It's Spa time: Belgian Audi Club Team WRT ready for the high point of the season

Blancpain Endurance – Spa-Francorchamps 24 hrs Preview 23 July 2014

The moment all GT fans around the world and all drivers and teams expect anxiously has come: the Total 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, arguably the most prestigious endurance race in the GT scene will take place this weekend. For the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, the traditional rendez-vous of end of July in the Belgian Ardennes has, of course, the additional plus of being ‘home race’. As the longest race of the Blancpain Endurance Series awards almost double points (with a set of points also given after 6 and 12 hours), the 24 Hours will be crucial for the championship. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT needs good finishes to stay in the race for the titles. Still, the race carries enough prestige to be an objective in itself and the Belgian squad, which has finished on the podium these last three years and won in 2011, aims at fighting for victory. To achieve its goal, it enters no less than four Audis R8 LMS ultra with stellar (and partly modified) driver line-ups.

“There’s no point in trying to say what the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps means to us, and probably I would not find the right words to express it…”, confesses Team Principal Vincent Vosse, “Here we are, anxious and busy with the last preparations, completely focused and ready to fight, hopefully for victory. The recent adjustments in the values scale has given the entire team a motivation boost and we are really determined to give the maximum, from the start, in order to be in the top 20 fighting for the Super Pole. Everybody in the team is ready to give his and her utmost, we have a terrific set of drivers, with a former Spa winner in every car, and we are ready…”

In car #1, Laurens Vanthoor will have different top team mates for the occasion as Germany’s René Rast, a well-known figure at WRT and a Spa 24 Hours winner in 2012, and Markus Winkelhock join the young Belgian. “The track at Spa suits me really well”, explains Winkelhock.”Last year, I drove one of the most strenuous races in my career there – also due to the heat that is typical at the end of July. While we were a team of four drivers on clinching victory at the Nürburgring in June, we have to run as a team of three in the Pro Cup at Spa. René Rast and Laurens Vanthoor are two first-rate team-mates and the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT has demonstrated its qualities on many

occasions. We should have a chance of mounting the podium after 24 hours – hopefully the top step.”

On his side, Laurens Vanthoor tries to approach things as calmly as possible: “It’s clearly a very important race, and on top it is at home for both the team and myself, but I try to prepare it like any other race”, admits the young Belgian, “We can talk for hours about all the variables of a 24-hour race, the BoP, the weather forecast and everything else. The truth is that you never know how things will unfold. The important is to do our job at best and not to do mistakes. We have a top driver line-up, a totally committed team and the support of Audi, let’s fight for the podium!”

Car #2 will be driven by an exceptional trio that has already written motorsport history: André Lotterer, Bénoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler have won together the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times and were FIA-WEC World Champions in 2012. They dream to add the Spa 24 Hours to their incredible string of successes. [Only once in history, a same driver line-up has won both at Le Mans and Spa: it was the one formed by Frenchmen André Lagache and René Léonard, who won Le Mans in … 1923 and two years later at Spa]. “Of course I’m intimately familiar with the Spa 24 Hours but I’m contesting it for the first time with André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer, my two Le Mans and WEC team-mates”, comments the personable Marcel Fässler, who won Spa in 2007. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of competing in this strong field. Our ambition is clear: we’re going to battle for victory. From my perspective, there are about 20 cars in contention for first place at Spa, so it’ll probably be a great and thrilling race. It’s the home round for our WRT team, as well as for my team-mate André Lotterer, who grew up in Belgium.”

Car #3 is the only one seeing no changes, as it will be entrusted to its usual trio, composed of Frank Stippler-Christopher Mies-James Nash. Stippler has already tasted the sweet flavor of victory at Spa. “Alongside the Nürburgring, Spa is the most attractive track for a 24-hour race. The history of this event is impressive”, reflects the German, “For the past two years, I was on the podium – as the winner in 2012 and in third place last year. Obviously, that’s nice but it doesn’t help us a lot because each race is a law unto itself, year after year – from the rating of the race cars through to the fortune you need. At the Nürburgring, it’s easy to overtake the competitors from the smaller categories but in a field of 60 GT3 cars, there will a some tough position battles at Spa. The weather in the Ardennes is unpredictable. Sometimes it even varies over the course of the seven-kilometer track. So there are a lot of factors that make the whole event unpredictable.”

The Audi R8 LMS ultra #4 will defend the colors of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in the Pro-Am category and will have a quartet at his wheel. Championship regulars Jean-Luc Blanchemain and Christian Kelders will change category, from Gentlemen’s to Pro-Am, as they are joined by two Belgian drivers, Fred Bouvy, a double winner (1999-00) of the 24 Hours and recently-appointed Vincent Radermecker, who shone mostly in touring car racing. For Christian Kelders, ‘the 24 Hours of Spa is arguably the world’s most fascinating GT race. For us as gentlemen drivers, it’s a nice feeling to be supported by a professional outfit such as the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. The thing I particularly like about the Audi R8 LMS is that it’s so pleasant to drive. Plus, the ergonomics of the cockpit are perfect. This helps us drive without getting tired. I’m hoping for a race without incidents because in that case a positive result would be possible.”

Four other R8s entered by three other teams complete the strong Audi delegation at Spa, with the objective of conquering a third success in four years in the race, but also to complete the hat-trick in the endurance classic races of 2014, after having ensured wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Nürburgring.

The 24 Hours long weekend starts with the traditional cars’ and drivers’ parade in the streets of Spa on Wednesday afternoon, with all practice and qualifying sessions on Thursday and the Super Pole (for the 20 fastest cars) on Friday evening, while the two-clock-rounds race will kick off on Saturday at 16:30.

Blancpain Endurance Series - Round 4

Total 24 Heures de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

26-27 July 2014

Timetable (all times local = CET)

Thursday 24 July 2014

11:55-13:25 Free practice

18:40-19:40 Pre-qualifying

20:45-22:00 Qualifying

22:30-23:45 Night qualifying

Friday 25 July 2014

18:50-19:10 Super Pole

Saturday 26 July 2014

16:30 Start of 24 Hours

Sunday 27 July 2014

16:30 Finish of 24 Hours

Belgian Audi Club

#1 Laurens Vanthoor (B) – René Rast (D) – Markus Winkelhock (D) (Pro)

#2 Marcel Fässler (CH) – André Lotterer (D) – Bénoît Tréluyer (F) (Pro)

#3 Christopher Mies (D) – Frank Stippler (D) – James Nash (GB) (Pro)

#4 J-Luc Blanchemain(F)–Fred Bouvy(B)-Christian Kelders(B)–Vincent Radermecker(B)


Drivers’ provisional standings after Round 3 of 5 (Pro Cup):

1. Meyrick-Kane-Smith (Bentley Continental) 56 points

2. Parente-Demoustier (McLaren MP4-12C) 49

3. Sandström-Ortelli-Guilvert (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 40

4. Estre-Korjus-Soucek (McLaren MP4-12C) 33

5. Ramos-Basseng-Vanthoor (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 31

10. Nash-Mies-Stippler (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 12

Drivers’ provisional standings after round 3 of 5 (Gentlemen’s Trophy):

1. Mattschull-Schmickler (Ferrari 458) 75 points

2. Barreiros-Mann (Ferrari 458) 51

3. Ehret 50

4. Bachelier-Mallegol-Blank (Ferrari 458) 26

5. Loggie-Jones-Westwood (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 23

8. Kelders-Blanchemain (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 18

11. Weerts (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 10

12. Hirschi (Audi R8 LMS ultra) 8

Teams’ provisional standings after Round 3 of 5 (Pro Cup):

1. ART Grand Prix 61 points

2. M-Sport Bentley 60

3. Saintéloc Racing 42

4. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT 40

5. HTP Motorsport 37