BES: Audi emerges unscathed in the battle of Le Castellet

Ferrari sweeps PRO-AM at the Paul Ricard circuit in France.

The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS No.1 of German duo Christopher Haase and Christopher Mies and Stephane Ortelli (MCO) secured overall victory in an incident-packed race at Circuit Paul Ricard.

The 2011 PRO teams’ champions led home the 2012 season pace-setters Bas Leinders, Maxime Martin and Markus Palttala in the No.3 Marc VDS Racing BMW Z4. It broke a sequence of four straight wins in Blancpain Endurance Series races for the Belgian team.

“I have been racing here many times but never with so many cars so it is a good feeling to win here in such tough competition,” Ortelli said. “I am pleased for my co-drivers and for the team. We have a great family feeling at WRT.

It was a good comeback after a difficult Free Practice. I want to dedicate this win to my dad Jean who first brought me here in 1973.”

Third place went to the No.71 PRO Kessel Racing Ferrari of Italian trio Stefano Gattuso, David Rigon and Daniel Zampieri.

In fourth overall and first in PRO-AM was the No.52 AF Corse Ferrari of Niek Hommerson (NLD), Louis Machiels (BEL) and Andrea Bertolini (ITA). It was a stunning performance from 27th on the grid.

The tale of the race was a string of retirements from the front runners. As a consequence, the finishing order both overall and in class had a fresh look about it as the incidents and accidents took their toll.

Paul Ricard: What the drivers say ...

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT won the PRO class contest, Ferrari made a clean sweep of PRO-AM while JB Motorsport scored their second consecutive victory in the Gentlemen Trophy in a dramatic three-hour race at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Light rain fell just before the start but cleared by the formation lap and the action began on a drying but greasy track surface. Rain was never a factor in the race unlike at Monza and Silverstone in the opening two rounds.

For the winners overall, the Audi R8 LMS No.1 of Christopher Haase, Christopher Mies and Stephane Ortelli, it was a satisfying result. “This is great not just because of the podium but we also came ahead of BMW. I really think this comes down to the team, they gave us such a great car,” Mies said.

“Our strategy and pit stop were brilliant and at the correct time and all this together combined to this excellent finish.

“This wasn’t a normal race for me, right from the start to the end we were really pushing extra hard; now we leave with some good points.”

The championship leaders in the Marc VDS BMW Z4 No.3 Bas Leinders, Maxime Martin and Markus Palttala were relegated to the second step of the podium after four straight wins in the series starting with Magny Cours last year.

Leinders said: "The end result is a lot better than we expected. We knew we would struggle on the straights and we did struggle on the straights, very badly. We had to look to strategy to help us, and they were superb pitstops from the guys, again. It's a good turn around for No.4 to take a sixth place - it's great for the championship challenge. Now we look to Spa."

Third was the No.71 PRO Kessel Racing Ferrari of Italians Stefano Gattuso, David Rigon and Daniel Zampieri.

In fourth overall and first in PRO-AM was the No.52 AF Corse Ferrari of Niek Hommerson (NLD), Louis Machiels (BEL) and Andrea Bertolini (ITA). It was a stunning performance from 27th on the grid.

“Yesterday we did not expect to be on the podium because everyone has been really competitive this weekend, but last night I had a good glass of wine, some people say it’s not a good idea but it helps,” Machiels said.

“It was one of the most difficult races for me, it was quite hot in the car but we managed.

“Our whole race came together nicely due to good pace and I have to thank Niek (Hommerson) for his excellent start and a brilliant finish by Andrea (Bertolini).”

Second in PRO-AM was the No.57 Vita4One Italy Ferrari 458 Italia of Eugenio Amos, Giacomo Petrobelli and Alessandro Bonacini.

Jerome Policand was delighted with third in the No.10 SOFREV Ferrari. “As a driver it’s a great feeling to be on the podium today because I share it with Mike (Savarry) and Gabriel (Balthazard),” he said.

