Competition is back!
As the long winter break ends, the Easter weekend will see the kickoff of the FIA GT1 World championship, in its new shape, i.e. open to GT3 cars. It is the Circuit Paul Armagnac of Nogaro, in South-Western France, which will host the seasonopener and a race that will mark the debut of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in a World Championship, in what is only its third season of racing. Strong of last year’s successes, which include the Driver and Team titles in the Blancpain Endurance Series and the overall success at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the Audis R8 LMS (in their latest “ultra” version) start the 2012 campaign in the FIA GT1 World with two top-level line-ups: Stéphane Ortelli-Laurens Vanthoor and Frank Stippler-Oliver Jarvis.
Like always at the eve of a new season, and even more so when a new championship is about to be launched, anxiety but also expectations are running high. “We all know that the launch of the new FIA GT1 World has been a challenge”, comments Team Manager Vincent Vosse, “but it is a first satisfaction to see that everything is almost in place, after a true race against time. As far as we are concerned, almost everything is unknown to us, and we will have to wait at least after the qualifying session, to have an idea where we stand. We haven’t had much time to work with the new R8 ultra, but I trust Audi has developed a competitive machine as usual, and we will have to discover the Pirelli tires. I’m confident in the work we have done and I believe we have one of the strongest, if not the strongest, driver line-up. We know the value and the expertise of Stéphane Ortelli and Frank Stippler, we have been extremely pleased with the quick adaptation and the professionalism shown by Laurens Vanthoor, our youngest recruit, and the curriculum of Oliver Jarvis speaks for itself. We are definitely ready to take the track.”
As a matter of fact, the Belgian Audis are in Nogaro since the beginning of the week and have participated to the two-day testing session ahead of the event. “These two days, foreseen to finalize the balance of performance, but also devoted to testing, were very useful”, reckons sports director Pierre Dieudonné, “we have been in the top end of the time sheets throughout all the sessions, although this doesn’t mean much as we all know, and the new Pirelli tires have shown good consistency.”
Among the drivers of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, it is rookie Laurens Vanthoor who has posted the best lap time, confirming his trouble-free switch to GT cars. “Of course, GT cars are different from single-seaters”, says the 20-year-old from Hasselt, “Roofed cars have another kind of volume and weight, and also they have features such as ABS, traction control and power-steering that a Formula 3 does not have, but the first phase of adaptation took me only a few laps. I am perfectly aware, though, that I still have many things to learn, in order to be able to reach the limits of the full potential of the car, and that I have to get acquainted with the specificities of GT racing, such as pit stops, driver changes, race strategy, etc”../