Connor De Phillippi believes his Audi Sport Team WRT entry could be a “secret dark horse” for victory in this weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa, as the American driver seeks his second 24-hour race win in the last three months.
Following his emotional triumph in the Nürburgring 24 with Land Motorsport in May, De Phillippi makes his 24 Hours of Spa debut alongside his Nürburgring-winning co-driver Christopher Mies and Frederic Vervisch in the No. 2 Audi R8 LMS.
While not featuring an all-star lineup stacked with ex-Formula One, DTM or LMP1 talent, the former Porsche Junior said he feels confident in their chances, despite potentially flying under the radar in terms of race favorites in the stacked 63-car field.
“I think we have a huge chance,” De Phillippi told Sportscar365. “I know Frederic quite well from last year; he did a few races in GT3 with us.
“Obviously Chris Mies, we’ve been teammates since [my] inception in the Audi family.
“Maybe we’re not some of the biggest names. There’s plenty of LMP1 and DTM drivers and so on, but we’re kind of the secret dark horse, if you want to call us that.
“We certainly have the tools to do the job. Now it’s just a matter of running a clean race and seeing what the weather brings us.”
After claiming the come-from-behind victory at the Nürburgring with Land, De Phillippi makes only his second start with the Belgian WRT squad, having been placed by Audi in one of its factory-backed entries.
He said WRT veteran Mies, whom De Phillippi regularly co-drives with at Land, has helped “break that barrier” in acclimating to a new team this weekend.
“No matter who you are or what level of driver you are, whenever you go to a new team there is always somewhat of a barrier,” De Phillippi said. “He’s been a big reason why that transition has been so smooth and one of the big reasons why we’re going to perform so well.
“He has really taught me a lot and he has a lot of experience here in Spa so with any questions I have, he’s been able to give me some insight on them.
“In general, we all get along so well and whenever you get a good vibe within the team, I’m a big believer that results follow.”
In addition to their Nürburgring success, the pairing have been on a roll as of late, winning the 2016 ADAC GT Masters Championship, numerous VLN races, as well as finishing runner-up in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, in Land’s first attempt in the race.
De Phillippi, who shifted from Porsche’s development program to race full-time with the Wolfgang Land-led team team last year, has been rewarded in becoming a part-time factory “pool driver” for Audi.
“Career-wise, I wasn’t set on any one direction,” he said. “I’ve been trying to tackle every opportunity that I get and just trying to make the most of it.
“Last year we were able to do that, winning the [ADAC GT Masters] championship, having good pace at the Nürburgring 24, just not the luck. This year we had the pace again and had a bit of luck on our side.
“I think it’s very difficult to find a full-time position with any manufacturer. But if you can get a part-time deal, it’s a huge opportunity to show what you can do because it puts you directly against the current factory drivers.
“That’s the ultimate platform to try and prove yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve been able to prove myself and I’ll try to do the same thing this weekend and see what the future holds.”