Dries Vanthoor reckons the official Audi Sport teams “can be there” in contention for the Nürburgring 24 outright win despite the manufacturer’s best factory-supported car qualifying outside the top 10 in tricky conditions.
Heavy rain during Friday’s Top Qualifying 2 shook up the SP9 order, with BMW and Mercedes-AMG entries coming to the fore and both Audi and Porsche running behind.
The best Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo on the grid was the privateer No. 11 Phoenix car in eighth, while the top entry with extended factory support was Audi Sport Team Land in 13th.
That placing came after Audi Sport Team Phoenix driver Vanthoor posted the fastest lap of the weekend so far – an 8:12.319 – in a largely dry Top Qualifying 1 session to gain one of four berths for the pole shootout, which took place in soaking wet conditions.
Audi Sport Team Car Collection failed to advance from Top Qualifying 1 after Christopher Haase placed fifth, putting that car outside the top 20. The Phoenix R8 that Vanthoor shares with fellow 2019 winner Frank Stippler, Robin Frijns and Mattia Drudi starts 14th.
An Audi finished second in this morning’s dry warm-up, although the race is not expected to run without the influence of rain.
“It’s always a big fiasco here with every brand doing their own thing,” Vanthoor told Sportscar365 when asked about Audi’s N24 chances.
“It’s always a great game. I think we are not looking too bad, at least on the dry. In the wet we clearly saw that we had some issues and hopefully we can fix them for the race.
“In general, we can be there and be competitive. I don’t think we are the quickest.
“The weather has not been easy, on and off the whole time. Everywhere else it’s sunny and 20 degrees, but the Nürburgring always surprises you.
“Compared to the other Audi teams, we are all working together so we all know what to expect. We have a few differences but nothing major. But I expect a nice race.
“For sure I will expect the Mercedes and Porsches will show their speed in the race.
“Normally the Porsche is always quite strong in the wet. But [in Top Qualifying 2] it was another wet, because it was like a qualifying session in a swimming pool.
“For sure they will come back in the race and will be competitive. If you look at last year, BMW was also really strong in the wet, so it’s no big surprise that they are there again. But it makes it interesting.”
Audi was affected by a Balance of Performance adjustment on Friday morning, which came after four and a half hours’ worth of practice sessions throughout Thursday.
The new BoP gave the Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evos 10 kg more weight, plus as an air restrictor diameter increase. It has been the only SP9 car to receive extra weight this week.
Audi’s head of customer racing, Chris Reinke, told Sportscar365 that the manufacturer has the tools and teams to “overcome” the “reactive elements” of the race such as BoP and adverse weather.
“We have a very experienced and strong driver lineup,” said Reinke.
“We have a very solid, sorted-out product with the R8 LMS GT3 Evo on track. We have the proven competence of our entry teams with Land, Car Collection and Phoenix Racing.
“We have an upgraded and fine-tuned engineering staff guiding the whole operation. We improved in every category that might matter, and hopefully the overall package can withstand.
“There are reactive elements where we have no influence, which are weather elements and BoP.
“We are unfortunate there, but hopefully through the strengths of the category which are down to our power, we can overcome.”
Vanthoor suggested that while the Audis should be able to manage wet weather it if comes, the R8s will only be effective up to a certain point.
“I honestly don’t really think a changing half-wet, half-dry weekend will be optimal,” he said.
“We’ve always struggled a bit in that area. It really depends on how the conditions are and what part is wet and what part is dry.
“For sure I think we will be more competitive in the dry, but it will be the same for everybody: It’s a more confident feeling and the most knowledge they all have is in the dry. In the wet, if it’s not wet like [Top Qualifying 2], I think we can be strong.
“But if it gets too wet, we will suffer quite a lot with aquaplaning more than other cars.”