Monday, April 6, 2015

Blancpain Sprint Series: One win and three podium finishes for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in solid show at Nogaro

Belgian Audi Club Press Release

It was an excellent start of the 2015 season for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, as it left Nogaro in South-West France with one win and three other podium finishes in the first round of the Blancpain Sprint Series. Stéphane Ortelli and Stéphane Richelmi had a glorious weekend, taking pole position, the win in the qualifying Race and a close second in the Main Race, with team mates Christopher Mies-Enzo Ide clinching third twice. Frank Stippler-James Nash added more points to the harvest, thanks to a sixth position on Monday after being deprived of an even better result on Sunday because of a puncture. The bitter note came from the misfortune of car #1 of Laurens Vanthoor and Robin Frijns, which couldn’t take part in the races after being damaged in qualifying when the young Dutchman hit the wall.

Despite this set-back, Team Principal Vincent Vosse was happy: “It has been a very solid wekkend and I am happy with the results”, he commented, “Clearly, it was a pity to lose car #1, but that’s racing. It was a small mistake with big consequences, it happens and will happen again. For the rest, the entire team and the drivers had a perfect performance, as proven by the four podium finishes and the win in the Pit-stop Challenge. We leave France with many heavy points for the team and for Ortelli-Richelmi, considering also that our main rivals here, the duo Martin-Müller, are not entering the entire championship.”

Things had started very well for the Audis R8 LMS ultra, with the four cars of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in the top five in free practice, begun on a slightly damp track, and Laurens Vanthoor posting the fastest lap time. Qualifying though was going to be quite lively, with a number of drivers being surprised by track conditions in the last corner and suffering incidents of various nature there. This was the case also for three of the WRT cars. While Richelmi escaped with a simple spin, Mies had a scary moment as his car almost took off and failed to roll and Robin Frijns was unlucky enough to hit the inner wall of the corner, at the entrance of the pit lane, which was not protected by tire piles.

The crash wasn’t very violent but unfortunately caused non-repairable damage to the chassis of the R8 LMS ultra, which had to be withdrawn from the event. That was certainly the most frustrating GT debut that the young Dutchman could have hoped. The team got partial consolation from a brilliant pole by Stéphane Ortelli, with Stippler qualifying fourth and Mies seventh, with a car that had lost the perfect balance in the incident suffered.

The Qualifying race on Sunday kept all his promises, with Ortelli taking a perfect start and keeping the advantage ahead of the leading BMW, while Stippler ran in fourth. It was a hectic first lap behind the leaders, with many contacts resulting in a “big jam” that hurt Enzo Ide. “I was at a complete standstill in the opening lap, when the cars in front of me blocked the track. That made us lose a lot of time”, admitted the Belgian. By the end of the stint, Ortelli gave the wheel to Richelmi with a 7-second advantage. The younger of the Stéphanes made an excellent job in keeping the BMW of Martin at bay, despite the charge of the Belgian, and dealt perfectly with a safety-car period in the final laps, crossing the line first. Christopher Mies started his stint in fifth but managed to finish on the podium after two cars preceding him experienced trouble. Among them was the R8 of Nash, who dropped from fourth to eleventh because of a slow puncture. Young Richelmi was, of course, elated with his first win in international GT, although his race was everything but an easy ride: “I was a bit nervous before the start of my stint”, explained the Monegasque, “but I have a great team-mate and with a seven second lead I could relax a bit. I tried to manage the tires until the end, which was not easy with Maxime right behind me. The intervention of the safety car did not help either, but we made it!”

Main Race on Easter Monday, with sunny but chilly weather, had Richelmi taking a good start but having to concede the lead to Martin by the middle of the first lap, with Mies in third and Nash 12th. In lap 7, Mies passed Richelmi to lead the WRT charge. Car #3 was the first to pit, in lap 18, followed immediately by car #4, with Mies pitting much later, in lap 23. Second part of the race began with Ide in the lead, followed by the BMW of Müller only one second behind and Ortelli in third 4 seconds further. In lap 28, Ide had to let the faster BMW past, with Ortelli immediately taking the role of first pursuer from his team mate. The Monegasque charged as hard as he could to reduce the gap to less than half of a second but could not attack the BMW, finishing an excellent second followed by Ide, again on the third spot of the podium. “It was a great charge”, said Ortelli, “They were on new tires in the first stint, which made things difficult for Richelmi, while we had kept the set of new tires for the second stint, which worked well, but I would have needed a couple of more laps to be able to attack Müller.” It was definitely a very animated second stint for Stippler, who rejoined the race in P9 after the pit-stop and found himself tangled in a furious battle with Winkelhock, Salaquarda, Sperafico and Mori. The German passed one of the Audis and the McLaren (with which he had slight contact) and then the other Audi in the last lap to take a hardly-earned sixth.

Round 2 of the Blancpain Sprint Series will take place at Brands Hatch on 9-10 May, but before that the Blancpain Endurance Series will take all the attention as it kicks-off next weekend at Monza.

Photo credit: W Racing Team