Sunday, January 25, 2015

TUSC: Top ten GTD class results for the Audi teams at the Rolex 24 at Daytona

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.

The #45 Audi R8 LMS from Flying Lizard Motorsports was entered for a one-off appearance in the TUSC this year. Tomonobu Fujii, Satoshi Hoshino, Robert Thorne and Markus Winkelhock were the drivers behind the wheel of the car that qualified sixth within in the GTD class.

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.

For Paul Miller Racing it was a very competitive opening twelve hours. They were consistently involved in the GTD lead battle and led during the night. The team, drivers and their Audi R8 LMS were performing very well and everything was looking good as dawn approached.

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.

Both Audi Sport customer racing teams continued to soldier on as the sun began to rise for a bright Sunday morning in Florida. Flying Lizard Motorsports was able to progress back into the GTD top ten and Paul Miller Racing was involved in the battle ranging from fourth to sixth.

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.

Two Audi Sport factory drivers also took part in the Rolex 24 at Daytona with different teams this year. Mike Rockenfeller again joined SDR Motorsports at Daytona. He shared the #90 Racing Corvette Daytona Prototype alongside Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante. They qualified tenth and completed the 24 hours in fourth place overall. Rocky will also be taking part with the team at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Petit Le Mans later this year.

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.

Round two of the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will be the 63rd running of the 12 Hours of Sebring from 18-21 March.

Photo credit: Audi Communications - Motorsport