Audi Sport Team WRT has explained the background to why Dries Vanthoor was “lacking grip” during the tense closing stages of the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
After finishing second to Iron Lynx Ferrari driver Alessandro Pier Guidi, Vanthoor said that he was struggling to extract the full potential of his No. 32 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo in the final stint of the race.
After a late safety car restart, Pier Guidi overtook three backmarkers before reeling in Vanthoor and overtaking the Audi factory driver at Blanchimont to capture Ferrari’s first 24H Spa win since 2004.
“As soon as it was green — I’ve driven the Audi now for quite some years so I know how it feels in the wet and the dry — straight away I did not have the grip as I would have liked,” said Vanthoor, who co-drove with Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts.
“Then they told me he was catching me. I tried everything I could. At the end, I made a small mistake and he got next to me.
“It was very close but fair credit to him; it was a nice move. I just tried to be fair and not touch each other. It would have been different if we touched each other. They were quick in dry and wet.
“He just generally had a bit more grip than me. I was lacking front grip. Every time I would try to go right on the curbs it just didn’t work at all. That was my struggle point.
“As soon as you have a wet car that doesn’t rotate, it’s quite difficult.”
WRT snatched the lead from Iron Lynx at the final round of pit stops with an hour to go, when it gambled on selecting wet tires for a dry track after its main rival had taken slicks one lap before.
The call initially turned out to be the correct one, as intense rain arrived moments later and enabled Vanthoor to seize the lead when Pier Guidi returned to the pits for wets.
However, WRT sporting director and two-time 24H Spa winner Kurt Mollekens explained that events stemming from the wet tire application ended up compromising the Audi in the final stages of the race, despite it being the main strategy option to take the win.
After initially losing ground due to making an extra pit stop for wets, Pier Guidi got back within range of Vanthoor when a safety car period occurred due to several cars going off-track in increasingly treacherous conditions.
“We were coming through the last corner [on wets] when the Ferrari was coming in to change tires: that’s about a 75 seconds difference and it’s job done,” Mollekens told Sportscar365.
“The likelihood of a crash at that point is very high, and that’s what happened. It bunched it back up. We had cars in between us and them. We were hoping it would be enough to survive the final half-hour.
“You’ve sent the car out in the dry on wets, so you know you’re going to suffer from that a little. Within half a lap it started raining. We had to do the best part of sector two in dry conditions. Then you burn the rubber up.
“It was actually raining [in the pit lane] and we thought, yes, job done… but in sector two it was completely dry.
“That’s where you burn the top layer of the rubber, and you start rolling on that. And as soon as the wet really comes as bad as it did, that gives you less grip.
“But we didn’t have much of a choice. We were one of the last guys in. We knew there was big rain coming. So putting on slicks to do a lap and coming back in for wets, we would have been dead anyway.”
Mollekens suggested that WRT would have “won clearly” without the safety car, since Vanthoor would have possessed a large enough gap over Pier Guidi to manage the lack of grip.
He also said an extra lap on WRT’s penultimate stint could have changed the outcome of the race, as it would have ensured the Audi drove entirely in conditions that were suited to its wet tires.
“If we would have had another lap and it would have been raining properly, then we would have won,” said Mollekens.
“But the fact that we had to do half or three-quarters of a lap in the dry, that burned the rubber up and gave him less grip in the high wet conditions.
“But there was no other strategy that would have worked better than this one, so it was worth a try.”
WRT Upbeat Despite Missing Out on Win
Despite narrowly missing out on its third 24H Spa victory, WRT came away satisfied with its performance considering the No. 32 Audi started from 54th on the grid.
“Just a while ago we were all down after qualifying,” said van der Linde. “We thought we lost our chance before the race even started.
“We came back on Saturday morning and felt motivation in the air of the team. Everyone had moved on and completely forgotten what happened in quali.
“We literarily just focused on our job, did everything perfectly and did our race step by step.
“Our engineer was great on the radio calming us down when we were perhaps a bit frustrated in traffic. It’s not east fighting through 40 cars, especially in the dry.
“That was a really a team effort and we can be very proud of it.”