An unfortunate mechanical failure on Rotek Racing's Audi R8 LMS took the WTCC champion Rob Huff and his team-mates out of the running at the four-hour mark of the 2014 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hours at the weekend.
A superlative qualifying performance by four-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Oliver Gavin ensured Rotek started the once-around-the-clock enduro from the Class B pole position and 13th overall, but a misfire led to the Briton, compatriots Huff and Richard Meins and American Kevin Gleason being forced to the sidelines before half-distance had been reached.
“An extraordinary run of success in endurance racing came to an end 'down under' in what was shaping up to be yet another lucrative race,” Huff sighed, “Three visits to the podium in quick succession – victory in the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill in California with a Rotek Racing Audi TTRS and two second places in the Dunlop Dubai 24 Hours and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona – really stirred my imagination and passion for endurance racing. Once you've tasted success like that, you only crave more!
“It was a pretty tricky start to the Bathurst 12 Hours weekend for the team. Starting with a strong baseline configuration developed in 2013, we discovered that the circuit's newly-laid asphalt was providing very little grip and we still had some work to do to perfect the set-up.
"This wouldn't normally be a problem, but one red-flag stoppage after another gave us very little time to optimise the Audi R8 LMS. I was really grateful to have somebody of Oliver Gavin's calibre as a team-mate at this point. While he had never driven the circuit before, he's a pro and knows what he's doing. Working together, we had a brilliant set-up by the end of first practice!”
“The plan for qualifying was for Oliver to set a benchmark time on Saturday morning and then for me to go out with sticky tyres in the second session,” the 34-year old continued, “Gearbox troubles prevented me from setting a time, but Oli had already shown his class by recording a 2min 07.990secs - a time that was more than good enough to seal the Class B pole by over half a second! What a ripper, as they say out here in Oz!
“Oli was nominated to start the race and did a superb job, bringing the car up the order to not only lead the class, but the race outright on a couple of occasions.
"Richard Meins took the reins at the two-hour point, just as the race was interrupted by a huge crash on the mountain involving a front-running Ferrari 458 Italia and Nissan GT-R.
“Richard picked up the baton well, running solidly to maintain the initiative in class and extend Rotek's lead over the chasing pack. I think we had a lap on our nearest rival as the Safety Car was deployed in response to another heavy shunt involving a Class A Lamborghini.
“Unfortunately, this is when our car developed a misfire. Rotek Racing's crew did everything they could to resolve the problem, running a series of system checks and restarts before identifying a damaged valve spring in the car's V10.
"It was bitterly disappointing to have to call it a day, but that's racing and you have to take the rough with the smooth in this sport. It was ours to lose in class, with nobody matching us for pace and consistency. In fact, the way the race was developing, we had a real shot at an overall podium finish. That makes the retirement even more difficult to take.”
Huff, however, remained philosophical after his recent run of success.
“Having said that, when I take everything into consideration, I have to be happy about how my foray in endurance racing has panned out, he concluded, “Having already proven my worth in touring cars by winning the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship title, I was eager to expand my horizons and demonstrate that I can be force in other forms of racing. I think I've succeeded in that sense and, while the WTCC remains at the top of my list of priorities, I hope my recent performances are only the start of something special.
"I'd really like to thank Rotek Racing for the opportunity of competing at Bathurst. They're a great bunch of guys who all work so hard and, while the win was out of reach this time, I know it'll be achievable next time around.”