Sunday, September 1, 2013

Zolder 24 Hours: WRT Audi finishes fourth after a long and testing race

By Johan Laubscher

The Zolder 24 Hours was held this weekend, an event which WRT had won on the two previous occasions in 2011 and 2012, both times with Audi.

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT returned to Zolder with an one-car entry. Their #1 Audi R8 LMS ultra was the only GT3 car in the field, and they were the clear favourites for the race win. The WRT Audi was entrusted to four Belgian drivers: Laurens Vanthoor, Anthony Kumpen, Enzo Ide and Bert Longin, all of whom had won this event in the past.

WRT showed their pace during the practice sessions and qualified on pole with a new GT3 lap record at Zolder. The race itself got underway with WRT leading from the front. Their pace ensured that they lead during the opening hours. Gearbox issues set in during the night and WRT was forced to replace their gearbox. By the time they rejoined the track they had a thirty-two lap deficit to the leaders. 

The four drivers performed well during the night and the speed advantage saw the Audi progressing through the field, all the way up to third by the time dawn broke. The progress continued up to second place when tragedy struck again during Sunday morning. WRT lost forty minutes and all chance of victory due to a front wishbone failure and subsequent repair. They rejoined in fourth overall and managed to recover to third. This looked to ultimately be the final position for WRT, as the deficit to the leaders was just too much, despite a valiant effort from the drivers, who continued to lap at very good pace trying to close the gap. The podium result looked safe, but with an hour to go the WRT Audi was back in the pits with further mechanical issues. They lost third place in the process and got out on track with thirty minutes to go, to finally claim fourth overall and third in the GT class after a very long 24 hours event. 

To rub salt into their wounds there was also a protest against WRT during the Zolder 24 Hours. The protest was regarding the fuel tank size regulations. By four o’clock local time Sunday afternoon the race was won by the #99 Belgian Racing Porsche ahead of the #21 JR Motorsport BMW M3 Silhouette and the #98 Belgian Racing Porsche.

It was not to be a third consecutive WRT Zolder 24 hours victory, but the team never gave up and soldiered on to collect fourth place overall by the finish.