It was always going to be an emotional weekend, regardless of the result, but I am so pleased that we were able to close Audi’s sport car chapter after 18 years in the most fitting way possible with pole position and a team 1-2.
After Thursday’s test sessions I wasn’t so confident that this would be the case, as the No. 1 Porsche looked extremely quick especially in the long runs.
For us, despite arriving full of optimism especially considering our pace in Bahrain last year relative to the other WEC tracks, it was a bit of a surprise to struggle for balance and long run pace.
Fortunately, we were able to turn things around and make some big improvements to the car overnight, as well as the track grip improving which meant that we were much more competitive in FP3 on Friday morning ahead of Qualli.
Lucas and myself drove in qualifying and we knew that pole was hugely important due to the extra point available for pole, in our battle for 2nd place in the championship.
On my 1st lap I caught traffic exiting the pit lane into Turn 1 which cost some time, luckily I was able to get another clear lap and despite the high tyre degradation was able to improve significantly before handing the car over to Lucas. Lucas then put in a stunning lap which moved us clear of the field and combined with my lap guaranteed us pole position.
Despite the strong showing in qualifying, we still expected it to be an extremely tough and close race with both Porsche and Toyota.
However already at the start of the race we saw that we had a pace advantage over our rivals and by the time I jumped in the car after Loïc’s opening stint it became clear that as long as we made no mistakes it would be a direct fight between our sister car and us.
In my double stint, André and myself were closely matched and by the time I handed the car over to Lucas we were separated by just over 3 seconds after two and a half hours of racing. After a fantastic pit stop, Lucas jumped in and we were able to jump the No. 7 car in the pits.
From there on he was able to build an advantage and the team made an awesome strategy call to pit under FCY.
With a great strategy, and the fact Lucas was able to lap significantly quicker than the sister car, we were now in control of the race before handing the car back to Loïc.
Over the next two stints, we struggled with car balance due to pickup and a plastic bag stuck in the front splitter, and so took the decision to cut them short as the sister car was beginning to eat into our lead.
Lucas took over for the final stint whilst Loïc and myself watched nervously from the garage. In the past, having a 20-second advantage would have felt extremely comfortable with less than an hour remaining, but we were taking nothing for granted.
I was able to stay focused on the race until I turned around to see the tears of emotion, not only in Dr. Ullrich’s eyes, but also that of the mechanics and team personnel.
It was one of the most special moments of my career to be in the garage for those final laps, and I am so pleased that Lucas, Loïc and myself were able to get the final victory for Audi in sport car racing that we so desperately wanted.
It’s impossible to put into words the emotion inside the garage in those final minutes, but it’s something that will unite us all wherever our careers may take us in the future.
After the checkered flag and celebrating with the team, Loïc and myself headed to the podium.
On our way down, fellow teams lined the pit lane and applauded not just us but every member of Audi Sport Team Joest as we walked to the podium. That’s a feeling I will never forget and by the time we arrived to Lucas the emotion was clear to see.
For us it was mission complete! Pole, Win and second in the World Championship – the maximum we could achieve.
It’s tough to think that was our final race as a crew especially at a time where we were really starting to show just how strong we were as a driver package, but its been an amazing journey and one I am extremely grateful to have been part of.