“Gabriel was my first sponsor in motor racing 25 years ago when I was dreaming about Formula One and Mike is a very good friend of mine so we’re a good line-up.

“We had a particularly good strategy. We started 31st, dropped several more places after a spin and by the time the Safety Car went in we were 20th. I was a little bit rusty in my stint to start off, I haven’t driven for over five years, but I started gaining places soon.

“As a team manager today is mixed feelings though because we lost our sister car who is fighting for the championship, but anyway we now look forward to Spa.”

In the Gentlemen Trophy class, the Swedish JB Motorsport outfit got the better of close rivals the GCR Racing/Guy Clairay Dodge Viper No.82. In fact the Viper exited in a ball of flames after an exhaust fire.

Luc Paiilard, who was behind the wheel at the time, said: “Our race was at a disadvantage from early on because we made the mistake of making a pit stop just after the Safety Car went off the circuit.

“My team-mate Gilles (Vannelet) took the wheel and did some good laps but he had to stop early because there was too much smoke in the car, we had no idea where it was coming from.

“We decided for me to go out but the smoke just got worse, I couldn’t see anything so I had to park it at turn 12. Luckily the track fire team were on hand and put the flames out quickly, I was really worried we’d lose the car but it’s now ok, so a huge thank you to the track team for their help.”

There were some notable casualties among the contenders at the sharp end particularly in the early stages of the race.

The No.2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS, with Edward Sandstrom at the wheel, stopped at T14 just eight minutes into the race. The car was pushed to the side of the track with transmission problems.

Sweden’s Sandstrom said: “I was coming round the back of the circuit towards the last corner and I just lost drive and couldn’t do anything.

“I’ve never had a problem with transmission in all my time with Audi so it's a bit of a surprise. The car felt good and I was looking for a long stint and a good finish for the team. I feel sorry for the team and for my team-mates but it’s just one of those things I guess.”

The pole-sitting No.64 Black Bull Swiss Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Mirko Venturi (ITA) made an unscheduled visit to the pit lane after 12 minutes with a terminal gearbox problem. The Ferrari had been on the pace all weekend and had been expected to finish strongly in the race. Venturi still managed the fastest lap of the race – a 1.57.845.

Dylan Derdaele (BEL) also crabbed his way into the pits in the ProSpeed Competition Porsche No.74 with rear suspension damage.

Greg Franchi (BEL), the 2011 PRO Cup champion was forced to park the Vita4One Racing BMW Z4 No.66 within 15 minutes of the start – a victim of transmission gremlins.

“This has not been a good start to the season for us,” Franchi said. “We just have to look ahead now to the 24 Hours of Spa, my home race, and hope for a better result. The 24 Hours is long and a lot can happen so we hope for a good race.”

Jerome Demay (FRA) in the Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 No.40 came to a shuddering halt at T14 after 20 minutes after a big contact with Mark Blundell (GBR) in the No.23 United Autosports McLaren MP4-12C.

Demay was sent into a spin courtesy of a rear puncture and the fast-approaching Blundell had nowhere to go and ploughed into the Audi with both cars suffering major damage.

Demay spun to a stop at the point of impact while Blundell parked a sorry-looking McLaren metres from the scene.

United Autosports team manager Richard Dean said: “Mark (Blundell) was going really well. He had moved from the P30s and running well into the top 20s and had made some strong progress so it’s a shame it ended like that.”

The accident brought out the Safety Car to allow debris to be cleared from the circuit with the pack making a dash to the pits for early stops.

From the highs of a PRO-AM class victory and fourth overall at Silverstone, the Blancpain Reiter Lamborghini No.24 experienced disappointment at Paul Ricard.

Starting from 20th position in class after a moderate Qualifying, Marc A. Hayek, President & CEO of Blancpain was struck by the Nissan GTR GT3 driven by Alex Buncombe with just one hour of the race distance completed.

