Following the end of the Blancpain Endurance Series last weekend at the Nürburgring, the focus of the GT community shifts to the FIA GT Series, the other top series in GT racing, which heads to the one-before-last stop of the season. This will be at Navarra, the modern and very pleasant track near Pamplona, in Northern Spain. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT goes to Spain with the clear objective to maintain and possibly improve the nice advantage it has built in both the Drivers’ and Teams’ standings. At the moment, the three driver line-ups of the team are leading in the Drivers’ competition, a situation that anticipates an interesting ‘family battle’ between Ortelli-Vanthoor, Sandström-Stippler and Mayr-Melnhof, in that order in the standings. For this round, Niki Mayr-Melnhof will have a different team mate, as René Rast is taken by other commitments and replaced by Britain’s Oliver Jarvis, who is everything but a new face in the team. In the Teams’ standings, the Belgian squad has a comfortable 36-point advantage over the runner-up.
“We enjoy a good position in both championships at the moment”, continues Vosse, “and the objective is to keep things that way: maintain the advantage and if possible, increase it ahead of the final round in Baku. Being a street circuit and a new track for most of the participants, so it would be safer to get to Azerbaijan with a sufficient margin of points. The advantage we have at the moment doesn’t mean at all that things will be easy in Spain. The competition is very strong and we will still have to cope with an unfavorable Balance of Performance, but I don’t want to sing the same song once again. We will be running the cars in their 2013 configuration in Spain, to show we are not seeking confrontation. I think we proved sufficiently our point in Slovakia at the last round and there is no need to run in 2012 specs one more time.”
Traditionally, the Audis R8 LMS ultra have been competitive at Navarra. It is a track really appreciated by drivers. “With its natural design, many up and downs through the hills, and technical corners with different surface inclination, it offers a really exciting driving experience. The turns are mostly medium-slow, which generally is not the most interesting configuration, but here they are really technical, and Turn 1 is a nice fast curve. It’s a track that may be tough on the brakes, but at this period of the year, cooler temperatures should help.”
Clearly, one of the main points of interest in Spain will be the battle for the Drivers’ title, which sees an unusual situation, with three driver teams of the same squad (Team WRT!) at the top of the points table. “It’s always an interesting situation to have a family affair of this kind”, reckons Sporting Director Pierre Dieudonné, “but we are clearly taking the option not to interfere at all, for the sake of the sports. We trust the professionalism and fair-play of our drivers, who are all grown-up boys, and they will be free to play their cards, within only one boundary: not to hurt the team’s interests.”
The six drivers in contention will actually be five, as René Rast, who normally partners with Niki Mayr-Melnhof, on car #12, will not be in Spain. The German is in a position to fight for the ADAC GT Masters title as well and will be participating in the finale of the German series that takes place at Hockenheim on the same weekend. He will be replaced by another Audi driver, Oliver Jarvis, who knows well the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and will be given a warm ‘welcome back’ by everybody. The key players in the fight look forward to the weekend. Laurens Vanthoor, who together with Stéphane Ortelli, has a 19-point advantage at the moment, reflects: “It will be important for us to continue scoring consistently as we have been doing so far in 2013. Of course any mistakes now are going to be punished so we have to be careful as well as quick. Battling a car from the same team is very difficult but as long as we maintain the respect which we have done so far then it should be only fun at Navarra.” In the role of the chaser, Frank Stippler and Edward Sandström are obliged to attack. “We have a gap to close and we intend to start in Spain this weekend”, confirms the German “We need to score heavy points in Navarra and it definitely should be a very interesting weekend.” The weekend will have a compact format, with free practice and qualifying on Saturday and both the Qualifying and Main races taking place on Sunday.
Belgian Audi Club