Monday, December 23, 2013

FIA GT: Audi teams 2013 season review

By Johan Laubscher

The 2013 FIA GT Series provided some of the most exciting GT racing seen in Europe this year. Three Audi Sport customer racing teams fielded a number of Audi R8 LMS ultra cars.

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT fielded three regular cars and they were joined by single car entries from Phoenix Racing and Team Novadriver.

The season concluded with the 2013 FIA GT Series Pro Cup teams' and drivers’ titles being awarded to Belgian Audi Club Team WRT.

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:

Round 1: Nogaro

The FIA GT Series got underway at Nogaro this weekend. Five Audi R8 LMS ultra car arrived at the track, but to everyone’s surprise they were in 2012 specification. The 2013 updates have not yet been homologated and thus the cars had to run in the older specification. Despite the setback the Audis were fast and Rene Rast claimed pole position for the qualification race. The WRT entry of Rene Rast and Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof held the lead until the closing stages when Loeb managed to claim the win in his McLaren. Three Audis finished within the top five. The main championship race took place in wet weather on Monday afternoon. Mayr-Melnhof remained in second and stayed in contention with Loeb during the first stint, and took the lead during the pitstops. Rast eventually lost the lead due to a touch but regained it when the leading McLaren was called in for a pitstop infringement. During the closing minutes the #13 and #11 WRT cars also made it onto the podium to complete a WRT Audi 1-2-3 overall finish. In doing so WRT won the Pro class and the Pro-am class. The other Audis also did well, Phoenix Racing finished fifth overall and Team Novadriver finished second in Pro-am, which rounded off a 1-2 finish for Audi in both classes. 

Update: The #12 WRT entry was later penalised with a 30 second penalty, thus giving the overall victory to the #13 WRT entry of Edward Sandström and Frank Stippler. The Team Novadriver Audi squad thus also took the Pro-Am class victory.

Round 2: Zolder

The FIA GT Series arrived at Zolder in Belgium this weekend. This was round two of the European series and five Audi R8 LMS ultra cars were once again entered in the event. All five cars were seen in the 2013 Audi R8 LMS ultra specification (minus the new rear diffuser). The cars were very fast and WRT achieved victory in the qualifying race with the #11 R8 LMS ultra. This victory marked the first race win for the new 2013 Audi R8 LMS ultra. The Championship Race saw a good battle for the lead between a Reiter Lamborghini and the #11 WRT Audi. In the end the WRT squad finished second and third, with the third car in fifth. Phoenix Racing and Team Novadriver completed a top ten finish for all the Audis by placing sixth and ninth respectively.

Round 3: Zandvoort

The FIA GT Series headed to the Netherlands this weekend, hosting round three at Zandvoort. The regular five Audi R8 LMS ultra entries from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, Phoenix Racing and Team Novadriver were all present. They showed well, and four Audis made it into the top ten during qualifying. The start of the Qualifying Race was exciting as an Audi emerged at the front after it was three-way-wide in turn one. Vanthoor continued to lead the race and his teammate Ortelli brought the #11 Audi R8 LMS ultra home for another race victory. Four Audis finished within the top ten, all three WRT cars and the Team Novadriver entry. The main Championship Race on Sunday saw only two Audi cars finishing the race. The #11 and #13 WRT cars both battled to the line for second position, thus completing a double podium as #11 finished second ahead of #13 in third. Ortelli and Vanthoor have maintained their lead in the driver's standings and WRT is still leading the team's standings. The Phoenix Racing entry and the #12 from WRT both retired from the race. The Novadriver Audi suffered a hard crash, but luckily Cesar Campanico was reported as unharmed.

Round 4: Slovakia Ring

Round four of the FIA GT Series headed to the Slovakia Ring. Only four of the regular five Audi entries were fielded this weekend, as Phoenix Racing decided to withdraw from the event. Three cars from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and one from Team Novadriver. Balance of Performance has been the buzzword as of late, with the 2013 Audi R8 LMS ultra suffering under the current BoP. WRT decided to retrofit their three cars with the 2012 R8 LMS ultra specification, thus taking advantage of the older specification’s BoP, which is now less harsh than the 2013 version. It was a wise decision and it paid handsome dividends, as the WRT cars were running at the front all weekend long. The #12 Audi took pole position with Rast behind the wheel. During the Qualifying Race Rast lead in the beginning, but an early safety car period bunched up the field. Mayr-Melnhof took over from Rast and held the lead until being passed by Loeb, he ultimately dropped to fifth. The highest Audi was the #11 of Vanthoor and Ortelli, who had progressed up to second, despite their penalty in qualifying. Three Audis within the top ten was rounded out by the #13 WRT car in ninth. The main Championship Race saw Ortelli leading from the start, but his start was judged as a jump-start and the penalty dropped them back. By the end of the race the WRT Audis were running together 1-2-3 in the Pro-Cup class, positions two through fourth overall. The Audis finished in the order: #12 of Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof and Rene Rast ahead of #11 Stéphane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor, and #13 of Edward Sandström and Frank Stippler.

