups. The all-Asian crew of Marchy Lee, Shaun Tong and Alex Yoong piloted the #15 car, while Nikolaus Mayr-Meinhof, Nicki Thiim and Markus Winkelhock would be responsible for driving the #16 machine.
Despite the extreme heat and humidity, coupled with torrential rain at times that forced the Race Director to interrupt the race for almost two hours, the #16 Phoenix Racing Audi finished in third place on its debut in Asia. “We were delighted with the result,” Moser says. “For us, this was the confirmation that we could take on the challenge of racing in Asia. What’s more, it also gave us a thirst for further successes in these kinds of races.”
Fresh on the back of this maiden podium, Phoenix Racing soon decided to establish a separate racing team in 2016. The decision was easy to make, but putting the plans into action proved to be a long, drawn-out process.
Setting up a company is no small task, particularly when expanding existing racing operations into a different country. A number of legal hurdles and obstacles had to be overcome, and countless meetings held both in Asia and in Europe, before Phoenix Racing Asia could begin to take shape.
2016 was all about the members of the brand-new team getting to know each other and beginning on working together to set up the required infrastructure. Once the legal affairs had been sorted out for good, Marchy Lee and Ernst Moser set about looking for a suitable base for the fledgling racing team.
“We scouted quite a few different places around Asia,” Ernst Moser explains. “After whittling down our shortlist, it soon became clear that Hong Kong would be the perfect location to base our activities – not least because it is Marchy’s home city and offers excellent connections to Europe.”
Marchy and his supporting team soon moved into their new office and began to plan the next steps for Phoenix Racing Asia. Arguably the biggest priority was to identify a suitable location for the operating side of the team, away from the administrative office in Hong Kong.
“The aim was to mirror Phoenix Racing’s operations in Germany, where the team workshop is a stone’s throw away from the Nürburgring,” says Marchy. “Our attention was quickly drawn to the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, which is of course where Phoenix Racing celebrated its on-track debut and maiden podium in Asia.”
Months were spent sourcing the required equipment and making sure that the Sepang workshop had absolutely everything a modern racing team require to run race programmes across multiple series at the same time. “Not only did we base the location of our workshop on Phoenix Racing’s successful concept in Germany, we also aimed to construct and equip the site on the basis of the European model – including a large workshop able to house all of our racing machinery and meeting areas to discuss business affairs,” Marchy adds.
Despite all the work going on in the background, the team still wanted to focus on their primary aim: going racing. Phoenix Racing Asia’s first full-season effort came in the GT Asia series with a pair of Audi R8 LMS piloted by Shaun Thong and Marchy Lee and Alex Au and former F1 driver Alex Yoong.
“The 2016 GT Asia series was the perfect introduction to the Asian scene for us,” Ernst Moser says. “The race calendar took us to most of Asia’s most-established racetracks, including the Shanghai and Fuji, and allow us to measure up to experienced Asian teams racing the latest GT3 machinery.”
Round two at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram was a particular highlight for the Phoenix Racing Asia squad, with the #5 Audi of Shaun Thong and Marchy Lee taking the team’s maiden victory in the first race of the weekend. “It was an amazing feeling to stand on the top step of the podium for the team we had only put together a few months earlier,” says Marchy Lee. “We had taken pole position in Korea at the previous round, but were unable to convert our pace into a race win. So that made this one particularly sweet!”
A further two victories would follow in GT Asia that year – a second for Thong and Lee in Okayama, Japan, and a maiden victory for Alex Yoong and Alex Au at the final round of the season in Shanghai. Consistency was the key for Shaun Thong and Marchy Lee, with the Hong Kong pairing finishing second in the Drivers’ Championship and Phoenix Racing Asia also ending the Teams’ Championship in the runner-up position.
There was further success that season for Phoenix Racing Asia driver Alex Yoong. The Malaysian finished the 2016 Audi R8 LMS Cup season with 167 points, just one ahead of his title rival Alessio Picariello, to secure back-to-back titles in the Asian single-make series.
