By Johan Laubscher
Audi wins another spa 24 Hours and successfully defends the race title after their first win in 2011. Audi Sport Team Phoenix took the victory with Frank Stippler, Andrea Piccini and Rene Rast driving the number #16 Audi R8 LMS ultra. It was Phoenix Racing’s first Spa 24 Hours victory with the Audi brand. The victory is extra special for the team as it has been a long time coming. The team has been competing at the Spa 24 with Audi since 2009. A terrific podium on the Audi R8 LMS’s debut in 2009 was followed by 2010 and 2011 where the team was the fastest but also very unlucky. 2012 finally saw the Phoenix winning drought come to an end as the #16 R8 LMS ultra crossed the finish line.
The Spa 24 Hours victory marks a very special achievement for Audi Sport. For the first time cars from the same manufacture have won the Nürburgring 24 Hours, Le Mans 24 Hours and the Spa 24 Hours in the same year. Factory teams from Audi Sport have claimed victory in all three these major European 24 Hour races, a spectacular achievement for the brand of the four rings.
For Phoenix Racing this is the third endurance victory for the team this year. They have already won the 2012 Bathurst 12 Hours, the Nürburgring 24 Hours and now the Spa 24 Hours. This is a very special result for the German team.
It was an eventful race with typical Spa weather throwing everything it had to offer at the competitors. The first half of the race will be remembered for the changeable weather conditions and many safety car periods. After the cancelation of qualifying the grid was interesting with many of the top Audi cars starting further back. From the drop of the green flag the Audis soldiered steadily to the front. Unfortunately the Le Mans podium team of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Tom Kristensen who had a brilliant start, were clipped by a McLaren and they lost many laps. The trio did perform the comeback of the race as they stormed back into the top ten by race’s end in their #6 Phoenix Audi R8 LMS ultra.
Amongst all the happenings a clear pattern had emerged at the front. The BMW and Audi cars were locked in battle for the top positions. It was a wet and wild race during the night with very high attrition. By the morning the sun was out and the factory backed cars from Audi Sport Team Phoenix and WRT had asserted their presence at the front. The #16 Phoenix car had been the top Audi for many hours and continued to lead into the morning followed by the two WRT cars who were battling with the BMWs. A puncture to the #16 car closed the gap and a battle ensued between #16 and #1. The positions of Audis in 1,2,3 continued during the morning hours.
The afternoon proceeded with Phoenix leading and WRT chasing. The Audi 1,2,3 was disturbed when the #2 WRT Audi had a high speed spin while it was heading through Eau Rouge. The resulting damage ended the #2 car’s race and the chances of an Audi 1,2,3 finish. The crash brought out the safety car which allowed time for the #16 car to change brake pads. #16 rejoined in second place and the battle for the lead continued during the rest of the afternoon.
The two leading cars spent the rest of the warm and dry afternoon chasing each other very hard with the lead alternating on pitstops. The battle provided some great racing with the drivers pushing very hard, and this after almost 24 hours of hard racing. The race win was set to came down to the alternating pitstop strategies and who would be ahead. In the end with a safety car and a penalty for WRT the race finished in favour of Phoenix Racing as they crossed the line first for this historic victory.
Along with the four factory cars there were a further six Audi cars entered from various private teams. The other teams did well in their respective classes through the long and hard race. Some of the teams were victims of the high attrition rate but in the end Audi was well represented by the factory supported and privateer Audi teams.
The race was been very good for the factory Audi teams. Phoenix have scored their first Audi Spa 24 victory and WRT have scored vital championship points for the Blancpain Endurance series championship. It has been another fantastic Spa 24 hours and another victory to remember for Audi Sport.