For the first time ever, an automobile manufacturer managed to decide the three most important 24-hour races in Europe in its favor: Nürburgring, Le Mans and now Spa-Francorchamps—all within just 71 days. For the second consecutive time, the Audi R8 won the most important endurance race for GT3 sports car.
66 sports cars from twelve different marques competed at the 54th running of the 24-hour race on the Grand Prix circuit in the Belgian Ardennes. After 509 laps on the 7.004-kilometer track two Audi R8 LMS ultra cars prevailed against their competition from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren and company. Andrea Piccini (I), René Rast (D) and Frank Stippler (D) triumphed in the R8 of Audi Sport Team Phoenix in front of their brand colleagues Christopher Haase (D) Christopher Mies (D) and Stéphane Ortelli (MC) from Audi Sport Team WRT.
The Le Mans winners Marcel Fässler (CH), Tom Kristensen (DK) and André Lotterer (D) in the second car of Audi Sport Team Phoenix after a spectacular recovery from position 63 finished in sixth place. The second Audi R8 LMS ultra of Audi Sport Team WRT with Marco Bonanomi (I), Edward Sandström (S) and Laurens Vanthoor (B) retired at the beginning of the 21st hour due to an accident in the famous “Eau Rouge” corner.
“Winning three 24-hour races within just 71 days is another milestone in the successful motorsport history of our company,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich after the historic triumph. “The field at Spa was unique and enormously competitive. There were more than 20 vehicles in contention for victory. In the end, the combination of quality, reliability and speed for which Audi is known prevailed yet again. Everybody who was involved in achieving this historic triple can be proud – first and foremost of course our teams and drivers, but naturally all of our employees in Ingolstadt, Neckarsulm and Biberach as well.”
After a difficult first race hour, the Audi R8 LMS ultra cars following a correction of the tire pressure managed to improve position by position and put pressure on the BMW cars that were initially leading. Audi started to gather its first leading kilometers in the fourth hour. From the ninth hour on, the Audi R8 LMS ultra cars took command of the field at Spa for good – and at times in extremely difficult conditions with torrential rain, minimal vision and a total of 16 safety car periods.
During the race the Audi drivers did not give each other the slightest break either. Up to 30 minutes before the end of the race, the two Audi R8 LMS ultra cars – numbers “16” and “1” – of the two Audi Sport Teams Phoenix and WRT were fighting a fierce duel for overall victory. The lead kept changing between the two cars. The overtaking maneuver that pre-decided the outcome was achieved by Frank Stippler shortly before 3 p.m. In addition, the strategy of Audi Sport Team Phoenix to change the front brake pads a second time on Sunday morning during a safety car period proved to be right. The final decision was made 30 minutes before the end of the race when Stéphane Ortelli had to sit a drive-through penalty.
“Like at the Nürburgring 24 hours, despite the enormously high speed as in a sprint race we didn’t have the slightest technical problem,” said a pleased Werner Frowein from quattro GmbH which is responsible for the development and sales of the GT3 sports car. “This triumph is another piece of proof that the R8 LMS ultra is the bench mark on the endurance circuit.”
Marcel Fässler, Tom Kristensen and André Lotterer, who were among the quickest drivers in the field, were able to see the qualities of the mid-engine sports car for themselves as well. Shortly before the end of the first hour, Lotterer was hit by another vehicle that suddenly turned into the pit lane. After changing the tie rod on the front axle the Le Mans winners resumed the race with a gap of eleven laps on position 63. In the end, they had pushed forward to position six and made up three laps.
As the best Audi customer team, the British GT3 Racing squad with their Audi R8 LMS achieved a remarkable 14th place overall and ninth in the Pro Am class. “And right in our first 24-hour race and only our fourth running of this car,” said Team Director Aaron Scott, positively summing up the race.
Teams Sainteloc Racing, JB Motorsport and Alfab finished with their R8 LMS cars as well. The R8 LMS ultra cars from Sainteloc Racing and United Autosports retired due to accidents. The French Sainteloc squad was running in the sensational fifth place overall some of the time.
Interview with Frank Stippler
You’ve driven many 24-hour races. Now you’ve won two rounds in just one year – the 24 Hours at the Nürburgring and at Spa with the Audi R8 LMS ultra. What was specific about each race?
The biggest difference to the victory in May was that there are so many vehicle categories on the grid for the Nordschleife, which means that there are big differences in speed in the field. That’s the greatest challenge. At Spa, it was exactly the other way around. With almost 70 entrants, the field arguably set a record because never before have so many vehicles contested such a high-caliber race in a single class. This made the battles extremely fierce, even when lapping. That was the thrill of this race. Naturally, a bit of fortune was involved as well.
