The anticipated wet weather conditions in this weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa will benefit Mercedes-AMG and Audi more than the record-breaking heat during practice and qualifying, according to two of their factory teams.
Sainteloc Racing team manager Frederic Thalamy and Black Falcon lead engineer Renaud Dufour both expect their cars to perform better in rain than in the 40-degree Celsius heat that characterized the event’s practice and qualifying sessions.
Black Falcon’s factory-backed Mercedes-AMG GT3, driven by reigning Endurance Cup champions Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman was nevertheless quickest in qualifying on Friday evening.
Audi Sport Team Sainteloc didn’t make it through to Super Pole, however, with Fred Vervisch and 2017 winners Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock qualifying 22nd.
“Rain is probably better for us because of cooler conditions,” Black Falcon’s Dufour told Sportscar365. “We’re normally really struggling in hot conditions because of the engine [mapping].
“If it’s cooler, for sure, it will be better. But then, I think Audi will come stronger if it’s wet because they are usually really strong.”
Dufour says he was encouraged by a series of small Balance of Performance changes made before the weekend, which saw six cars given small weight changes, including a 10 kg weight break for both Mercedes-AMG and Audi.
“We have nothing to hide because the potential of the car is well-known by everybody so I think the BoP is very easy,” he continued.
“We don’t know about the new cars, we still don’t know a lot about Audi because Audi was probably struggling a bit with the Evo kit at the beginning of the year. Now, they showed in Zandvoort and Misano they were really fast.”
Dufour also pointed out the Mercedes’ main difficulty being straight-line speed, having faced difficulties overtaking slow cars in last year’s race.
“You must sometimes take risks about strategy because you cannot overtake easy,” he said.
“For us, it’s really a big problem. If it’s wet, maybe it’s a bit better, but if it’s this kind of weather, we will for sure struggle too much on the straights.”
Looking at the Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo, Sainteloc boss Thalamy also expects his car to perform better in wet conditions as well, partly because of tires.
“In the BoP, we have a lot of weight, the car is quite heavy and with the tires it’s quite complicated on the slicks, we know that,” he told Sportscar365.
“For the wets, the Audi performs on the wets. It was leading in Monza before the last couple of laps with the puncture, due to debris on track. The car is fast in the wet.”
Audi Unconcerned by Test Day Outcome
The Audis appeared to be off pace during the two-day pre-event test earlier this month, although Thalamy put this down to practicing race pace instead of outright lap times.
“At the test day, we ran for the 24 hours, not for qualifying,” he explained. “The target was to try to have an average lap time quite good for the race and not on pace at all.
“This is the reason why [SRO technical director] Claude Surmont changed the BoP because it showed that.”
Dufour added he didn’t think the Audis were showing their full hand at the test, claiming “they were too slow and not at their pace”.
“There’s still a question mark about Audi, a question mark about Lambo because in Sprint they were really quick but in the test they were really slow so it’s difficult to say,” he said.
“Bentley, we know what they can do here so there will be no big surprise.
“For me, the favorites this year are Porsche, because the new car is very consistent, so they keep more or less the same weight, the same top speed, but they are much more consistent.
“For sure, for me, they will be the number one there. Bentley, because they are still really fast here, and then it’s difficult to judge.
“We can be in a fight with Audi, we can be in a fight with Lamborghini but I think we will struggle compared to Porsche and Bentley, that’s what I think.”