A weekend to forget, but title chances remain alive for Belgian Audi Club

SLOVAKIA RING FIA GT3 RACE REPORT 21 August 2011

Following the historic win at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps three weeks ago,the contrast was stark for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT at Round 5 of the FIA GT 3Championship, as the team lived a disappointing weekend in its first visit to theSlovakia Ring near Bratislava. Hampered since qualifying by an incredible number oftire punctures, which also affected other teams, Grégory Franchi-Enzo Ide and JirkoMalcharek-Didier André finished both races out of the points. The outcome wasparticularly frustrating for the Belgian pair, who was second in the overall standings,but chances towards the title battle remain completely alive, as Greg and Enzo now liefifth, 22 points from the top, with still 50 points to be awarded in the championship’sfinale to be held in Zandvoort mid-October.

Things proved difficult from the start for the Belgian squad, as the puncture issue arose sincefree practice. In the two qualifying sessions, both Audis R8 LMS saw their efforts ruined byyellow and red flags while the drivers were in their fast lap attempts. Starting beyond row 6 inboth grids, it was clear that the races would be up-hill, given the level of competitiveness ofthe series. Further punctures during the two 60-minute races dashed the hopes of Franchi-Ide of scoring heavy points. “We lost the count of how many punctures we suffered over thisweekend”, told a frustrated Enzo Ide. “In Race 1, I took the start from 14th position and choseto go on the outside line to try to pass some cars from the beginning. Unfortunately, therewas a pile-up in the middle of the group and I had to go into the gravel to avoid contact. Thatruined our race from scratch. On Sunday, we could hope of some little points but anotherpuncture towards the end of the race meant losing ground again”. Still, the set-back has notimpacted the determination of the Belgian pair, as recent winner of the Spa 24 HoursGrégory Franchi points out: “We are now fourth and 22 points behind the leaders”, explainsthe Liège-born driver. “With 50 points still in contention, nothing is lost and having thechampionship finale in Zandvoort, a circuit that both Enzo and myself know very well, willhelp. We will have to go for it in the final round!”

On the other Audi R8 LMS of the team, Frenchman Didier André and local hero JirkoMalcharek did not have better luck, being also targeted by punctures and finishing both racesbeyond the 20th position. From a technical point of view, the puncture issue had a clearexplanation: “It is a problem that hit many other teams”, says WRT’s Sports Director PierreDieudonné. “The tire manufacturer has confirmed that the tires were not suffering from anystress problem and that the cause of so many punctures, 18 only during Race 1, is to besought in the type of gravel used in this circuit, which becomes very sharp once broken andbrought back onto the track.”

The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is determined to come back to the fore-front as from itsnext commitment, next week-end at Magny-Cours, for the 4th round of the BlancpainEndurance Series that Greg Franchi is leading after his Spa’s triumph. “We had a weekendto forget here in Slovakia”, is the conclusion of Team Manager Vincent Vosse. “As always,we will draw the lessons that have to be drawn and we’ll do the utmost to be back quicklywhere we should be. This said, the level of performance of all Audis here in Slovakia was notnormal, with a R8 able to make the top ten only once (in qualifying 2). This clearly shows thatthe Balance of Performance is not correct and that the FIA needs to look into the matter.”