Allan McNish gave himself a good warm-up to next month's Le Mans 24 Hours when the Scotsman's diesel-engined Audi finished third in an abnormal 1,000km sportscar endurance race at Spa-Francorchamps.
McNish, started his Audi R15 TDI from sixth place on the 49-car grid and along with co-drivers Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen led convincingly before first a power cut and then rain returned to thwart Audi's bid for victory in a bizarre Le Mans Series race.
“Rain fell just before the start and being on dry weather 'slicks', made it extremely difficult on the slippery surface,” reflected McNish. “The Audi team then made a good strategy call to pit me under a safety car period and I led at the end of my stint.
“But then a power cut brought the race to a temporary stop, something I've never previously experienced in my career, and then a further rain shower late in the race prompted us to bring Tom [Kristensen] in to change onto intermediate [part-treaded] tyres with 30mins remaining.
“Unfortunately it stopped raining soon afterwards, the track dried and we lost second place with just four minutes to run. But in terms of the performance, Audi can be pleased looking ahead to Le Mans which is why we ran our cars in Le Mans specification unlike Peugeot who chose to run in a higher downforce set-up more beneficial for Spa.”
The McNish/Capello/Kristensen Audi ultimately finished 86.215secs behind the winning Peugeot of Sébastien Bourdais/Simon Pagenaud/Pedro Lamy which had started from pole-position.
The Audi R15 TDI sportscar of Timo Bernhard /Romain Dumas /Mike Rockenfeller started from the front row and finished fifth. The third “factory” Audi of Marcel Fässler /André Lotterer /Benoît Treluyer had been due to begin the race from fifth position but lost eight laps having repairs made in the pits after Lotterer spun off on the warm-up lap after drizzle made the track surface treacherously slippery. They recovered to finish 12th.
“The result is a little disappointing since we were still in a position to win the race 20 minutes before the finish,” summed-up Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport. “Due to the information we had we decided to change to intermediate tyres as it started to rain harder – for safety reasons, but also because we had made the correct decision at this moment in time with the weather forecast we had. Unfortunately it immediately stopped raining, and then we knew that the decision was false.
“Nevertheless, the race was very good for the team. We were faced with many difficult decisions throughout the race. It was good that the team could gel here for Le Mans. With an eye on Le Mans we drove with very little downforce and were nevertheless competitive. We'll certainly be able to make use of all the information we gathered at the 24-hours in June.”