Round 5: Navarra

Navarra in Spain hosted the fifth and penultimate FIA GT Series round this weekend. Four Audi R8 LMS ultra cars were entered, three from Belgian Audi Team WRT and one from Team Novadriver. WRT arrived with the goal of maintaining their advantage at the head of the driver’s and team’s points standings. During qualifying the Audis showed very well, as Stippler and Sandström qualified on the front row. The qualifying race got underway in wet conditions, with many teams gambling on tires. The #12 WRT Audi suffered on the wrong tires, but a terrific battle for second place ensued between the #11 and #13 WRT Audis. By the end of the race the #13 of Stippler and Sandtröm finished second, as Ortelli and Vanthoor dropped back to seventh, having gambled on the wrong tires during the pitstop. The #14 Team Novadriver Audi finished sixth overall, taking third in the PAM class. The main championship race on Sunday saw another podium result for WRT, as the #13 crew finished third, followed by their teammates in the #12 in fifth. The #11 of Vanthoor and Ortelli suffered brake issues and finished fifteenth. Team Novadriver finished ninth overall, again on the PAM podium. The championship battle will come down to the final round at Baku, as Ortelli and Vanthoor lead the standings in the #11 WRT Audi, just five points ahead of Stippler and  Sandström in the #13 WRT Audi. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT remain in the lead of the team’s championship points.

Round 6: Baku World Challenge

The finale of the FIA GT Series took place in Azerbaijan this weekend. The Baku World Challenge street circuit was the scene for the finale, which saw the participation of six Audi R8 LMS ultra cars from three different teams. Four cars were entered by Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and one each from Phoenix Racing and Team Novadriver.

The drivers’ championship in the Pro Cup class came down to this weekend and it was a straight duel between WRT’s two crews of #11 Stéphane Ortelli / Laurens Vanthoor and #13 Edward Sandström / Frank Stippler. WRT was also aiming to clinch the teams’ title this weekend.

The Audi teams showed good pace at the front during the entire weekend. Good times in practice were backed up by a very strong showing in qualifying. The two qualifying sessions concluded with Rene Rast setting a massively impressive lap time, leading an Audi 1-2-3, with the #12 WRT Audi on pole, ahead of the #5 Phoenix and #11 WRT. Team Novadriver secured second position within the Pro-Am Cup. Phoenix Racing was later disqualified and dropped to last place for a technical infringement.

Sunday kicked off with the Qualifying race. A damp track had put a delay on the proceedings, but the race did eventually get going under safety car conditions. Rene Rast took control when the green flag was waved and continued to build a good gap in the #12 Audi ahead of Vanthoor in second position with the #11 Audi. The #13 Audi of Sandström was running further back after their grid drop penalty. By the end of the pitstop sequence the #12 Audi re-emerged as the race leader, now with Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof behind the wheel, ahead of Stéphane Ortelli in the #11 Audi.

A safety car period bunched up the field after the pitstops and Ortelli was on the tale of Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof. Stippler had recovered to tenth in the #13 Audi. Mayr-Melnhof held onto the lead until the race was red flagged due to an incident involving the #14 Novadriver Audi.

The race was restarted with an additional ten minutes added to the race time. Mayr-Melnhof continued to lead ahead of Ortelli. Mayr-Melnhof held onto the lead and opened up a small gap ahead of his teammate, which was enough to secure victory.

Rene Rast and Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof were victorious in the #12 Audi ahead of Audi #11 with Stéphane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor in second. Edward Sandström and Frank Stippler finished eighth in the #13 Audi. The #5 Phoenix Racing Audi finished tenth with Enzo Ide and Markus Winkelhock. The #18 WRT Audi finished seventeenth with Grégoire Demoustier and Filipe Albuquerque behind the wheel.

These results were enough to crown Belgian Audi Club Team WRT as the 2013 FIA GT Series Pro Cup teams' champions. The drivers' title would be decided in the Championship Race.

The Championship Race was held later on Sunday and it certainly had a chaotic start. Ortelli managed to take the lead during the run into the first corner and chaos broke out behind him with many cars making contact. Pole-sitter Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof was unfortunately involved in the incident and dropped back after heavy contact. The Phoenix Racing Audi managed to avoid the incident by running through the chicane and when things had settled down they re-emerged in third place, chasing the second placed McLaren and Ortelli in the lead. A few laps later the leading Audi of Ortelli dropped back to third behind the leading McLaren and Winkelhock in the Phoenix Audi.

Further back Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof made contact with the #10 McLaren and lost more time with repairs in the pits during the prolonged safety car period for track repairs. When the green flag came out the leading McLaren and the #11 and #13 WRT Audis came into the pits, promoting Winkelhock into the lead, until he was given a penalty for passing cars off-tack in the first lap incident. The #13 Audi lost time during the pitstop as the team had to work on the car, effectively removing Sandström and Stippler from the fight for the drivers' title.

When the frantic pitstop period came to an end it was the #11 WRT Audi of Vanthoor who was in second and chasing the leading Mercedes-Benz. Vanthoor continued to eat into the lead and eventually took the race lead with nine minutes to go, as the leading Mercedes-Benz began to slow on track.

The final FIA GT Series race of 2013 concluded with the #11 WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra of Stéphane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor taking victory, finishing ahead of Team Novadriver in eighth overall, who took second place in Pro Am. The #5 Phoenix Racing Audi finished in twelfth. The remaining two WRT Audis also finished outside of the top ten, as the #13 finished eleventh and the #12 in fifteenth.

Stéphane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor took victory in the Championship Race and they were also crowned as the 2013 FIA GT Series Pro Cup drivers' champions. This added to Belgian Audi Club Team WRT's success in the FIA GT Series, as they won both the Pro Cup drivers' and teams' titles this weekend.

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT also took the first three places within the Pro Cup drivers' standings with Stéphane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor in first, followed by Edward Sandström and Frank Stippler in second and Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof in third.

Taken from Weekend Round Up - Audi Motorsport Blog (23-24/11/2013)

Photo credit: FIA GT Series