It was definitely a frustrating Paul Ricard 1000 for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, as the car of Dries Vanthoor-Christopher Ries-Álex Riberas was stopped by a mechanical issue while it was in third position. Seeing how things turned out in one of the closest-fought and beautiful Blancpain races ever, it could have been the potential winner… Still, with direct rivals not scoring many points, Vanthoor, Riberas and Mies manage to keep the lead in the Blancpain Endurance Cup’s Drivers standings, while in the Teams’ standings, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is now second. The other car of the Belgian squad, with Stuart Leonard-Sheldon van der Linde-Fred Vervisch, took a final 12th position after its consistent race was partially ruined by slower pace in the final hour and a half.
Team Principal Vincent Vosse was philosophical at the end of the race around midnight: “First of all, I want to congratulate Lexus and Emil Frey Racing for their maiden win, it’s always nice to see hard work rewarded. For us, it’s a disappointing evening and a real pity, because we could have been on the podium for sure and score some very heavy points. It’s very frustrating for everybody, and especially for Dries, who had done a perfect work in his double stint. Car #17 also should have finished in a much better position, in the top-5, but something slowed its pace during Fred’s final stint, and we will have to find why. It’s not often that we encounter reliability problems, but that can happen and it’s part of racing…”
Free practice and pre-qualifying, with a field of 51 cars, showed once again the competitiveness of the series, while the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT focused on working on the set-up of its Audis R8. Car #17 was fourth-fastest in free practice and car #1 13th in pre-qualifying. The Qualifying session, in the morning of Saturday’s race, yielded an excellent P5 for car #1 with car #17 taking P23, after seeing one of its fast times cancelled for track limits.
The start of the race, after formation lap and start were repeated a second time, was somehow chaotic but incident-less. Dries Vanthoor on car #1 gained immediately one position and stabilized in P4 in the initial phases, with the leading group in full fight throughout the first two hours. Stuart Leonard climbed up to P18 in the opening lap, and then successfully recovered to P14 in his double stint, before handing the wheel to Sheldon van der Linde.
Vanthoor, as his usual, fought like a lion in his double stint, taking P3 and staying in contention with the leaders, the front-running group being covered by a couple of seconds only! Unfortunately, drama struck at the restart from the second pit stop, as Álex Riberas couldn’t get the car moving. A clutch failure was detected and the crew worked hard in the garage to repair, but all chances of a good result were gone and retirement couldn’t be avoided. “I really gave everything and was fighting all the time”, commented a frustrated Vanthoor, “and it’s really disappointing for the entire team to see our chances go like this”.
Car #17 continued his excellent race, with Sheldon van der Linde making it to the top-8 by mid-race. Fred Vervisch completed the good job, but struggled with a drop of performance of the car in his stints, eventually crossing the finishing line in P12.
The Endurance Cup will come back on the last weekend of July, with the Total 24 Hours of Spa. Before the greatest rendez-vous of the season, the Blancpain GT Series community will convene on the Adriatic shores, at Misano, on 23-24 June for the third round of the sprint Cup.
Blancpain Endurance Cup – Round 3
Circuit Paul Ricard, France, 1-2 June 2018
1. Seefried-Klien-Costa (Lexus RC-F) 172 laps; 2. Pepper-Kane-Gounon (Bentley Continental) + 2s315; 3. Watson-Barnicoat-Ledogar (McLaren 650S) +43s827; ... ; 12. Leonard-S.vd Linde-Vervisch (Audi R8 LMS) +1m32s080; ... ; DNF Vanthoor-Riberas-Mies (Audi R8 LMS) 62 laps (mechanical)
Provisional Blancpain Endurance Cup Drivers’ standings after Round 3 of 5:
1. Vanthoor-Riberas-Mies 37 points; 2.Seefried-Klien-Costa 35; 3. Christodoulou-Marciello 33; …; 22. Leonard-S.Vander Linde-Frijns 6
Provisional Blancpain Endurance Cup Teams’ standings after Round 3 of 5:
1. Emil Frey Racing 58 points; 2. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT 37; 3. Akka 37
More info on the Blancpain series, live timing and live commented TV streaming of each race on www.blancpain-gt-series.com