3 May 2015
WEC: Spa ‘sprint’ victory sets Audi up for Le Mans
A second WEC victory in as many races, allied to a fourth place almost as valuable in terms of development, sends a positive Audi team into the defence of its Le Mans 24 Hours crown next month.
Head of Audi Motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, paid tribute to the entire three-car World Endurance Championship operation after it made it two-from-two in the races leading up to sportscar racing's blue riband event.
Victory in the opening WEC round at Silverstone last month was followed up by another, very similar in nature, at the Spa 6 Hours on Saturday, with Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer again edging Porsche to come out on top. Although the rival German marque filled the remainder of the podium, there were enough positive developments for Ullrich to head for Le Mans in good heart.
“As in the season opener, the WEC again delivered super-thrilling racing,“ he said, “I congratulate our winners and the whole team on this first-class achievement. They turned an endurance race into a sprint and did an impeccable job. A big thank you goes to the other two driver teams as well. I'm sorry that #8 was lacking that little bit of fortune that's needed in a race, [but] our trio in #9 ultimately complemented the result for Audi by a good position.”
Audi Sport will head to the official Le Mans test day on 31 May with the Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer trio enjoying an extended advantage at the head of the point standings after proving unbeatable in Belgium. Having travelled to Spa with an advantage of seven points, the crew doubled the cushion despite starting from fourth on the grid by harrying the opposition and picking them off as the race progressed.
Fässler spinning in the first hour temporarily cost car #7 one position, but the Swiss driver and his team-mates made a quick recovery and, four hours into the race, Lotterer took the Audi into the lead for the first time. The 54,000 fans in the Ardennes then witnessed a gripping battle for position that saw the lead change after each pit-stop before coming to a head in the final stages. Benefiting from better tyre wear and the latest aero kit developed for Le Mans, Tréluyer took top spot from Porsche's Marc Lieb some 90 minutes from the chequered flag and eventually took the victory by a little over 13 seconds.
“What a race,” the Frenchman said afterwards, “It was a tough lights-to-flag job, just like at Silverstone, but it was huge fun and we're already looking forward to Le Mans.”
The #8 sister car also started well, with Loïc Duval initially improving to second on the road. However, an electrical defect later required two pit-stops, with the front hood and an electronic control unit being replaced, and cost the squad several minutes four hours into the race. In the last hour, the team had to replace the front hood again after damage caused in a duel, and Oliver Jarvis then slid into a gravel trap as he attempted to make up for lost time.
“We showed a good pace and are taking that home as a positive from Spa,” Duval sighed, “Of course, it's a shame that we lost ground due to some issues, but I'm still optimistic that our run of bad luck is going to end at Le Mans.”
The #8 car was eventually classified seventh overall, but the #9 salvaged a decent result for the 'other' Audis by taking fourth place. The car contested the race with the different, higher downforce, bodykit that had already been used at Silverstone as the team sought a technical comparison of both concepts ahead of Le Mans and future WEC rounds, but the trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and LMP1 debutant René Rast overcame the loss of its left-hand side window three hours into the race, and the subsequent need to replace the entire door at its next pit-stop to improve to fourth place by the chequered flag fell.
“Driving the Audi R18 e-tron quattro in a race for the first time was awesome,” Rast enthused, “We delivered a result that I'm very happy with, but our next big task is coming up at Le Mans.”
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