Laurens Vanthoor finished less than one second short of the third step of the podium and two seconds from the second spot !
The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT got very close to the podium in the season-opener of the Blancpain Endurance Series, held on the legendary Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. Following a breath-taking final stint, Laurens Vanthoor finished less than one second short of the third step of the podium and two seconds from the second spot ! With his team mates César Ramos and Marc Basseng, the young Belgian could probably have some regrets about a first pit-stop that wasn’t perfect.
Disappointment was bigger for James Nash, Frank Stippler and Christopher Mies, as the Brit was hit by a McLaren at the first chicane in the initial stint of the race. He managed to bring back the car to the pits, but even if Frank Stipppler rejoined the race, the Audi R8 LMS ultra was too badly damaged and had to be withdrawn. It was a lively race for Christian Kelders, Jean-Luc Blanchemain and Yves Weerts too. They were in contention for a podium position in the Gentlemen Trophy, when they were slowed by a sudden electrical problem and then a visit into the gravel trap. Eventually, they concluded fifth in their category.
Once again, Laurens Vanthoor shone among the top stars in the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. Literally unleashed at the wheel of the Audi R8 LMS ultra #1, the Belgian kept the suspense alive by fighting for second until the very final metres of the race. Despite his fighting spirit, Laurens and his team mates, César Ramos and Marc Basseng, concluded in fourth position, something that left them with some sour taste at the end of the 3-hour race. « I have done everything I could », admitted Laurens. « We had the speed, as proven by my final charge.McLaren of Andy Soucek, but could never get past. Our Audi had to concede something to the McLaren in top speed on the straight and that, on such a fast track as Monza, made things difficult. I tried once to attack, but with no success. In addition, because of racing very close to Andy’s car, my brakes started to heat up. As it was crucial for the team to score points, I preferred not to take any risks and bring home a fourth…”
Starting from P5 on the grid, the Audi #1 had lost a few positions in the initial laps, but it was mostly at the first pit stop that things didn’t go as planned. « César Ramos, who did the first stint, stopped a little bit past the ideal mark », explained Team Principal Vincent Vosse, « By the time we moved the wheels and the tools, fifteen seconds were gone….»
Fourth at the half-race mark, 51 seconds from the leader, Ramos-Basseng-Vanthoor didn’t give up, as proven by the gap (7 seconds) from the winner at the end of the race. « Without this little hiccup, on which we will work in order it doesn’t happen again, it was a very good race, and both the drivers and the team have done an excellent job”, commented Vosse. « Monza is not the most avourable track for our Audis R8 LMS ultra, because of the little handicap in top speed. This fourth is not a bad result, although we hoped for something more. I can assure you that we will be fighting for more next time ! »
Revenge is also something James Nash, Frank Stippler and Christopher Mies will go for at Silverstone. The trio of the Audi #3 have been forced to follow the end of the race from the pits. “I was starting from 9th on the grid, but my start wasn’t that great”, reckoned the former WTCC driver. « After four laps, I was in P23 but started to climb through the field. At some point, after having past a McLaren, it missed its braking point at the first chicane, hitting me on the back and sending me into a spin. I could go back to the pits, but the car had endured some serious damage.”
The WRT mechanics managed to repair and Frank Stippler took the track again, « but the car’s behaviour wasn’t the good one”, as explained Vosse. “There was nothing to be gained by pursuing the race and we preferred not to take any risks”.
For the first time in the Blancpain Endurance Series, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is also competing in the Gentlemen Trophy with Belgium’s Christian Kelders and Yves Weerts associated with Frenchman Jean-Luc Blanchemain. « It has not been a very relaxing weekend for us», told Christian Kelders. « We were competitive during free practice, but an electrical short prevented us to do well in qualifying. In order to start the race with fresh tires, we kicked-off from the pits.
The pace was good and I could charge back to third in the category, but then, all of a sudden, the car stopped because some electrical issue. We managed to start again, but after losing quite some time. Later, Jean-Luc went off into the gravel, probably because of an oil spot. We therefore finished fifth in the category. This said, it is positive to be fifth despite all the problems, it proves we are competitive in this Getlemen Trophy. In any case, we had a lot of fun at the wheel of the R8, and that is what matters!”.
Silverstone, on 23-25 May, will host the second round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. Before that, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will focus on the two first races of the Blancpain Sprint Series, at Nogaro next weekend (18-21 avril) and Brands-Hatch (17-18 May).
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT