By Tarek Ramchani
The 2013 Spa 24 Hours will be remembered as the hardest event for the Audi R8 LMS ultra in recent years. The R16 has been racing in the Belgian classic since 2009, yet this year the car was not able to challenge for the overall win, despite the Audi teams being some of the best in the field, the same case for the Audi drivers. So what went wrong at the Spa 24?
Audis finished the race in fine third and fourth positions. These are great results no doubts, the race itself is one of the hardest in endurance and sportscar racing. A great quality field in a single class of cars, the FIA GT3s made the race very demanding for all nine represented brands. However, these results must not hide what Audi faced at Spa. Three teams represented Audi in the race with a total of seven R8 LMS ultra cars. Six of these cars were entered in the upper Pro-Cup class.
The Audi cars were also very well driven, yet Audi's pace and performances was bad. A hard free practice session, then even harder qualifying sessions in which the best R8 was only in a very far twentieth position. In the race the drivers had to push as if it was a qualifying session, to try to follow the leaders' pace. The same for the teams, forced to do perfect strategies and pit stops, as they could not afford to loose time.
Let's be honest, Audi's lack of performance was expected right from the start. The very obvious lack of top speed at Paul Ricard in the previous round of the Blancpain Endurance Series was alarming. The reason for all of this? A very bad and very unfair Balance of Performance. As we all know there is no set of rules for GT3 racing, it's an open formula in which many types of cars are welcomed, and the FIA balances their performance to keep them theoretically equal.
That was not the case for the Audi R8 LMS ultra and the cars were simply outpaced at Spa. Even while pushing very hard the Audis were constantly lapped by the front runners. There are no doubts that the rival brands and teams were strong and very well prepared, but the Audi squad was also very well prepared, with stellar driver lineups, yet that was not enough. Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport, also noticed this and Audi contacted the FIA, but nothing was changed before the race weekend at Spa. There were no other reasons as to see regular Audi GT drivers, two-time Le Mans winners and a double DTM champion, always running with slower lap times than that compared to the competition at the front. Phoenix Racing and Belgian Audi Club Team WRT won the race last year and in 2011, so no one can say that these teams were not strong nor well prepared.
The Audi R8 LMS ultra is a great car, it has won many prestigious GT events worldwide, but it struggled a lot at Spa. So it was very hard to understand why a combination of strong teams, reliable cars and fast drivers did not work in aiming for the race victory. Now there are no doubts, the Audi R8 LMS ultra is strongly penalized.
The same car that leads the FIA GT Series is fully outpaced in the Blancpain Endurance Series. Even worse is the fact that the same drivers and the same teams are competing in both championships, so how can a driver/car be so fast in the one series and so slow in the other? Audi is still in the chase for the driver's title in the Blancpain Endurance Series, with both Frank Stippler and Christopher Mies. However, if things do not change in the Balance of Performance, the Audi driver's chances will be very slim in the season finale at the Nürburgring.
Photo credit: Audi Media