Christopher Haase believes he could have snatched second in Sunday’s Suzuka 10 Hours had he had ten additional minutes, following a storming late-race charge from Audi.
Haase and co-drivers Markus Winkelhock and Kelvin van der Linde came home third in their Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS, less than 1.5 seconds behind the runner-up finishing No. 43 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, and just narrowly edging out the fourth-placed WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor.
Lewis Williamson, who was nursing a wounded Mercedes following an earlier incident by co-driver Alvaro Parente, benefitted from the lapped No. 44 Strakka car of Maxi Buhk, who was in between the No. 42 car and Haase’s Audi in the final laps.
“To be honest it was a really hard race,” Haase told Sportscar365.
“In the end, we tried to make the undercut, so we pitted early. I’m not sure if this was the best way to do it because when I went out, I got caught in a bit of traffic, so I couldn’t use my new tires properly.
“We still had the chance to hunt them down. Unfortunately, I was a bit stuck in traffic.
“I had one Merc in between the second car, so I couldn’t overtake it. And a [lapped] Ferrari was behind and he put a lot of pressure on me.
“I had to try to keep my position and try to find a way to pass this Merc. During the night it was hard.
“There are not so many lights around the track and it was tough to manage.”
Haase said he was “clearly faster” than Williamson and “a bit blocked” in the end, after getting held up by Buhk, who was acting as a buffer to his teammate.
It made for a dramatic final ten minutes of the race, which featured only a single safety car period.
“We were hunting down P2,” Haase said. “We had a car in between us and it was difficult to manage to overtake that car.
“I tried everything to make that possible but on the other hand I had another car behind me that was trying to overtake me.
“It was kind of busy out there.
“The fourth place from the other [Audi] team were hunting us down. The last two laps was just a fight between 2-3-4. It was mentally extremely tough, I have to say.
“I think we showed some great racing. We would have needed another ten minutes but unfortunately it was a ten-hour race!”
The third and fourth place result for Audi came after early race struggles for the mid-engined GT3 cars in the scorching heat.
Haase believes the cooler night-time conditions helped their car come alive.
Both Haase and the No. 66 WRT Audi of Vanthoor recovered significant time in the closing hour.
“It definitely helped us,” Haase said. “We were struggling a bit in the beginning at the start of the race and in the middle of the day. But at the end, we were a bit faster in the night.
“We decided to do single [driver] stints and just take the risks out of making mistakes.”
The winning No. 888 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Maro Engel, Raffaele Marciello and Tristan Vautier was one of the few cars to successfully double stint its drivers in the daytime hours.