Sunday, July 28, 2013

Spa 24 Hours: Podium result for WRT Audi at Spa

By Johan Laubscher

The Spa 24 Hours, round four of the Blancpain Endurance Series, was held at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium this weekend. Seven Audi R8 LMS ultra cars were entered by Belgian Audi Club Team WRT (4), Phoenix Racing (2) and United Autosports (1). A testing weekend resulted in a positive result by the end of the very long and hard 24 hours. 

Audi Sport teams had won the Spa 24 Hours on the two previous occasions, Audi Sport Team WRT in 2011 and Audi Sport Team Phoenix in 2012. Both times it was a factory effort, whereas all of the teams in 2013 were Audi Sport customer racing teams, with no factory Audi efforts. 

It proved to be a difficult weekend as the Audi teams struggled with the Balance of Performance. Only one Audi made it into the top twenty Superpole. Vanthoor had an incident during Superpole and the only Audi in Superpole ended last, thus meaning that the highest placed Audi on the grid was twentieth. The seven Audis would line up in: P20, P27, P30, P31, P32, P35 and P53.

The race got underway with the Audis coming from further back. United Autosports were sadly involved in a touch from behind which resulted in a wheel bearing needing to be replaced, costing a lot of time. The cars progressed well during the early stages and a few Audis crept into the top ten. Unfortunately starter problems dropped the #1 WRT out of contention after they had been the highest Audi in the top five. 

As the race went into the night difficulties hit the Audi teams. The #1 WRT Audi was the first to retire (gearbox), followed by the #125 United Autosports Audi (engine related problems). The #13 WRT Audi then became the best ranked car, until contact during the night caused race-ending damage, when the #49 Ferrari made contact with Marcel Fässler. The night was not over for WRT, as their third retirement occurred in the early morning. The #0 WRT Audi, driven by Matt Halliday at the time, suffered a puncture and a resulting crash at Raidillon. The damage to the suspension and chassis ended the #0 Audi's participation.

The remaining three Audis soldiers on and battled within the top fifteen. By the time dawn broke the #2 WRT Audi was battling for the podium, and the two Phoenix cars had moved into the top ten. As the race continued the #2 remained within the top five battle. They held third during the morning but a brake change and a spin dropped them back to fifth. The Phoenix cars remained strong within the top ten until a crash for Enzo Ide in the #16, he was thankfully unharmed. Ide had made contact with the #17 Ferrari 458 while lapping the car and this caused the race-ending accident for the #16 Audi.

Seven Audis had started the event and only two were still running on track towards the end. Within the last ninety minutes the #2 WRT Audi was holding fifth, followed by the Phoenix Racing #6 Audi in sixth. Within minutes of each other technical difficulties befell the third and fourth placed Ferrari and BMW entries, thus promoting the two Audis into third and fourth. 

The top four positions would remain stagnant for the final hour, and the two remaining Audis came home for third and fourth place. The #2 WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra driven by André Lotterer, Frank Stippler and Christopher Mies finished on the podium, ahead of the #6 Phoenix R8 LMS ultra with Oliver Jarvis, Christopher Haase and Harold Primat in fourth. A difficult race, where the Audis were driven to their limits, ended with two positive results which included a podium.

The race was won by the HTP Motorsport Mercedes-Benz driven by Maximilian Buhk, Maximilian Götz and Bernd Schneider. After a race-long battle they finished ahead of the Manthey Porsche 911, followed by the two remaining Audis in third and fourth. 

The Spa 24 Hours concluded a very long and hard fourth round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. The series will now head to and conclude at the Nürburgring. It will be a 1000 km event held in Germany on the weekend of 21-22 September. 

The seven Audi Sport customer racing Audi R8 LMS ultra cars: 

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT 
#0 Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof, Matt Halliday, Rahel Frey (Team WRT) - DNF

#1 Stéphane Ortelli, Laurens Vanthoor, Rene Rast - DNF
#2 André Lotterer, Frank Stippler, Christopher Mies - 3rd
#13 Edward Sandström, Mattias Ekström, Marcel Fässler - DNF

Phoenix Racing
#6 Oliver Jarvis, Christopher Haase, Harold Primat - 4th
#16 Enzo Ide, Anthony Kumpen, Markus Winkelhock - DNF

United Autosports
#125 Will Bratt, Alan Li, Mark Patterson - DNF

Photo credit: Audi Sport Communication / Media