The Team WRT keeps faithful to the podium at the Total 24 Hours of Spa
It’s the seventh podium finish at Spa in six consecutive years for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT
The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT added another podium finish to its collection of achievements at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the world’s greatest GT race, as the car sporting Audi Sport colors driven by Laurens Vanthoor-René Rast-Nico Müller crossed the finishing line in third, in a dramatic finale to a very eventful edition of the Ardennes legendary race. It’s the seventh podium finish at Spa in six consecutive years for the Belgian squad, which achieved to bring to the finish four of its five cars, with Baguette-DeLeener-Kaffer (8th) and Albuquerque-Baptista-Jimenez (12th) signing excellent final results as well. The positive team performance was completed by Audi winning the prestigious Coupe du Roi.
After the extenuating race, Team Principal Vincent Vosse admitted: “I am very happy, we achieved finishing on the podium once again and had an intense and full week, on track and outside of it, with plenty of activities and friends, partners and guests visiting.” Vosse further reflected: “At Spa 24 Hours, nothing is granted nor predictable. Fourty-five minutes from the end of the race, car #28 was fifth and still manages to finish on the podium. When you see the come-back the car made after the incident during the night, it’s almost incredible. At the same time, you can have some regrets seeing the pace we had: without that incident, we would have been fighting for victory… But a 24 hours race is like that: you can’t be at the right place at the right moment every single moment… A podium finish is always something to be proud of, and bringing home four out five cars, as well as winning the Coupe du Roi, is very positive. The entire team has worked well and put out a strong collective performance.”
I think we can say we took the most out of it.
It was indeed a 69th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa that stood up to the epics of the race, with dramas of all kind breaking up since qualifying, dominated by the Mercedes AMG, which took the first six positions … only to lose them Saturday morning after technical scrutineering because of non-conformity of the ignition system. The German cars were also inflicted a 5-minute stop-and-go at the beginning of the race. That put Laurens Vanthoor and the Audi R8L LMS #28 … in pole, as the Belgian had been the first of the rest in the Super Pole, with only one other WRT car, #2 of Robin Frijns, making it to the top 20 going to Super Pole exercise, and taking P7 on the grid.
The initial phases of the race were promising for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, with René Rast and Robin Frijns, who took the start on #28 and #2 respectively, leading for a while during the first couple of hours, which were marred with full course yellow and safety-car periods as all sorts of incidents unfolded. Once things stabilized, faster cars took the advantage. By the fourth hour, car #28 was 4th, with #1 having climbed up to 7th, #4 in P10, #2 in P13 and #3 in P17, in a strong team show.
As day light faded away, started the problems. Shortly after 22 hours, in the course of the 6th hour, #28 with Rast at the wheel was hit at the back by a Jaguar, having to pit for some lengthy bodywork repair, which cost almost 3 laps and made the car dive in P40 by the 6-hour mark. In such a close and competitive race, that basically meant being barred from the fight for the win. Still, from then on, the Audi Sport Team WRT-entered car commenced a charge that would go on until the chequered flag, setting also the fastest race lap, 2.18.793 by Laurens Vanthoor. The final hour was breathlessly intense, as the car, which had seized P3 and was bound to a podium finish, lost a couple of positions to the Mercedes and retook P3 in the final minutes, after Vanthoor mastered well the final shower and subsequent chaos, with several accidents, a full course yellow, pit stops to change tires and more penalties for some.
At the end, Laurens Vanthoor reflected with philosophy: “We would have signed for such a result after the accident in the night. At the same time, we can feel frustrated because we were really quick in the race, and could have hoped for something more. But it has been an eventful 24 Hours since qualifying, and under the circumstances, I think we can say we took the most out of it.”
Car #2 of Robin Frijns-Suart Leonard-Michael Meadows, which had been steadily running in or very close to the top ten, saw its race come to an early end at sunrise, shortly after the half-race mark, when an engine issue stopped it for good. It was, unfortunately, the only retirement in the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT camp after a very promising start.
Problems during the night also hit car #1 of Will Stevens-Fred Vervisch-Dries Vanthoor, which have had a terrific pace during the first third of the race, running as high as P3 by the 8th hour. First, it was a broken front splitter to cause some delay, then the car suffered engine cuts that brought it to stop twice on the track. Luckily, it could make it back to the pits in both instances, but for the rest of the race it had to make very short stints to avoid the electronic engine cut once the fuel tank reached half capacity. The frustrating race was concluded in P29 after a record number of pit stops: 37!
Fortunately enough, cars #4 and #3 had smoother runs. Bertrand Baguette-Adrien De Leener-Pierre Kaffer got into the top ten by the fourth hour and had a consistent race that they finished in P8. A similarly solid performance was put out by Filipe Albuquerque-Sergio Jimenez-Rodrigo Baptista in car #3, with Jimenez ensuring three very long stints. The car ran systematically in the top 20 to take a final P12.
The final and decisive round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup is scheduled at the Nürburgring on 16-17 September. Before that, the Blancpain Sprint Cup will be back on 27-28 August with Round 4 at the Hungaroring.
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