Besides Yoong’s drivers’ title, there was even more reasons to celebrate at Phoenix Racing Asia. The team had entered five full-season entries in the Audi championship, marking its most-significant single-series commitment to date. “It was a big challenge to race five cars in the Audi R8 LMS Cup,” Ernst Moser says. “But once again I think it showed that we are more than up to the task and could look forward to taking on bigger and better things moving forward.
As the season neared its conclusion, there was one more event on the Phoenix Racing Asia calendar: the 12 Hours of Sepang in December. Once again, Phoenix Racing sent a pair of Audi R8 LMS to compete for honours at the 17th running of the once-round-the-clock endurance spectacle.
Up against strong competition from the likes of Manthey Racing and Spirit of Race, the #15 Audi R8 LMS of Robin Frijns, Christopher Haase and Laurens Vanthoor sealed the victory in impressive style and ensured that the 2016 season ended on a high. What’s more, Pierre Kaffer, René Rast and Markus Winkelhock finished in third position to give the Phoenix Racing crew a double podium to celebrate.
“It was a fitting end to the 2016 season and such a brilliant reward for everyone at the team who had worked so hard getting us this far,” Ernst Moser says. “It also showed what we could achieve in Asia once we put our mind to it and gave us further motivation to drive the team forward.”
2017 was all about building on the initial success in 2016 and helping Phoenix Racing Asia become just as successful as the Meuspath-based sister team over in Germany. Ernst Moser and Marchy Lee opted to enter Phoenix Racing Asia cars in a variety of series across the continent: from the Audi R8 LMS Cup to GT Asia, the Asian Le Mans Series and also the Japanese Super Taikyu Series.
In order to stem the resulting workload, the team chose to open a second workshop based at the Fuji International Raceway in Japan. Once again, the proximity to a race track proved to be a smart move – especially for Super Taikyu Series operations.
With coordination required between the teams bases in Germany, Hong Kong, Sepang and now also Japan, the 2017 season prove to be an immense challenge in one particular area: logistics. Phoenix Racing Asia spent a great deal of time optimising its logistical processes, structuring their shipping containers and organising all kinds of transport.
“I think 2017 was a real step-up across the board for Phoenix Racing Asia,” says Marchy Lee. “We had racing cars in a number of different series and the challenges this posed just increased exponentially. However, the number of victories and podium finishes we recorded that year shows how well we got to grips with the task at hand.”
The curtain-raiser for the 2018 season was the 24 Hours of Dubai and also marked another milestone in the history of Phoenix Racing Asia. For the first time, the Asian team would combine with the Europe-based squad in the same race. It was also the first time Phoenix Racing Asia had race the new Audi R8 LMS GT in the GT4 category.
Despite their role as outsiders in the GT4 class, the #248 car of Gosia Rdest, Joonas Lappalainen, John-Louis Jasper and Philip Ellis scored a famous class victory for Phoenix Racing. And if that wasn’t enough, the all-Hong-Kong-crewed #247 machine finished in third position in class and made it nine Phoenix Racing drivers on the podium in GT4.
The Dubai race was all about the European and Asian arms of the Phoenix Racing team in the same race, and a race victory and double podium was a testament to the standard of success that everyone at Phoenix Racing is accustomed to.
“The drivers proved that, within a remarkable short time, they can deal with a new car and also drive it at a very high standard,” said Ernst Moser after the race. “Their learning curve was pointing steeply upwards throughout the entire event and progress was as clear as daylight. The result is the well-deserved reward.”
Never one to rest on its laurels, Phoenix Racing Asia continued to progress throughout the 2018 season, taking on a second set of manufacturer entries on behalf of Bentley and the Continental GT3 in the Blancpain GT Series Asia. “The development of Phoenix Racing Asia is making great progress. The partnership with Bentley is an important step of the program and it’s a further milestone for our team in Asia,” explains Ernst Moser.