Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Audi R8 LMS triumphant at 2011 24 Hours of Spa

. Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Considered by many as the most important endurance race for GT cars, Audi would win last weekend's 2011 24 Hours of Spa. Overcoming stiff competition from 13 different manufacturers, the #33 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 LMS driven by Timo Scheider, Mattias Ekström and Greg Franchi would take the checkered flag; ahead of BMW and Mercedes-Benz in second and third place (respectively). Full report, photos and video after the jump.

Ingolstadt/Spa, July 31, 2011 – The Audi R8 LMS won the most important endurance race for GT cars ahead of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Audi Sport Team WRT overcame the strongest competition during the 63rd running of the 24 hours of Spa (Belgium). The two DTM stars Mattias Ekström (Sweden) and Timo Scheider (Germany) and the Belgian endurance specialist Greg Franchi shared driving duties in the victorious mid-engine sportscar.

Experts agreed before the race started that the endurance classic, held since 1924, had never fielded so many potential winners as this year. A total of 62 cars representing 13 different manufacturers joined the grid, including no less than 57 cars of the worldwide booming GT3 category.

The opening stages of the endurance classic in particular fulfilled expectations. Spectators lining the 7.004 kilometer track and in front of television screens enjoyed tough battles for position, countless overtaking maneuvers, retirements and small and big dramas which are typical for a 24-hour race. The Audi R8 LMS was the fastest car in the field from the very beginning. After just a few hours it was clear that the V10 powered R8 sports cars where the favorites for the victory.

The race of the victorious #33 R8 LMS fielded by Audi Sport Team WRT was particularly impressive. The car driven by Mattias Ekström, Greg Franchi and Timo Scheider ran like clockwork for 24 hours, while many other GT3 cars were no match for the stresses and strains of the hard fought endurance race. The brake discs and pads were changed twice as scheduled. Apart from this, the R8 LMS only entered pit lane to refuel, change tires and to swap drivers. At the start of the tenth hour Ekström/Franchi/Scheider took the lead which they duly held all the way to the checkered flag. At the finish the trio had a two-lap lead over the closest rival.

Audi led 22 of the 24 hours. Just after midnight three R8 LMS actually occupied the first three positions. However, while Audi Sport Team WRT also celebrated fourth overall for the #32 car, Audi Sport Team Phoenix was struck by bad luck.

Marc Basseng, Christopher Haase and Frank Stippler led convincingly for many hours in the #99 R8 LMS and had eked out an advantage of almost an entire lap. Just after 1 a.m. Haase lost first place due to a faulty air jack system. Only an hour later the youngster slid off the track on a damp patch at Turn 9 and had to retire the car.

The #98 sister car was hit by a slower car on the left rear wheel while fighting for the lead towards the end of the third hour. Shortly afterwards second gear was lost. Although they had to continue without second gear as a result and lost additional time due to a puncture, Marcel Fässler, Andrea Piccini and Mike Rockenfeller worked their way back up to third from 13th before a gearbox change was required just after midnight. The change cost 1 hour 36 minutes. The trio still managed to battle their way through the field from 36th to 14th thanks to consistently quick laps and in the process recorded the absolute fastest race lap (Mike Rockenfeller / 2m 20.286s).

The second Audi R8 LMS entered by Audi Sport Team WRT put in two exciting comeback drives. After an accident in qualifying, Stéphane Ortelli scythed spectacularly through the field from 41st to second in the opening 90 minutes, before a drive-through-penalty for contact cost almost a lap. Changing the front left suspension components took 24 minutes and threw the #32 car back to a seemingly hopeless 42nd position. However, Filipe Albuquerque, Bert Longin and Stéphane Ortelli had other ideas, overtook car after car and finished the race in an almost sensational fourth overall. This was the icing on the cake for Audi Sport Team WRT which celebrated an important victory in its first outing as "factory” team for Audi.

"Vincent Vosse’s team really did a fantastic job during its home race,” explained Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "Mattias (Ekström), Greg (Franchi) and Timo (Scheider) drove fast and without mistakes – and it was exactly this that was the key to victory this weekend alongside the reliability and speed of the R8 LMS. Unfortunately out other three cars were rather unlucky and especially Ernst Moser’s squad. That’s why it was almost like Le Mans at the end: After just a few hours we only had one iron still in the fire – but we won with this car. This shows our strong nerves and team spirit because everybody helped to take the win with the only remaining car.”