The incident happened at the chicane at the second corner. The No.24 car suffered extensive suspension damage and was unable to continue.

The Nissan also retired as a result. Buncombe said: “Today was disappointing, we started in 29th and on one of the first corners one of the Mercedes caught the inside of me and the car spun, because of that we went straight to the back and I had to put my head down and really work hard to gain places.

“Then there was a Safety Car so the gaps closed which helped. I carried on, took a few places then I had a collision with the No.24 Lamborghini. He was going a little slower than I expected and we hit, unfortunately there was too much damage to continue, it’s just one of those things.”

Gulf Racing UK’s No.9 McLaren MP4-12C GT3 recorded its highest ever finish but it was a bitter-sweet result as the No.69 was unable to take the chequered flag after suffering fuel starvation issues and a puncture just 12 minutes before the end.

Mike Wainwright and Rob Bell were unlucky to finish just outside the top 20 in the 54-strong field, but their 21st place finish was an excellent result considering their starting position of 47th.

Wainwright, who completed a double stint, said: “It started to rain a little and next lap round it was definitely more slippery on the kerbs. There was so much pick-up off line and I didn’t want to throw away a solid finish so I slowed a bit and we dropped back a few places.

“Before then we had a very good run, although it was very hot doing two hours in the car, and we had some good, consistent lap times. It was a shame about our qually and the few little niggles we had before the race, but Rob made up loads of places and showed what was possible.”

Roald Goethe and Stuart Hall had an equally consistent run in the No.69, having started from 39th on the grid, and were holding a steady position within the top 30 until the final 15 minutes of the race.

The car suffered from a left front puncture just 12 minutes before the end of the race which left German-born Roald stranded on track. “It looks like one of the fuel pumps wasn’t working, and the engine started cutting in the right handers although we knew we had plenty of fuel,” he said.

“I was trying to stay out of trouble to get back to the pits, but in doing so had contact with another car and got a puncture. The tyre jumped off the rim so it was impossible to go any further which was a shame as up till then it had been a good race experience and a good weekend.”

The championship now heads to the Ardenne mountains and the daunting challenge of Spa-Francorchamps for the Total 24 Hours of Spa from 26-29 July.

There were some notable casualties among the contenders at the sharp end.

Among them was the pole-sitting PRO-AM No.64 Black Bull Swiss Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Mirko Venturi (ITA) which made an unscheduled visit to the pit lane after 12 minutes with a terminal gearbox problem. The Ferrari had been on the pace all weekend and had been expected to finish strongly in the race. Venturi was credited with the fastest lap of the race – a 1:57.845.

There was also drama in the Gentlemen Trophy class with the GCR Racing/Guy Clairay Dodge Viper No.82 catching fire at T12 with one hour remaining.

The mishap allowed the Swedish trio of Jan Brunstedt, Mikael Bender and Jocke Mangs, the pole sitters in the class in the JB Motorsport Audi R8 LMS No.98, to take the spoils.

Source: Blancpain Press

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About this article
Series Blancpain Endurance
Drivers Mark Blundell , Stéphane Ortelli , Rob Bell , Jérome Policand , Stefano Gattuso , Andrea Bertolini , Bas Leinders , Stuart Hall , Richard Dean , Markus Palttala , Maxime Martin , Giacomo Petrobelli , Alex Buncombe , Roald Goethe , Daniel Zampieri , Christopher Mies , Christopher Haase , Niek Hommerson , Louis Machiels , Edward Sandström , Jerome Demay , Eugenio Amos , Alessandro Bonacini , Greg Franchi , Jan Brunstedt , Mikael Bender , Jocke Mangs , Mirko Venturi , Dylan Derdaele , Guy Clairay
Teams Nissan Motorsport , AF Corse , Gulf Racing UK , Audi Sport Team WRT , Marc VDS Racing
Article type Race report
Tags audi, bes, blancpain endurance series, featured, ferrari, le castellet, mies, ortelli, paul ricard