By Johan Laubscher
The Rolex 24 at Daytona was the scene for the opening round of the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Paul Miller Racing and Flying Lizard Motorsports each fielded one Audi R8 LMS entry in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
Paul Miller Racing, the only Audi team confirmed for the full 2015 TUSC season, fielded their #48 Audi R8 LMS for the driving quartet of Dion von Moltke, Christopher Haase, Bryce Miller and René Rast. They qualified eleventh on the grid for the 24-hour race.
Saturday afternoon saw the start of the Daytona 24 Hours and both Audi teams were running well. It was however far from an ideal opening hour for Flying Lizard Motorsports. Markus Winkelhock had taken the start and handed over to Satoshi Hoshino, who spun and was left stranded with the Audi on the oval just before the end of the first hour. The #45 Audi had driveline issues and brought out the first safety car period of the race. The car was recovered to the pits where the Flying Lizard Motorsports crew repaired the non-terminal problems. Despite being many laps down the #45 Audi R8 LMS crew kept on pushing forward and were able to recover a result within the GTD class by the end of the 24 hours.
Unfortunately the race began to unravel for Paul Miller Racing during the early hours of Sunday morning. Rene Rast ran wide and had an off at the International Horseshoe. He was able to reverse back onto track with what looked like minor front left damage and continued on the lead lap. He completed his stint and handed the car over to Christopher Haase, who took the car out onto track still within the lead battle. Tragedy struck when the front bodywork broke whilst Haase was approaching the Bus Stop chicane. He slowly brought the car back to the pits. With a new bonnet and much tape across the front of the #48 Audi, Haase went back out on track, after losing three laps in the pits and falling outside of the top five in GTD.
Ultimately the race concluded at 14:10 local time and Paul Miller Racing finished fifth in the GTD class, nineteenth overall. Flying Lizard Motorsports maintained their recovery and finished tenth within GTD, twenty-fourth overall.
It may have been a race of ups and downs for the two Audi teams, but both crews can be commended for never gave up and pushing all the way to the flag.
The second Audi Sport factory driver was Filipe Albuquerque, who was a late addition to the Starworks Motorsport Prototype Challenge line-up. He replaced Enrique Bernoldi in the #8 Martini liveried ORECA FLM09, sharing with Mirco Schultis, Renger van der Zande, Alex Popow and Mike Hedlund. They qualified fourth in class and were running very well until they suffered retirement with a blown engine.
Photo credit: Audi Communications - Motorsport