Fierce battles make a victory particularly valuable. How did you experience these duels?
It already began with our starting from 29th place. We had to take a lot of risks to pass our rivals. Our car has an extremely large number of advantages but in terms of top speed there are unfortunately a couple of cars in the field that are even faster. That’s why in the braking zones we’re actually too far away for an attack. If you risk it anyway this always involves body contact.
And you had such contacts more than once, didn’t you?
My wheels alone were hit two or three times. After these incidents, I thought a lot about my rims, tires and wheel bearings. But the best thing was that these thoughts were obviously unfounded, because the Audi R8 LMS ultra was absolutely stable. I’m happy that with Audi, Audi Sport Team Phoenix and my two fantastic team-mates I was finally able to celebrate this success. All the findings we’re gathering with this vehicle will directly benefit the many customers who trust this customer sports car worldwide.
BMW on pole for Total 24 Hours at Spa
I know, this isn’t a BMW…but Audi sends me photos and BMW doesn’t…
Of the 66 GT sports cars from twelve different marques that are pitted against each other in the competition of the world’s best GT3 vehicles at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, it was BMW that took the front row. McLaren is third and the first of ten Audi R8 LMS ultra cars is fourth. As expected, the most important GT3 race of the year features a uniquely competitive field as merely 1.544 seconds separated the fastest vehicles after the first qualifying sessions on Thursday night. Just a few hundredths ultimately decided who qualified for the so called “super pole” session at which the top 20 grid positions were to be awarded on Friday afternoon.
With Christopher Haase/Christopher Mies/Stéphane Ortelli (Audi R8 LMS ultra #1) on position four and Marcel Fässler/Tom Kristensen/André Lotterer (Audi R8 LMS ultra #6) in 13th place, one vehicle of each of the two Audi factory teams managed the leap into the top 20. Stéphane Ortelli and Marcel Fässler achieved their fastest times in the first qualifying session which turned out to be decisive as in the second session held in darkness none of the drivers managed to advance into the top 20 anymore.
Yet the eagerly awaited battle for the top 20 grid positions fell through as the “super pole” qualifying had to be cancelled after torrential rainfalls. The results of the first two sessions were used for the grid formation.
“Naturally, it’s a shame that there was no real battle for the pole position,” commented Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “But the conditions were really extreme and the cancellation of the super pole was absolutely right. The grid positions are not so important at a 24-hour race anyway.”
Marco Bonanomi/Edward Sandström/Laurens Vantoor (Audi R8 LMS ultra #2and Andrea Piccini/René Rast/Frank Stippler (Audi R8 LMS ultra #16) will be starting into the race that Audi won for the first time last year from positions 21 and 29. Like their team colleagues, they were only able to start qualifying with a delay since new data logging software of the race organizer had immobilized the electronics of all R8 cars.
The fastest time of a customer car was set by Filipe Albuquerque in the Audi R8 LMS ultra #40 of the French Sainteloc Racing team.
The race at Spa will start on Saturday at 1600 hrs (local time). Audi.tv will broadcast major portions of the race on www.audi-liveracing.com live on the internet starting at 1530 hrs.
The grid positions at Spa
1 Lauda/Franchi/Kechele (BMW) 2m 19.473s
2 Paltalla/Leinders/Martin (BMW) 2m 19.552s
3 Parente/Barff/Goodwin/Wills (McLaren) 2m 19.729s
4 Haase/Mies/Ortelli (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 2m 20.026s
5 Lemeret/van Hooydonck/den Boer (BMW) 2m 20.031s
6 Verdonck/Mondron/Clarke/van de Poele (McLaren) 2m 20.085s
12 Fässler/Kristensen/Lotterer (Audi R8 LMS ultra)
21 Bonanomi/Sandström/Vanthoor (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 2m 20.790s
27 Albuquerque/Guilvert/Lunardi (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 2m 20.957s
29 Piccini/Rast/Stippler (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 2m 20.982s
42 Wilins/Belshaw/Scott/Keen (Audi R8 LMS) 2m 22.488s
48 Patterson/Meins/Li/Blundell (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 2m 23.643s
53 Behrens/Ros/Ohman/Skoog (Audi R8 LMS) 2m 26.599s
55 Brunstedt/Bender/Mangs (Audi R8 LMS) 2m 26.958s
61 Marie/Hissom/Hirschi/Demay (Audi R8 LMS) 2m 20.022s
courtesy of Audi