By Johan Laubscher
The 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series again provided some of the best GT Racing in Europe. A number of Audi Sport customer racing teams fielded Audi R8 LMS ultra cars during the season.
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT were the reigning two-time BES champions and they were aiming to repeat that success during 2013. It was a season that proved not to go WRT’s way, they were able to perform well, but they missed out on their third consecutive title.
The season review has been compiled from the 2013 Audi Motorsport Blog Weekend Round Up posts. Each round has been added as was seen in the individual Weekend Round Up posts during 2013, which can be accessed via the links throughout the review below:
The official Blancpain Endurance Championship test days took place this week. Paul Ricard hosted the first two days of testing on Tuesday and Wednesday. Seven 2013 Audi R8 LMS ultra cars were present in France, among a total of over sixty GT3 entries. Three cars from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and two each from Phoenix Racing and Saintéloc Racing.
Many of the Blancpain Endurance Series teams traveled to Monza after the Paul Ricard tests. The Italian track hosted the second set of BES tests on Thursday and Friday. The BES entries shared the track with a WTCC test as well. The two Phoenix Racing cars and one WRT car took part in the Monza test days.
Monza hosted the first round of the Blancpain Endurance Championship. Eight Audi R8 LMS ultra cars were entered by three different teams: three cars from WRT, two from Phoenix Racing and three from Saintéloc. The Audis battled for pace during the sessions and the best Audi in qualifying was in fifth. The race itself saw the Audis fall out of the top ten during the beginning stages, following a number of issues. As the race approached half way the #13 WRT and #16 Phoenix cars had recovered into the top six. #13 was able to penetrate the top three during the final set of pit stops and a fierce battle for second ensued. The #13 lost the second place and then held off another fierce challenge for third. Unfortunately the podium spot was lost at the finish line, as the Audi finished fourth, just 0.028 seconds off the podium. In the end three Audis finished within the top ten.
Round 2: Silverstone
The second Blancpain Endurance Series was held at Silverstone this weekend. A total of eight Audi R8 LMS ultra cars were entered in the event: Three from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, two from Phoenix Racing and three from Sainteloc. The cars showed good pace and the #13 WRT entry was the highest Audi qualifier in third, all three WRT cars qualified within the top ten. The three hour race saw WRT performing very well. They managed to get two cars into the top three and maintained the positions with the #1 car finishing second ahead of the #13. A total of four Audis finished in the top ten, the #2 (WRT) finished eighth and the #16 (Phoenix) finished in ninth.
Round three of the Blancpain Endurance Series headed to France this weekend, hosted at Paul Ricard. The usual eight Audi R8 LMS ultra cars were joined by a ninth car. The cars included: three from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, two from Phoenix Racing, three from Sainteloc and the ninth car from Team Speed Car. The weekend started slowly for the Audi teams, with no Audis finishing within the top ten during practice. Qualifying saw a difficult set of results for the Audi runners, as the highest Audi was only in eighth place. The race itself continued the difficult weekend as the Audis battled outside of the top ten for the majority of the race. By the end the highest Audi was only in ninth place, the #1 WRT car. Three Audis placed within the top twenty.
The Spa 24 Hours Test Day was held on Wednesday. A total of seven Audi R8 LMS ultra cars took part, three from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, two from Phoenix Racing, one from United Autosports, and then also one from Audi AG. It was a wet and cold day at Spa, which ended with four Audis in the top ten, and the #13 WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra with the fastest overall time. The race itself will be held on the last weekend of the month, 27-28 July.
The Spa 24 Hours, round four of the Blancpain Endurance Series, was held at Spa in Belgium. Seven Audi R8 LMS ultra cars were entered by Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, Phoenix Racing and United Autosports.
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 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.
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. The Phoenix cars remained strong within the top ten until a crash for Enzo Ide in the #16, he was thankfully unharmed.
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 finale of the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series was held at the Nürburgring. This event was the fifth BES round and featured a special 1000 km race duration format. A total of five Audis were entered, three from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and two from Phoenix Racing. The championship title fight came down to this weekend, with Frank Stippler and Christopher Mies fighting for the driver’s title and WRT for the team’s title. Only one Audi made it into the top ten during qualifying, the #13 WRT car of Mies, Stippler and Rast placed seventh. The race got underway with foggy and moist conditions. WRT and their #13 car were very competitive and moved forward inside the top ten. By half distance the #13 had gotten up to second, followed by three more Audis inside of the top ten. As the race progressed the #13 R8 LMS ultra battled with the Marc VDS BMWs and dropped to fourth place. A pitstop to replace the #13 car's brakes dropped them back, but later contact put the #13 completely out of contention. The problems for the #13 combined with issues for the #1 ended WRT's bid for the championship titles. Phoenix Racing, with their #16 car, were running well and placed within the middle of the top ten during the final hour, but they needed a brakes change with under twenty minutes to go, dropping them far back. Ultimately the sister Phoenix #6 Audi R8 LMS ultra was the best Audi finisher, as they finished tenth. The highest WRT Audi was the #1 in sixteenth place.