The main take-away from the Navarra round for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is that the team has secured the FIA GT Series Drivers’ title, as the crown will not escape one of its drivers. The Belgian squad has also made a step forward in the Teams’ standings, where it now enjoys a 28-point lead, with 34 points still to be awarded at the final round in Baku (Azerbaijan), whose date has been postponed to 22-24 November, due to organizational reasons.

#13 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra: Frank Stippler, Edward Sandström
#13 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra: Frank Stippler, Edward Sandström

Photo by: SRO/VIMAGES/Fabre

Navarra has been a weekend of mixed feelings for the Audis R8 LMS ultra. While Frank Stippler and Edward Sandström had a positive outing, collecting two podium finishes (3rd in Qualifying race and 2nd in the Main race), the championship leaders had a difficult day, their races being marred with a wrong choice tire in changing weather conditions in Race 1 and a brake problem in Race 2, where they had to perform a long pit stop in the closing laps. Still, the Belgian-Monegasque pair was able to salvage a 4th and a 8th position respectively, but see their points advantage in the overall standings reduced to 5 units. Niki Mayr-Melnhof a 9th and a 4th, paired in this occasion with Oliver Jarvis.

There was relative satisfaction in the Belgian camp at the end of the day. “We have secured the Drivers’ title and got closer to the Teams’ crown”, commented Team WRT Principal Vincent Vosse, “and this is certainly a good thing, but we also suffered some problems, therefore we cannot be entirely happy. In particular car #11 lived one of those days, with an unfortunate tire choice in Race 1 and the brake problem which caused a very long stop in Race 2.

We don’t know what really happened, we will need to analyse everything thoroughly when we are back at home. For the rest, it was clear we could do nothing against the McLarens today, but the drivers and the entire team gave their outmost once again.”

In Qualifying, despite a top speed deficit, Stippler took a spot in the first row, thanks to his second-fastest time, right ahead of Jarvis, with Ortelli in 7th overall, after spinning during his fast lap.

The Qualifying race, on Sunday morning, started with light rain, which prompted some drivers (including Jarvis) to start on slick tires, a choice that later would prove wrong. At the start, Parente took the lead followed by Sandström, with Vanthoor 5th and Jarvis 19th. In lap 5, Vanthoor was already in third and started a lively fight with Sandström, while at the back, Jarvis was struggling with the slick tires on a humid track.

In lap 17, the Belgian passed the Swede after two attempts, and both Audis got into the pits together for the driver change, at the very end of the window. Stippler was out on wets and Ortelli on slicks, a choice that penalized the Monegasque as the rain resumed. While Stippler kept second without any trouble, Ortelli managed to salvage a 7th overall (4th in Pro) and Mayr-Melnhof concluded in P9.

The Main race went on a couple of hours later, with dry weather. At the start, Stippler had trouble to keep his position on the grid, stabilizing in P6, while Ortelli, probably hit by another car, suffered a spin and rejoined at the back of the field, right behind Mayr-Melnhof. The race in the top group was extremely lively, with a number of contacts and off-tracks. Fortunately, Stippler got clear of any trouble.

“We knew this track was hard on brakes, but at the beginning it was very difficult, as it was like not having brakes at all”, admitted the German, “It only got better when brakes and tires eventually got to the right temperature”. Frank brought the car to the pit stop in an excellent 4th position, with the other two cars having climbed positions through the field. After the pit stop, which saw again the Team WRT crew winning the mechanics award, Vanthoor rejoined in 5th and Jarvis in 8th.

The Belgian later passed Afanasiev and was closing on Sandström when he was forced back to the pits with a serious brake problems and flames coming out of the rear left. Once the problem was solved, he could take the track again, having lost 7 laps, to take the 4 points of P8 in the Pro Cup. While Sandström secured another podium finish by taking 3rd, Jarvis concluded in 4th position in the Pro Cup after a stunning end of the race and a masterful overtake on Basseng.

The Belgian Audi Club Team