Known primarily as the home of the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix (though it also hosts MotoGP, Aussie V-8 Supercars and a few Asian-based series), Shanghai International Circuit was built in just eight months in 2003 and opened for business in 2004 as the grandest of all the Grand Prix circuits (though Dubai’s F1 track is arguably the current king of the F1 sandboxes). Its scale is simply mind-blowing, dwarfing all previous F1 circuits with the sheer enormity of its facilities, while the track’s design is inspired by the shape of the Chinese character shang, the first character in the name of the city Shanghai, meaning “above” or “ascend.”
But what really got our attention was an email from our friend Kenneth “Turtle” Lau, an accomplished racing driver and race car builder who has helped us on a number of our project car builds over the years. Turns out Kenneth made a recent trip back to his motherland to drive one of the world’s fastest supercars, a Gumpert Apollo S, at the Shanghai F1 circuit as part of the third-annual Race Car Carnival. But Kenneth wasn’t just there to turn a few demonstration laps for potential supercar shoppers — Chinese exotic car importer SPS Automotive Performance and Gumpert flew him in to set a track record for a production car, and that’s exactly what he did, with a best lap of 2:01.787 (as points of reference, the F1 track record is 1:32.238, the Aussie V8 Supercar record a 1:51.056 and the MotoGP record a 1:58.139). Here’s a taste of what it was like for Kenneth to drive one of the world’s most extreme road cars on one of the world’s grandest racing circuits.
“Turn 1 is both the most challenging and the most fun corner on the circuit. In the Apollo S, I was doing about 250 km/h on the front straight, and given the long decreasing radius shape of turn 1, you have a lot of work to do as you downshift from sixth to second, braking and adding more and more steering angle as the corner tightens and slows. It’s really tricky to get the line and speed just right through this corner. The other key section on the track is turn 12 and 13 leading out onto the very long back straight, where the 750hp Gumpert really stretches its legs and can reach speeds of almost 290 km/h. As any race driver or race engineer will tell you, the most important corner on any track is the one leading onto the longest straight, since a good launch out of this corner will set you up for a higher top speed down the straight. On the Shanghai circuit, turn 12 blends into 13 as an increasing radius right-hander that allows you to gradually drop the hammer as you accelerate around it onto the back straight. It’s a really fun corner, where you balance the car right on the edge of the available grip, which, in my case, was limited by the use of street tires.
“On the track map, turns 7 and 8 look like they should be really fast, but this S-bend requires a lot of downforce and grip to be taken quickly, so are really designed for the F1 cars. In a production car on street tires like the Gumpert Apollo S, I was only able to slide through here in fourth gear at about 140 km/h, whereas a F1 car is going twice that speed.”
If you ever find yourself in the most populous city in China (over 23 million at last count), be sure to add a visit to its F1 circuit to your itinerary. Sure, the Pudong skyline at night is a site to behold, but for any real motorhead the Shanghai International Circuit is just as impressive.
Shanghai International Circuit
Location Jiading District, Shanghai, China
Track Configuration 3.387-mile, 16-turn Grand Prix circuit
Longest Straight 3,838 feet
Other Facilities 29,000-person main grandstand, 200,000 spectator capacity, race control tower, administration tower, media center, Sky restaurant, team houses, pit building and much more.