A third place and three cars in the top-8: the Paul Ricard 1000 ended with a positive result for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. On a track not particularly favorable to them, the Audis R8 LMS put on a solid and consistent race, which brought its fruits under the chequered flag and promises well ahead of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the blue ribbon of the Blancpain Endurance Cup, to be held end of July. Antonio García-Nico Müller-René Rast took third, with the first of the Audi Sport Team WRT-entered cars, while Jake Dennis-Stuart Leonard-Robin Frijns finished 6th and Fred Vervisch-Pieter Schothorst-Christopher Mies took P8. Josh Caygill-Hugo de Sadeleer-Jon Venter finished in P25, in the fourth car of the squad completing the distance, while the two other had to retire because of race incidents.
Team Principal Vincent Vosse was satisfied at the end of the French summer endure: “A podium finish and three cars in the top-8 on this track is quite a good result. Moreover, what pleases me is that they had a trouble free race, showing reliability and consistency. We were quite strong in the final part of the race, which proves our solidity as a team. Without a race incident, also car #5 would have been in that group, and all that is quite promising for the Total 24 Hours of Spa which are now around the corner. Running six cars here was a good test too, and I think we did well. Clearly, the full-course-yellow period occurring shortly before the end of the first stint obliged us to review the pit stop strategy, but we coped well with unforeseen change.”
As predictable on a track with long straights like the Paul Ricard, the Audis R8 LMS were not among the fastest cars on track at the start of the weekend. Gaps were not huge, but with a 59-car crowded field and such a competitive environment like the Blancpain’s, this meant mid-grid positions. With the exception of car #17 that clinched P9 in pre-qualifying, the Team WRT-run squad was beyond the top-20 in both free practice and pre-qualifying. Luckily, Qualifying was going to be more encouraging, with car #1 qualifying tenth, car #17 in P13 and car #2 in P22. The other three machines situated themselves in the second half of the grid.
In the race, the Audis of the Belgian squad started climbing positions since the beginning, despite the heavy traffic. After 5 laps, Müller on car #1 was in P8 and Vervisch (car #2) in P10, with Dennis (car #17) also in the top-15 and Vanthoor (car #5) approaching the top-20.
The young Belgian would gain more positions, but unfortunately, would be the innocent victim of a contact with a Lambo in the last lap (42) of his double stint. The collision would make no apparent damage other than a punctured rear tire, but the connecting rod and axle shaft had been severely hit, obliging Marcel Fässler to go back to the pits and retire after only one lap of his stint.
The main part of the race would see no big changes, with the Belgian Audis confirming their solid performance. By lap 125, three of them were in the top-10, with García running 7th, Schothorst 9th and Frijns 10th. Car #3, with Caygill at the wheel, was then in P30, quite an achievement after starting from P54. Also car #6 had made a spectacular come back, with Berthon entering the top-20 in his initial double stint, after starting from P49. Sadly, also this car, when Tréluyer was at the wheel (in lap 112) was going to be victim of a contact, with a Ferrari, having to retire.
In the final and decisive part of race, the reliability of the Audis and the solid performance of its drivers would yield even better positions, with Rast crossing the line third after a couple of heated duels, Frijns taking 6th and Mies 8th, while Venter on car #3 crossed the line in P25. “Third is the best we could have done today”, commented DTM leader René Rast, “Overall, we have been lacking top speed during the weekend, but we had a very clean race, completely flat-out.”
The German and his team mates, Nico Müller and Antonio García, were unanimous to say the Ricard 1000 had been an excellent preparation for the Total 24 Hours of Spa, which will take place on 29-30 July and preceeded by intense work on track and in the factory.
Blancpain Endurance Cup - Round 3
Ricard 1000, France
23-24 June 2017
Race Race results:
1. Soucek-Abril-Soulet (Bentley Continental) 170 laps
2. Shaytar-Molina-Rigon (Ferrari ‘88) +29s272
3. Müller-García-Rast (Audi R8 LMS) +1m19s630
4. Serralles-vander Zande-Juncadella (Mercedes) +1m22s658
5. Ordóñez-Buncombe-Chivo (Nissan GTR) +1m37s964
6. Leonard-Dennis-Frijns (Audi R8 LMS) +1m55s276
8. Vervisch-Schothorst-Mies (Audi R8 LMS) +1 lap
25. Caygill-deSadeleer-Venter (Audi R8 LMS) +4laps
DNF Berthon-Richelmi-Tréluyer (Audi R8 LMS) 111 laps (accident)
DNF Stevens-Fässler-Vanthoor (Audi R8 LMS) 43 laps (accident)
More info on the Blancpain series, live timing and live commented TV streaming of each race on www.blancpain-gt-series.com
> Podium finish rewards consistent showing of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT at the Ricard 1000