It was an exciting season-opener for the new FIA GT Series at Nogaro, and a terrific start of the 2013 season for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, as it took a fantastic 1-2 overall in today’s Main Race, a second in Saturday’s Qualifying Race and a win and a second in the Pro-Am category.
This brought them down to sixth overall (and second in Pro-Am) but did not erase the excellent impression they left throughout the weekend.
The overall win in the Main race went to their team-mates Frank Stippler-Edward Sandström, who had already taken the win points in the Pro category, while Stéphane Ortelli-Laurens Vanthoor finished second.
These two cars concluded the weekend on a high note after an unlucky Race 1.
“What a great and emotional weekend”, says Team Principal Vincent Vosse, still stunned by the results, “It’s hard for me to put words to my feelings at this very moment, but I know three things were key to this success.
First, the competitiveness of the Audis R8, for which we have to thank Audi Sport. Second, the job done by the entire team, especially at pit-stops which were critical to get in front of our competitors.
And third, the wonderful performance of our drivers, all of them, who have done some great things, especially today.
As always and as in any other formula, when races are wet, drivers make a difference, and we saw that today. The final stints of Edward and Laurens were outstanding, Nicky has had an incredible weekend, and it has to be recalled that he is not a pro, René was super fast and Frank and Stéphane perfect as always. It is really a privilege to have such drivers and such a good team spirit.”
Things had started nicely for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT since qualifying, with the three cars making the top 10 and going into the final session awarding the pole, according to the new qualifying format. In the Superpole final session, René Rast was fastest with Stippler third and Ortelli fourth.
The Qualifying race saw Rast taking the lead, although being always under close attack from Parente, while Laurens Vanthoor was sent into the gravel at first corner by one of the BMWs and had to rejoin the race in last position.
With Rast in permanent fight (“tough but always fair”) with Parente and managing to keep him at bay, Sandström in third and Vanthoor climbing back positions up to fifth, thanks also to a safety-car period, things looked quite good. The pit stop, unfortunately, resulted fatal for car #13 as a fuse problem provoked its retirement.
Soon after, car #11 was hit again by another competitor, with Ortelli spinning and suffering a puncture. He rejoined the race to finish 16th.
In the lead, Mayr-Melnhof had some breathing space, thanks to the very fast pit stop of Team WRT, but got caught by Sébastian Loeb in the closing laps, with the rally legend passing the Austrian in the last minutes.
Main race on Sunday was definitely a wet race, with the start given behind safety-car. Mayr-Melnhof would keep P2 throughout his stint, while Ortelli and Stippler had to charge from the back of the grid and stabilize in P10 and P12, respectively.
The pit-stop proved crucial, as Rast goes back to the track first, Sandström is fourth and Vanthoor eighth. The leader will be attacked, touched and sent into a spin by Parente, but the drive-through imposed on the McLaren gave back first place to Rast, who took the win (only provisionally, alas, before before the 30-second penalty after the race).
The closing laps saw a festival by Sandström and Vanthoor, who were in an incredible form and managed some breath-taking moves to take a second and a third respectively that later became the definitive 1-2.
“It was one of the best drives of my life”, commented Vanthoor after crossing the line while an elated Sandström admitted: “The Scandinavian weather conditions suited me perfectly!”.
Having collected two fourths, it was also a good weekend for the other Belgian Audi Club members, Anthony Kumpen and Enzo Ide, with the Phoenix Racing R8.
Following this excellent start, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT can head to the second round of the FIA GT Series, at Zolder in three weeks time, with the assurance that fans will flock to support the squad at its home race. Before that, on 13-14 April, the team will visit Monza for the season-opener of the Blancpain Endurance Series.
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT