Only a few hours after an excellent weekend at Nogaro for the Blancpain Sprint Series season-opener, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is on the road again, heading to the legendary Autodromo Nazionale di Monza where kicks-off this weekend the Endurance championship of the Blancpain Series.
It will be an exciting rendez-vous, with no less than 60 cars entered! For the Belgian squad, a weekend full of novelties, with three driver line-ups significantly renewed and a stellar debut: Ortelli-Stippler-Müller will christen the Audi R8 LMS, the latest generation of the Ingolstadt racer which starts here its international racing career. Paired with two fast new-comers as Robin Frijns and Jean-Karl Vernay, Laurens Vanthoor will start the defence of his 2014 Drivers’ title, while the third car will be entrusted to Richelmi-Mies-van der Linde.
Ahead of the opening round, Team Principal Vincent Vosse is both confident and cautious: “This is probably the most high-level GT championship in the world”, he reckons, “and 60 cars on the track is a proof of that but also a significant challenge. That’s why we have considerably re-worked our line-ups and added drivers that are fast and assertive in overtaking, which is going to be crucial along the entire season. Monza, together with the Ricard, is probably the most difficult track of the season for the Audis, but we will go there as determined as ever to collect a maximum of points. The debut of the new R8 adds an exciting touch and yet another challenge, as a first race with a new car is never easy, from a technical point of view but also in practical terms, as you have to get used to new procedures, for instance at refuelling and pit stops.”
Talking about challenges, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT has already been faced to a major one, when its #1 car was victim of a serious accident during Qualifying at Nogaro last Sunday morning. Not repairable on the spot, the car had to be withdrawn from the event and another sort of race started as soon as the diagnosis was pronounced. A group of mechanics left France immediately on a van with a small trailer transporting the wounded R8, arriving in Belgium in the early hours of Monday.
In parallel, a similar expedition was organized from the team’s home base at Baudour to Germany and fetched a new chassis from Audi Sport. On Monday the car started to be rebuilt and it will be ready on Tuesday afternoon, on time to start the journey towards Monza.
Laurens Vanthoor and his new team mates, former single-seater star Robin Frijns and GT expert Jean-Karl Vernay will thus have a brand new #1 car in Italy. The Belgian is philosophical about this unexpected start of the season: “One good thing is that I am not tired at all”, he confesses after being forced to a spectator role at Nogaro, “Of course, it was disappointing, but racing is also this. Let’s hope we paid our tribute to bad luck all at once. I’ll be perfectly ready for Monza, a race which is never easy: it’s a very peculiar circuit, not very friendly to the Audis, and the intense traffic makes things even worse, but I look forward to a thrilling weekend.”
Sporting #2, the new Audi R8 will be entrusted to the experts hands of Frank Stippler, a man that has been closely involved with its development, and Stéphane Ortelli, with Switzerland’s DTM star Nico Müller bringing his notorious speed skills. “The new R8 LMS is definitely a very nice and well-born car”, explains Frank Stippler, “and it was interesting to work with Audi on its development. The R8 LMS ultra was already an excellent base and a car that has been the object of constant evolution in the last 4-5 years, so it was a challenge to make it even better, although there is always room for improvement. I think the result is excellent, although you always would like more development time with any new car. A lot of small things are new, from mechanical pieces to instruments and buttons in the cockpit, and there is still much fine-tuning to do. The objective is to make as soon as possible the new R8 as fast and as reliable as possible and to have it completely ready for next year when it will be available to customer racing teams.”
At the wheel of car #3, Stéphane Richelmi and Christopher Mies will be associated to Kelvin van der Linde from South Africa. Although only 18, the son of former F.3000 driver Etienne, has already a good experience with touring cars and GTs at international level and will be making his debut on the “big stage”.
A fourth car will be entered under the Team WRT banner in the Pro-Am category, for France’s Sacha Bottemanne and Dutchmen Max Koebolt and Pieter Schothorst, certainly one of the youngest trios at the start, as their combined age barely reaches 54 years!
The Monza enduro will follow the usual Blancpain Endurance Series format, with track activity over only the weekend days and the 3-hour race kicking-off at 4:30 on Sunday.
Blancpain Endurance Series - Round 1
11-12 April 2015
Timetable (all times local = CET)
Saturday 11th April 2015 09:00-10:00 Bronze test
12:05-13:35 Free Practice 16:10-17:40 Pre-Qualifying
Sunday, 21st September 2014 09:00-10:00 Qualifying Practice
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT
#1 Laurens Vanthoor (B) – Robin Frijns (NL) – Jean-Karl Vernay (F) (Pro)
#3 Stéphane Ortelli (MC) - Frank Stippler (D) – Nico Müller (CH) (Pro)
#3 Stéphane Richelmi (MC) – Christopher Mies (D) – Kelvin van der Linde (ZA) (Pro)
Additional car entered by Team WRT
#4 Sacha Bottemanne (F) – Max Koebolt (NL) – Pieter Schothorst (NL) (Pro-Am)