GT: Belgian Audi Club Team WRT takes home win after nail-biting finish at 24hrs of Spa
Sunday Jul 27th 2014 -Blancpain Endurance Series – Total 24 Hours of Spa– The 66th running of the Total 24 Hours of Spa became a classic edition of the Belgian highlight of the Blancpain Endurance Series, with the fight for the win only decided in the closing minutes of a very demanding race. It was the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi that crossed the line in first, with a mere seven seconds advantage over the #77 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS BMW. The #3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi in third was only one lap down.
The fight for the win in Pro-Am was exciting as well, with the #53 AF Corse Ferrari taking the flag just ahead of the #79 Ecurie Ecosse BMW. The Gentlemen Trophy saw a dominating win of the #51 AF Corse Ferrari.
The 2014 Total 24 Hours of Spa started under glorious sunshine, in front of fully packed grandstands. Laurens Vanthoor, polesitter in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi, had little trouble in keeping the lead for the opening laps, with all drivers quickly settling in their race pace.
95 minutes into the race the safety car was deployed, when Vyacheslav Maleev crashed the #100 SMP Racing Russian Bears Ferrari at the Raidillon corner. That safety car-period did not last long, but incidents and crashes at the various restarts caused three more consecutive interventions of the safety car and the retirements of nine cars. The #66 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS BMW, at one point leading the race, was involved in an incident as well. At one of the restarts Jörg Müller misjudged his braking and hit the back of the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari. Repairs at the front of the BMW made the car lose seven laps.
The lights were put back to green at the four-hour mark, with the fight at the front being dominated by the Audi teams. The race was soon interrupted again however, when the #333 GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari and the #111 Kessel Racing Ferrari were involved in a crash at the exit of the Paul Frère Curve. The driver of the #111 Ferrari, Marcus Mahy, had to be stabilized before being airlifted to the hospital in Liege, so race direction took the decision to red flag the race, allowing the safe evacuation of the driver.
After one hour of interruption, the race was restarted under safety car. The #3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi, who had the lead at the six-hour mark, was awarded a drive-through for having entered the pitlane during the red flag period, which handed the lead of the race to the sister car, the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi.
From then on, the #1 Audi crossed swords with the #77 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS BMW, the sole BMW in the top-5 otherwise occupied by other Audi R8 LMS ultra cars. The cars swapped positions up until the final hour of the race, with the Audi being slightly quicker on track and the BMW spending less time in pitlane. Their duel was only decided after the final pitstops. At the start of the 521st lap, 23:45 hours after the start of the race, René Rast managed to take the lead away from Dirk Werner, to eventually cross the line with seven seconds in hand.
In Pro-Am the #90 Scuderia Villorba Corse Ferrari had taken the lead during the night and with its competitors all experiencing trouble during the early hours of Sunday morning it all looked good for the Italian squad. Gearbox problems stopped their trouble free run however, and seven laps were lost. The fight for the class win then took place between the #53 AF Corse Ferrari and the #79 Ecurie Ecosse BMW, closely followed by the #52 AF Corse Ferrari. All three cars were running well within the top-10 overall as well. In the final hour Louis Machiels in the #53 Ferrari and Alexander Sims in the #79 BMW decided the outcome of the race, with the Belgian in the Ferrari crossing the line as first of the Pro-Am drivers and in 6th overall.
For a long time the fight in Gentlemen Trophy was as close as it gets, with the #42 Sport Garage Ferrari and #51 AF Corse Ferrari driving on the same lap all through the night, running away from the competition. Their duel was decided just after 08:00 on Sunday morning, when Lorenzo Bontempelli lost the front left wheel of the #42 Sport Garage Ferrari when leaving the pitlane. By the time the former leader of the category had made his way back to the pits four laps were lost. From then on, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari had a couple of laps in hand and the drivers controlled the race until the chequered flag.
The fight for second involved the #228 Delahaye Racing Porsche, the #49 AF Corse Ferrari and the #22 Team Parker Racing Audi. With the Porsche falling back with suspension problems in the final hours of the race, it was the Team Parker Racing Audi who eventually crossed the line in second, one lap ahead of the AF Corse Ferrari.
René Rast (#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi): ‘It was a very emotional moment for me when I crossed the line, because it was a very hard race. I was really exhausted, both emotionally and physically. We had to push all race long, but we knew we had a good package to take the win in this race.’
Dirk Werner (#77 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS BMW): ‘Not changing tires at the last pitstop was our last option to try and stay in front of the Audi. We had experienced some small electronical problems during the final four hours, which was a shame, because up until then the car was running beautifully. We had a good weekend nevertheless, driving a strong race, especially during the night. I was a little disappointed at first, but for the Marc VDS team it is great to finish on the podium of the biggest Belgian race there is.’
Christopher Mies (#3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi): ‘Pitting during the red flag period did not give us as much of an advantage as we had expected. We had some small issues with the car, so we had to pit anyway. We tried something different, but it did not pay off as expected. Still, we are very happy to finish on the podium.”
Niek Hommerson (#53 AF Corse Ferrari, 1st Pro-Am): “There is nothing better than winning and this is by far the best win ever. At the end we knew how big the gap was and we could have let the far better drivers finish the race, but we choose to race, Louis and I. That is why we are here, after all. And to get this result at the end, that is fantastic.’
Peter Mann (#51 AF Corse Ferrari, 1st Gentlemen Trophy): ‘When the Sport Garage Ferrari fell back, we had a three lap lead and Alexander extended that a bit. But then started the difficult part: handling the lead! The last few hours were really gut wrenching, but we made it.’
Romolo Liebchen (Head of Audi Sport Customer Racing, representing Audi, winner of the Coupe du Roi): ‘I can’t believe what happened today. We have participated in four 24-hour races this year and won three of them. It was an amazing race. I really can’t find the words to express what I am feeling right now.’