Sunday, January 27, 2013

Audi wins the Rolex 24 in Daytona GT class

By Tarek Ramchani and Johan Laubscher

Audi has just won the demanding GT class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The #24 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 GRAND-AM driven by Dion von Moltke, Filipe Albuquerque, Oliver Jarvis and Edoardo Mortara crossed the finish line victorious after a titanic GT battle all race long. The AJR Audi lead home the APR #52 Audi for a 1-2 finish. A great result for Audi as a brand and the whole Audi Sport customer racing program. The GT3 spec Audi R8 LMS has won almost everything in Europe and beyond, and it was great to see the "American" R16 doing the same in America's premier 24 hour endurance event this weekend.

It was a very hard and long race with a great field consisting of 34 GT cars. Four Audi R8 GRAND-AM cars were entered in the event with massive support from Audi Sport customer racing/quattro GmbH and Audi of America. The three teams worked together and most of the race they were among the top 10. Bad luck hit APR Motorsport after very strong performances from the #52 R8 of Frank Stippler, Marc Basseng, Rene Rast and Ian Baas. After a brilliant showing and leading the race in the early evening the very strong APR driver squad was forced to catch up from behind due to a crippling 3 minute time penalty, a shame for one of the big favourites for GT victory. This meant that the remaining other two Audis, AJR and Rum Bum, were the ones left fighting for class honors. Rum Bum Racing and Alex Job Racing challenged world class rivals from Porsche and Ferrari teams, both also with factory support.

As the sun rose over Daytona the AJR and Rum Bum Audis remained in the hunt and battled with the leaders. Bad luck with penalties was to plague the Audi teams again during the morning. First to fall victim was the Rum Bum entry which also received a crippling 3 minute time penalty which dropped them far back. This left the AJR car as the lone Audi in front, but after a titanic battle for the lead Mortara was involved in a high speed spin nearly collecting a Ferrari. This spin prompted a penalty of over 1 minute for "avoidable contact," despite no contact taking place and the Ferrari team saying that there was no contact. This ill deserved penalty almost effectively ruined the AJR Audi's race and completed a full set of penalties for the Audi entries.

As the disappointment of the two penalties during the morning began to sink in another Audi made the recovery drive of the race. After receiving their own three minute penalty during the night and loosing two laps, the #52 APR squad had raced their way back onto the lead lap. They continued their forward progress and with less than three hours to go the #52 went back into the lead and another titanic GT battle ensued with Audi versus Porsche and Ferrari. The Rum Bum and AJR entries worked hard and got themselves back onto the lead lap as well. As the race headed into the final stages the Rum Bum car completed an equally impressive recovery to place themselves in third, right in the mix.

The stage was set for the final 90 minute dash to the flag. APR and Rum Bum were in the leading group with AJR on the lead lap. The GT racing was intense as the teams battled for the lead, whilst track position was becoming ever more important. At one stage the leading trio, including the #52 APR and Rum Bum, went three wide into the bus stop where Rum Bum went from 3rd to 1st, only to spin on the next lap. During these proceedings the AJR car was back into the leading group as well. Now all three Audi cars were within 20 seconds of the lead, after countless penalties the race was still alive for all three Audi teams.

Coming off another caution period the top four had three Audis with the #52 APR car leading the way. Rene Rast had a tremendous battle with the #69 Ferrari with the Rum Bum and AJR cars in the top five as well. The final 30 minutes became a pitstop battle of who needed to stop and who didn't need to. AJR lead 1-2 (Audi ahead of Porsche) but appeared to need a stop whereas Rast was charging and didn't need to stop again. A grand stand finish was awaiting the fans with five cars standing a chance of winning.

The moment of truth arrived as the #24 AJR Audi had to pit leaving the AJR Porsche in the lead until they pitted as well. The #52 Audi was involved in a huge fight with the #44 Porsche. As it all settled down it was an Audi 1-2-3 with AJR leading Rum Bum and APR. On the last lap the Rum Bum car ran out of fuel as APR tired to catch AJR. The #24 AJR came through to win after running long enough to make the gap and win with the final splash and dash.

Audi victory at Daytona is somewhat a bit of revenge after all the bad luck and some penalizing rules that hit the R8 GRAND-AM during the 2012 season. Right now only APR Motorsport is committed to the full Rolex Series season with Audi. We hope that the Daytona result will continue all year long in Grand-Am. Next stop for the series will be at the brand new Circuit of the Americas in Texas.

Photo credit: Audi Media