Thursday, April 9, 2015

Blancpain Endurance Series: Belgian Audi Club Team WRT with the new Audi R8 LMS at Monza

Belgian Audi Club Press Release

Only a few hours after an excellent weekend at Nogaro for the Blancpain Sprint Series season-opener, theBelgian Audi Club Team WRT is on the road again, heading to the legendaryAutodromo Nazionale di Monza where kicks-off this weekend the Endurance championshipof the Blancpain Series. It will be an exciting rendez-vous, with no less than60 cars entered! For the Belgian squad, a weekend full of novelties, with threedriver line-ups significantly renewed and a stellar debut:Ortelli-Stippler-Müller will christen the Audi R8 LMS, the latest generation ofthe Ingolstadt racer which starts here its international racing career. Pairedwith two fast new-comers as Robin Frijns and Jean-Karl Vernay, Laurens Vanthoorwill start the defence of his 2014 Drivers’ title, while the third car will beentrusted to Richelmi-Mies-van der Linde.

Ahead of the opening round, Team Principal VincentVosse is both confident and cautious: “Thisis probably the most high-level GT championship in the world”, he reckons, “and 60 cars on the track is a proof of thatbut also a significant challenge. That’s why we have considerably re-worked ourline-ups and added drivers that are fast and assertive in overtaking, which isgoing to be crucial along the entire season. Monza, together with the Ricard,is probably the most difficult track of the season for the Audis, but we willgo there as determined as ever to collect a maximum of points. The debut of thenew R8 adds an exciting touch and yet another challenge, as a first race with anew car is never easy, from a technical point of view but also in practicalterms, as you have to get used to new procedures, for instance at refuellingand pit stops.”

Talking about challenges, the Belgian Audi Club TeamWRT has already been faced to a major one, when its #1 car was victim of aserious accident during Qualifying at Nogaro last Sunday morning. Notrepairable on the spot, the car had to be withdrawn from the event and anothersort of race started as soon as the diagnosis was pronounced. A group ofmechanics left France immediately on a van with a small trailer transportingthe wounded R8, arriving in Belgium in the early hours of Monday.

In parallel, a similar expedition was organized fromthe team’s home base at Baudour to Germany and fetched a new chassis from Audi Sport. On Monday the car started to be rebuilt and it will be ready on Tuesdayafternoon, on time to start the journey towards Monza.

Laurens Vanthoor and his new team mates, formersingle-seater star Robin Frijns and GT expert Jean-Karl Vernay will thus have abrand new #1 car in Italy. The Belgian is philosophical about this unexpectedstart of the season: “One good thing isthat I am not tired at all”, he confesses after being forced to a spectatorrole at Nogaro, “Of course, it wasdisappointing, but racing is also this. Let’s hope we paid our tribute to badluck all at once. I’ll be perfectly ready for Monza, a race which is nevereasy: it’s a very peculiar circuit, not very friendly to the Audis, and theintense traffic makes things even worse, but I look forward to a thrillingweekend.”

Sporting #2, the new Audi R8 will be entrusted to theexperts hands of Frank Stippler, a man that has been closely involved with itsdevelopment, and Stéphane Ortelli, with Switzerland’s DTM star Nico Müllerbringing his notorious speed skills. “Thenew R8 LMS is definitely a very nice and well-born car”, explains FrankStippler, “and it was interesting to workwith Audi on its development. The R8 LMS ultra was already an excellent baseand a car that has been the object of constant evolution in the last 4-5 years,so it was a challenge to make it even better, although there is always room forimprovement. I think the result is excellent, although you always would like moredevelopment time with any new car. A lot of small things are new, frommechanical pieces to instruments and buttons in the cockpit, and there is stillmuch fine-tuning to do. The objective is to make as soon as possible the new R8as fast and as reliable as possible and to have it completely ready for nextyear when it will be available to customer racing teams.”

At the wheel of car #3, Stéphane Richelmi andChristopher Mies will be associated to Kelvin van der Linde from South Africa.Although only 18, the son of former F.3000 driver Etienne, has already a goodexperience with touring cars and GTs at international level and will be makinghis debut on the “big stage”.

A fourth car will be entered under the Team WRT bannerin the Pro-Am category, for France’s Sacha Bottemanne and Dutchmen Max Koeboltand Pieter Schothorst, certainly one of the youngest trios at the start, astheir combined age barely reaches 54 years!

The Monza enduro will follow the usualBlancpain Endurance Series format, with track activity over only the weekenddays and the 3-hour race kicking-off at 4:30 on Sunday.

Photo credit: Belgian Audi Club