JOTA driver Oliver Wilkinson said he was “gutted” for Audi Sport Team WRT after an incident caused both of the Belgian team’s cars to collide as they checked up behind him out of La Source.
WRT’s Charles Weerts and Nico Mueller were chasing Wilkinson’s McLaren 720S GT3 in the 14th hour of last weekend’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa when the drama unfolded.
Wilkinson’s car suddenly slowed at the exit of the tight right-hand turn, causing Weerts to slam on the brakes of his No. 32 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II that was on a recovery mission from two early punctures.
Weerts’ reaction gave Mueller nowhere to go and the Swiss driver hit the rear of his teammate’s car, breaking the No. 32 Audi’s suspension and forcing the No. 46 Audi back to its garage for repairs to the left-front bodywork.
Wilkinson, whose McLaren continued unscathed to an eighth-place finish, told Sportscar365 that his car’s sudden deceleration was unintentional, and suggested that a technical issue was at the root.
“I had a false neutral in Turn 1, so I was clutch-down trying to select gear,” he said.
“I had no drive at that point. As soon as they hit each other, I got going again. But I did Turn 1 in third, which is a first-gear corner, so I nearly went off with understeer into the gravel.
“I just got it back on, and I had no drive so I had to go clutch-down.
“You have to gear up for a false neutral, but then I had to go two back down once I got a gear. Then I could go again. I was gutted for them, to be honest, when I saw it happen.
“Because the last thing I wanted to do was brake check. I didn’t try to brake check or anything like that. It was just a technical issue. We had a couple of them throughout the race.”
WRT appeared unconvinced at the likelihood of a technical issue causing the McLaren to suddenly slow down, with its sporting director describing the incident as “very much avoidable”.
“I don’t think it is a neutral thing because he was hitting the brakes,” Kurt Mollekens told Sportscar365.
“Hitting the brakes was a bit weird. It steps out on the exit, on power. And then you see it braking. Whether it was a technical issue or not… he continued, so I don’t think it was.
“We asked JOTA to let him past because Charles was coming up quicker. But they said they were ahead in the rankings and didn’t want to. And then you get in those situations.
“I understand that you’re not always keen on doing that, but it gains time for everyone. It could have been avoided in that sense.”
Mollekens added that the video footage available to WRT, which was not relayed on the public broadcast, suggested that Wilkinson was trying to catch a snap of oversteer at the exit.
“From the onboard of Charles, it looks like he has a moment of oversteer, corrects it, goes on the brakes to calm it down, and that’s what caught out Charles,” he said.
“Without Nico behind, there is no issue because he doesn’t hit him. But Nico behind smashes into the back of Charles.”
During the race, a dejected Mueller said: “Charles slammed on the brakes on the exit, where I was already back on the throttle.
“By the time I saw his brake lights come on, I was already in the back of him, because I was half a meter [away]. Extremely, extremely unfortunate, and I’m extremely sorry for the team.”
The No. 32 Audi’s final accident came after two punctures earlier in the race that pushed one of the German manufacturer’s primary entries off the lead lap.
One of the punctures originated from debris, while the cause of the other one was not immediately clear.
Mueller, Frederic Vervisch and Valentino Rossi went on to finish 17th.
JOTA Showing “Better than Last Year”
JOTA registered a second consecutive top 10 with McLaren at Spa, with its eighth-place result following seventh in last year’s edition.
Despite the positions being similar, Wilkinson, who this year teamed up with Marvin Kirchhofer and Rob Bell, reckoned the eighth-place was the better of the two showings.
“Not as high a position, but we were on the lead lap, whereas we were P7 last year but a lap down,” he said.
“Last year we were just P7 and there was nothing we could have done, whereas if a safety car fell in our favour in the last hour and we could have been on the podium.
“Spa chooses its winners. We did everything we could to be up there at the end. But sadly, it didn’t play into our hands.
“We had a few minor issues, a couple of false neutrals and things like that. But apart from that, we ran faultlessly throughout the whole event. That was the big thing for us.”