Belgian Audi Club Press Release
The Blancpain Endurance Series is back this weekend with the third round of the season, which will take participants to the Circuit Paul Ricard, the landmark track in Southern France. This will be the last 3-hour race before the Total 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the high point of the season, due to take place in one month, and the Paul Ricard race will already offer a taste of it, as it will be raced in the twilight and early darkness of Saturday evening. The unusual timing may provide for some surprises and will definitely attract many spectators among the holiday makers that are starting to flock to the Var and Côte d’Azur regions. For the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, which won the race there two years ago, the objective is clear: to harvest as many points as possible and keep the championship battle open. The two Pro Cup cars of Ramos-Basseng-Vanthoor and Nash-Mies-Stippler are definitely on that mission. Exceptionally, the team will enter a second car also in the Gentlemen Trophy. Alongside the usual Audi R8 LMS ultra of Jean-Luc Blanchemain, Christian Kelders and Pierre Hirschi, another car will be entrusted to a trio of Frenchmen composed of Stéphane Pourquie, Harry Teneketzian and Grégoire Chaix.
Following the opening rounds at Monza and Silverstone, which yielded good results but also some frustration, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is determined to achieve more. “It’s time to win a race, isn’t it?”, Team Principal Vincent Vosse asks himself, “The Paul Ricard, with its long straights, is certainly not the most favourable circuit to the Audis, but we will fight hard to be upfront. We definitely want to close the gap in the points standing, although I expect the McLarens and the Bentleys to continue to have an advantage.”
A quick look back at the history of the Blancpain Endurance Series since its launch in 2011 shows that, out of 14 events contested and if we exclude the 24 hours of Spa in 2011, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT’s only win was …at the Paul Ricard in 2012, although it was favoured by excellent strategy during a safety-car period.
Although the summer season may be starting in Southern France, the team is certainly not in a vacation mode. “It actually has to face very tight turn-arounds”, explains Sporting Director Pierre Dieudonné, “Last weekend we had two cars competing in the GT Tour round at Spa and one in the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, and they all needed re-building because of damage or intensive usage, before traveling to the Paul Ricard. Next Wednesday we are at Spa for the testing day ahead of the 24 Hours and from there we will be heading straight to Zandvoort, for the Sprint Series event. It’s a lot of work for our guys.”
Car #1 of Marc Basseng, César Ramos and Laurens Vanthoor is currently the best-placed in the standings (5th), having conquered a 4th at Monza and a 3rd at Silverstone. “The objective is to aim at a podium finish”, confirms Laurens Vanthoor, who has made a very strong impression in this initial part of the season, “but we know that the long straights of the Paul Ricard are not the most suited for the Audis. We will see where we stand after qualifying. It will be nice to race at sunset, it’s something different, but I don’t think this will change anything. I will give everything, like in the first two rounds; I feel perfectly in confidence with the car, the tires and the team, we are working well, and I think that showed in the first rounds, although we were not completely lucky.”
The will of revenge is even higher for the trio of the #3 car, as Frank Stippler, Christopher Mies and James Nash only could bring home a 9th place so far. “We have suffered race and mechanical incidents”, explains Frank Stippler, “and we definitely hope for a trouble-free race at the Ricard. I always love to go there, as I am very fond of the region, the weather and the food, a little bit less of the long straights of the track… I hope we won’t be too penalized.”
In the Gentlemen Trophy, car #4 will try to improve its best result so far (5th) with a yet slightly modified driver line-up. Christian Kelders is back alongside Jean-Luc Blanchemain, while Pierre Hirschi will sub this time for Yves Weerts. For the occasion another car will be entered in the Gentlemen Trophy, for Frenchmen Stéphane Pourquie-Harry Teneketzian-Grégoire Chaix, who normally drive a WRT-prepared car in the V de V series and will be debuting in the Blancpain. With a 4-car entry, the team will be organized in two crews, one following the Pro Cup machines under the direction of Pierre Dieudonné, the other taking care of the two Gentlemen Trophy cars and being led by Thierry Tassin.
The Saturday evening race format means the event will be squeezed in two days, with qualifying on Saturday morning and the 3-hour race kicking-off at 19:15 to finish at 22:15.
Photo credit: Audi Media