Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Podium eludes the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in the last corner!

Belgian Audi Club Press Release

It was an intense weekend for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in Monza, which ended with a last-minute disappointment, as Edward Sandström was blocked by a lapped car in the very last corner and lost the podium by millimetres. This doesn’t diminish, though, the excellent race put by the Swede and his team mates, Frank Stippler and Christopher Mies. The first round of the Blancpain Endurance Series, with 60 cars on the track, confirmed how competitive the championship is. The two other Audis R8 LMS ultra of the Belgian squad were less lucky. Laurens Vanthoor-Stéphane Ortelli-René Rast finished 13th overall (and 8th in the Pro category) after suffering a puncture, while the car of Nicky Mayr-Melnhof-Matt Halliday-Rahel Frey, which had undergone severe damage in an accident during pre-qualifying, fought hard to climb from the back of the grid to take 17th overall (and 11th in the Pro category).

“We made what we could under the circumstances”, is the final conclusion of Team Principal Vincent Vosse. “It was not an easy weekend, and we suffered from the beginning from a lack of top speed. Our performance is OK on a clear lap, but not when there are so many cars on the track, which is a parameter that is not taken into account when the balance of performance is determined. The two safety-car periods that occurred mid-race did not help us either, but that’s racing. The good news is that everybody, from the team to the drivers, did a great job, and that is what we have to take away from this race. Our pit stops were perfect, the drivers drove impeccably and I want to stress the great defence of his position made by Edward Sandström in the closing laps against cars that were faster than his.”

Qualifying had been extremely-closely fought. Eventually, the Ortelli-Vanthoor-Rast car took fifth position on the grid, and the one of Stippler-Sandström-Mies P18. Car #2 of Mayr-Melnhof-Halliday-Frey, on the contrary, had trouble in every session: Rahel Frey got a puncture in Q1, while in Q2, Matt Halliday went into the gravel. But his weekend started even more worse, with a severe off-track in pre-qualifying. “I don’t know what happened, I suddenly lost braking pressure and I spun, and I couldn’t avoid hitting the barriers”, told the New-Zealander. The car sustained some serious damage to its left side, and the mechanics worked all night to repair body, suspensions and transmission. In Q3, unfortunately, Mayr-Melnhof got stopped right away by a gearbox problem, and the car could not achieve better than P46 on the grid.

The start of the race was encouraging for Laurens Vanthoor as he could grasp third position, but the young Belgian could not resist to the faster cars attacking him, dropping to tenth. He then had to stop in lap 15 because of a puncture. “I was following very closely one of the McLarens and maybe we had a very slight contact”, he explained. Later, Ortelli and Rast were particularly consistent during their stints, bringing car #1 to finish 8th in the Pro category.

After all the drama in qualifying, car # 2 had a quitter race, with Nicky, Rahel and Matt climbing positions in the dense traffic throughout their stints and closing their solid race in 10th position in the Pro category, quite an achievement given their starting position.

In car #13, Christopher Mies also took an excellent start, running in 13th position in the initial laps and gaining two more positions despite a contact with a McLaren. The excellent pit stop allowed Frank Stippler to take fourth, which he kept throughout his stint. Another great pit stop put Edward Sandström in second at the beginning of the last hour. The Swede had to literally sweat his overalls to defend his podium ambitions from the faster cars right behind him. He had to let the McLaren of Soucek past, but resisted brilliantly to the other McLaren of Carroll and the Ferrari of Bertolini. Unfortunately, in the very last lap, he was blocked in the last corner, the very fast Parabolica, by a lapped Nissan, which allowed Carroll to get along him in the straight and beat him in the final sprint. “It’s frustrating to lose the podium in such a situation, when the job was basically done, because of an uncooperative slower driver, but that’s how it is.” lamented the Swede, “We would have deserved that podium.”

Additional satisfaction for the Belgian Audi Club came from its other members Enzo Ide and Anthony Kumpen, who together with Markus Winkelhock, took a great 5th place in the Pro category at the wheel of the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra. Ronnie Latinne concluded the race in P16 in the Pro-Am category sharing a car by Saintéloc with Monti and Hallyday.

With the next Blancpain race taking place on 1st-2nd June at Silverstone, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT can now focus back on the FIA GT Series, whose next round is scheduled next weekend and is no less than the team’s home race at Zolder

Photo credit: Belgian Audi Club