Monday, July 9, 2012

The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT back to the podium in the FIA GT1

Belgian Audi Club Press Release

The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT achieved to visit the podium again in a FIA GT1 event, thanks to the third position conquered by Frank Stippler and Oliver Jarvis in Race 1 of the Portimão round. This is the first podium since the successful two double wins in the opening round at Nogaro, and the main take-away of the long journey to the Algarve, which also brought one other points finish for Laurens Vanthoor and Stéphane Ortelli, who took 10th and 6th, respectively, in the two Portuguese races. While the team is happy of the work done on the track and in the pits, the speed handicap resulting from the current balance of performance remains unchanged.

The weekend in Portugal started with the awareness that the Audis R8 LMS ultra of the Belgian squad still had to struggle with lower top speed with respect to the competition. Notwithstanding this, Stippler qualified in 7th and Vanthoor in 10th.

In Race 1, Jarvis and Vanthoor had a somehow difficult start of the race, but a safety-car period would prompt an earlier first pit stop. The Audi #32 was among the first ones to stop, with Ortelli rejoining the race in P12, while car #33 waited until the very end of the window to come in. That, and an excellent pit stop, revealed to be the good strategic move, as Stippler rejoined the race in second position. The German would have to fight against the BMW of Buurman to retain P2, but had to concede it in the final laps. “The BMW was simply faster”, said the German driver, “I was struggling to keep it behind in all the fast sections, especially in the long and fast last corner before the straight.” Still, the third position and the podium were an excellent reward for the team, while Ortelli brought the other car to tenth position.

In Race 2, bad luck was waiting for the R8 best placed in the grid, as Stippler got hit by the Ferrari of Vilander at the first corner, following a contact between the Finn and the Ford. The Audi was forced back to the pits with tire and suspension damage, and although the pit crew did whatever possible to repair and send back to the track the R8, the German was forced to call it a day: “The car had been damaged and going on would have been useless and dangerous.”

On his side, Ortelli was in a stable P8 during his stint, and the car gained one position thanks to an excellent pit stop. The second half of the race saw a superb fight from Vanthoor, who managed to conquer P5 before being passed by Kox and then sent into a spin by Mayr-Meinhof. The young Belgian was bound to finish eighth, but could gain two positions in the final lap when the Porsche ahead of him stopped and Mayr-Meinhof received a drive-through penalty. “I had a quite lively afternoon”, said Laurens after the race, “but there was little more we could aim at.”

The weekend left Vincent Vosse with a somehow sweet-and-sour taste: “To be back on the podium after four rounds is certainly great news”, commented Team WRT’s Principal, “and we could have repeated that in Race 2 without the race incidents suffered. I think we can be proud of that and of the excellent work accomplished once again by the drivers and the entire team. We had the fastest pit stop on Saturday and the second-fastest on Sunday, this is quite telling. But, on the other side, we are still penalized in top speed and acceleration by the balance of performance. It is quite frustrating not to be where we could be and to be barred from fighting with the top contenders.”

The FIA GT1 World Championship now comes to a still, and the attention of the GT community is now focusing on the Total 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, ‘the’ race of the year, which will take place the last weekend of July. Endurance will be the main parameter there and the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is well determined to retain the crown conquered last year…

Photo credit: SRO