Team WRT is anticipating a tough Paul Ricard 1000km for its lead Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo with the prominent Belgian squad struggling to correct its “very weak” second sector.
GT3 program co-manager Kurt Mollekens explained that WRT is facing “a bit of a puzzle” to get to the bottom of its setup problem, which is being experienced by its Pro-class No. 32 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo but not its pair of Silver Cup contenders.
Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts qualified 14th for this evening’s six-hour race, with an average time that was 0.65s slower than the pole effort. Their run was impacted by a high-speed rotation at Signes corner for Van der Linde during Q2.
Despite that incident affecting the No. 32 car’s run, it had already placed 12th and 16th in Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying practice on Friday. Additionally, it has been one of few entries in the 47-car field to not achieve a sub-30s second sector split.
“We are having a difficult weekend and we are struggling for straight-line speed and grip,” Mollekens told Sportscar365.
“We basically don’t manage to extract the time from the car. It’s a bit of a puzzle right now. What is definite is that our sector two is very weak. Sector two is a corner and a straight.
“Sector three, the twisty bit, is not too bad. So with the chassis we are not too worried that we are completely out, but we are not there either. What’s worrying above all on the No. 32 car is our sector two.”
Mollekens suggested that the WRT Audi is down by four to five km/h, worth up to three-tenths of a second, on the second sector which is dominated by the long Mistral Straight.
WRT used the build-up sessions to reduce the drag of its car and make other changes in search of a better setup, but hasn’t found an optimal solution during the two-day event.
“It looks to be our problem this weekend,” said Mollekens. “We had Monza where we were perfectly competitive, on a much more low-downforce, high-speed circuit.
“We didn’t struggle there, so that’s something we need to get to the bottom of, especially on the No. 32.
“We lack one or two tenths in sectors one and three, which is five or six corners [each], and three tenths over one corner and a straight. So that’s a worrying thing.
“You do the standard things: we’ve even had the setup close to the Monza setup to try and recover that sector, and we are not.
“Most of our Silver drivers – James, Frank, Ryu – did a good job and [were] where we need to be. We have a chance of going for a podium in Silver, but obviously the No. 32 car, which is used to winning… we were expecting much more of that.
“Dries being in the same tenth as his Silver teammates gives a clear indication that something’s not quite right there.
“This is something we need to get to the bottom of, but it’s a very short weekend. We didn’t get to the bottom of it yesterday. We hoped to have found a couple of solutions for this morning, and it turns out we didn’t.”
Van der Linde, Vanthoor and Weerts are aiming to bounce back from a retirement at Monza, after a right-rear tire destroyed that corner of their Audi whilst running second.
Sainteloc Audi Squad Eyeing Top Ten Breach
The highest-qualifying Audi was the No. 26 Sainteloc Racing machine driven by Markus Winkelhock, Finlay Hutchison and Frederic Vervisch in 12th position overall.
Winkelhock told Sportscar365 that while the Audis were generally off the pace, he feels that Sainteloc is in a position to add further points to its ninth-place finish at Monza.
“We are the best Audi in qualifying so from that point of view we are quite happy,” he said.
“It was much better today than in Free Practice. I was struggling with quite a bit of turn-in oversteer. But the car is pretty good, and I felt much more confident.
“For us, a top-ten qualifying was the target. We missed it, but anyway it’s a long race. I think we have a good car for the race so we’re pretty confident.”
Asked for the highest achievable result for Sainteloc, Winkelhock said: “I think top ten would be nice. If everything is perfect, I think five-six-seven could be possible.
“You always need a little bit of luck. Our target must be to get in the top ten. It will be very, very difficult [to get top-five].”