It was an eventful and disappointing 70th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa for the Audis R8 LMS of the Belgian Audi ClubTeam WRT. This time, the Belgian squad could only bring one of its three cars to the finishing line, with René Rast-Nico Müller-Robin Frijns taking P8 after a consistent race. The prospects looked excellent up to the Super Pole, with the three cars in the top 20 and Dries Vanthoor signing a pole that was disallowed by a technical issue. The race, unfortunately, would bring further frustration. The team will now focus all its efforts into the final stretch of the Blancpain GT Series season, with two rounds of the Sprint Cup and one of the Endurance Cup still to be held, to try to revert the back clash in the Ardennes’ enduro.
After the race, Team Principal Vincent Vosse was already looking ahead: “We definitely had a challenging week, and not the result we had wanted, but it is not in our spirit to complain. We had to face challenging sporting situations and a race full of events, and we weren’t successful in being at right place during the many full-course yellow periods. Only one of our cars had a relatively clean race, but wasn’t in a position to fight for victory. As I always prefer to look at the positive, I would like to stress the terrific job done by the entire team and how much I enjoyed living those intense days with such wonderful people. Spa remains a unique and fantastic race and human experience, and we will be back to win it!”
Car #1, entered for Dries Vanthoor, Christopher Mies and Álex Riberas, was one of the front-runners throughout qualifying. It actually dominated also the Super Pole on Friday, with Dries Vanthoor posting an impressive time of 2.18.578 that left all rivals 6 tenths behind. Unfortunately, following an air box issue arisen during technical scrutineering, the time was disallowed (and the car demoted to P19 on the grid) and a 3-minute stop-and-go penalty to be served in the early stages of the race was additionally inflicted to the car.
Still, the drivers and the team were not discouraged by the heavy handicap. After Christopher Mies served the sanction at the end of lap 1, the Audi #1 went into “full attack mode” to close the 2-lap gap. It entered the top-20 by the 10-hour mark and the top-10 nine hours later and was heading to a nice points finish, when an overheating issue in the drivetrain, less than three hours from the end, advised not to pursue the race.
Car #2, with René Rast, Nico Müller and Robin Frijns at the wheel, was the only one spared by serious trouble. It took P3 in the Super Pole and inherited a spot in first row after the demotion of car #1. René Rast took an excellent start and led in the initial phases. Despite the numerous positions changes determined by the pits stops and the numerous full-course yellow periods, the car stayed always in the leading group, although some rivals had a much faster pace. The main event to report was a drive-through inflicted during the night following a race incident with a Mercedes. It eventually crossed the line in P8.
Car #17, entrusted to Stuart Leonard, Daniel Serra and Marcel Fässler, had no better fortune. It qualified an excellent 13th, but lost three spots on the starting grid, as one of its times was cancelled for track limits. In the race, it had a conservative start, as planned, but was running in the top-20 when, at the 4th hour mark, shortly after a pit stop, with Stuart Leonard at the drive, it lost a wheel, ending in a gravel trap, from where it could get out by its own means. Sadly, that meant retirement.
After the summer break, Blancpain GT Series action will resume at the Hungaroring on 1st-2nd September for the fourth round of the Sprint Cup.
Blancpain Endurance Cup – Round 4
Total 24 Hours of Spa, Belgium, 28-29 July 2018
1. Blomqvist-Krognes-Eng (BMW M6) 511 laps;
2. Sims-Eng-Klingmann (BMW M6) +10s408;
3. K. & S. Van der Linde-Schmidt (Audi R8 LMS) +37s941;
4. Winkelhock-Vervisch-Haase (Audi R8 LMS) +53s645
5. Buurman-Stolz-Engel (Mercedes AMG) +1m17s916
8. Rast-Müller-Frijns (Audi R8 LMS) - 2 laps
DNF Vanthoor-Riberas-Mies (Audi R8 LMS) 220 laps (mechanical)
DNF Leonard-Serra-Fässler (Audi R8 LMS) 78 laps (incident)
More info on the Blancpain series, live timing and live commented TV streaming of each race on www.blancpain-gt-series.com