The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT claimed its second victory in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, as René Rast, Laurens Vanthoor and Markus Winkelhock won a hard fought 66th running of the event.
It gave Audi its third win in four years and the German manufacturer’s third big 24 hour victory in 2014.
Laurens Vanthoor started the No. 1 Audi R8 LMS ultra from pole position and held onto the lead as the cars went up the Raidillon for the first time. From then on, the No. 1 car always remained at the front of the field, surviving the chaotic opening quarter of the race.
While Audi was clearly the most dominant force in the race this year, with the three Pro Cup-entered WRT cars and the No. 26 Saintéloc Audi in the top-five for almost the entire 24 hours, the main challenge came from BMW and the No. 77 Marc VDS Racing Z4 GT3 of Markus Palttala, Dirk Werner and Lucas Luhr.
The No. 1 Audi and No. 77 BMW battled each other for the duration of the entire race, swapping the lead every hour as they made their respective pit stops.
Though the Audi R8 LMS ultra seemed to posses more raw speed after getting a Balance of Performance break prior to the race, the sole remaining MVDS BMW started to reduce the gap to the No. 1 car halfway through the night.
Palttala, Werner and Luhr brought the gap down from 50 to 30 seconds as the sun began to rise, while simultaneously gaining a pitstop on the No. 1 Audi by the end of the race.
The No. 77 BMW’s charge was hampered when electronic issues affected the ABS and traction control five hours from the end, though by completing one less pitstop than their German rivals, the No. 77 was still able to remain in contention until the very end, even opting not to change tires for the final 35-minute stint.
“Not changing tires at the last pitstop was our last option to try and stay in front of the Audi,” said Werner. “We had experienced some small electronical problems during the final four hours, which was a shame, because up until then the car was running beautifully.”
René Rast closed the 20-second gap to Dirk Werner after the last pitstop in no time and regained the lead 15 minutes from the end, crossing the line with a seven second margin on the BMW.
“It was a very emotional moment for me when I crossed the line, because it was a very hard race,” said Rast. “I was really exhausted, both emotionally and physically. We had to push all race long, but we knew we had a good package to take the win in this race.”
The No. 2 WRT Audi was on course to complete the podium, but got involved in a coming together with the No. 63 Black Falcon Mercedes with four hours still on the clock, with both cars suffering damage.
André Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler rejoined the race, albeit ten laps down on the race leaders, finishing in 11th overall.
Leading early on, James Nash, Christopher Mies and Frank Stippler ended up in third with their No. 3 WRT Audi, with the latter two doing most of the driving.
Saintéloc Racing made it three Audis in the top-four, with Stéphane Ortelli, Gregory Guilvert and Edward Sandström finishing the No. 26 car two laps down on the leaders in P4.
With the relentless and faultless pace at the head of the field, Mercedes and HTP Motorsport weren’t able the repeat last year’s victory, with its best placed No. 86 SLS AMG GT3 of Maxi Buhk, Maxi Götz and Jazeman Jafaar finishing in sixth, while the sister No. 84 car ended up ninth overall.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼After winning the previous rounds at Silverstone and Paul Ricard, M-Sport Bentley got both its cars to the finish, but only in 13th and 17th overall, with car No. 8 sustaining damage to its steering in a second lap incident and car No. 7 suffering a bursted brake line caused by debris from incidents between other cars early on.
ART Grand Prix experienced a race to forget,with both of its McLarens retiring with technical troubles. As a result, they have lost the lead in the teams’ championship.
Laurens Vanthoor now leads the BES drivers standings with 74 points, seven ahead of Ortelli, Guilvert and Sandström (No. 26 Saintéloc Audi)
RESULTS: Total 24 Hours of Spa