The Audi R8 LMS, which is supplied to customers by Audi Sport customer racing since last year, notched up win number 96 this weekend. "After three class victories in the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring and the one-two in the 12-hour race at Bathurst at the start of the year, this is without doubt the most important victory for the Audi R8 LMS and our still relatively young customer racing program,” said Werner Frowein who is responsible for the company’s customer racing program as Managing Director of quattro GmbH. "I’d like to thank everybody who worked so hard and with so much commitment to make this victory possible. After Le Mans, Audi now stands in the winners list of another great 24-hour race. We were able to show that the R8 is a fantastic sportscar. Our increasing number of customer teams also confirms this.”

One of these customer teams, United Autosports, contested the 24 hours Spa with three R8 LMS. Following an eventful race with drivers Richard Dean, Zak Brown, Stefan Johansson and Johnny Herbert can be delighted with 13th overall and sixth place in the Pro-Am category.

Quotes after the race:

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport)
"We knew that it would be a very difficult race. I estimated that there are a good 15 cars capable of winning. This also proved to be the case in the first few hours of the race. However, our excellent performance from the very beginning allowed us to overcome the competition. For a large part of the race there was always an Audi in the lead. At the end it was the R8 LMS with Mattias Ekström, Greg Franchi and Timo Scheider which took the honors. The other WRT car only narrowly missed the podium. The Phoenix cars were very fast but unfortunately had some problems. Because of this they kept dropping back.”

Mattias Ekström (Audi ultra R8 LMS #33)
"Wow, what a race! To start I thought that I was in the DTM because everybody was driving so wildly. Then there were several incidents involving the competition and sister cars, but we kept out of trouble and just concentrated on fast, clean a faultless driving. Everything was perfect from the technical point of view, just like the entire team’s commitment – and so in the end everything went very smoothly. I’m very happy as I’ve tried quite often to win a 24-hour race. Before today I’ve always been left completely drained and empty handed, but today I have a huge trophy in the luggage compartment. This makes it all a lot more fun.”

Greg Franchi (Audi ultra R8 LMS #33)
"It was a very tough weekend and a very hard race. But we’ve taken the victory! It was a fantastic 24-hour race at Spa. There were a lot of mistakes and incidents on the track in the beginning. My thanks to the entire WRT team and Audi for the fantastic job.”

Timo Scheider (Audi ultra R8 LMS #33)
"An incredible feeling! Obviously the expectations before the race were very high. I always tried to subdue them a little because the competition was stronger than ever before and we also started with a very young team which hardly any of us knew beforehand. The guys did a fantastic job from the very first minute of practice and stayed cool in spite of the enormous pressure. Our Audi R8 LMS survived the 24 hours without a single scratch. A marvelous weekend for all of us.”

Filipe Albuquerque (Audi ultra R8 LMS #32)
"Fantastic! Our goal was to win. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible for our car. So, it was all about scoring as many points as possible for the Blancpain Series, which we achieved because the Autorlando Porsche retired. I now have my first 24-hour race behind me. There’s a load to do on such a weekend! It was great fun to drive the Audi R8 LMS. The team worked fantastically, especially when there were setbacks. This is why fourth position is such a great result. Congratulations to Audi, Mattias (Ekström), Timo (Scheider) and Greg (Franchi) for winning.”

Bert Longin (Audi ultra R8 LMS #32)
"I’d like to thank Audi and Audi Sport Team WRT. It was an honor for me to be able to race for this professional family. I’m not the youngest anymore, but I’ve never sensed such a love and passion for motorsport. This makes me incredibly happy. We took fourth place which involved fighting back from way down the field. Together with overall victory for our sister car this makes a fantastic weekend perfect.”

Stéphane Ortelli (Audi ultra R8 LMS #32)
"We should all be proud of the first Audi victory in the 24 hours Spa – a legendary race. It’s even more difficult for me to win here at Spa than at Le Mans. It’s a dream day for me today: we still managed to finish fourth and our sister car won.”

Marcel Fässler (Audi Top Service R8 LMS #98)
"I’d like to pass on my sincere congratulations to Audi Sport Team WRT and the team from car #33 for taking this important win. They did a faultless job. I’m also delighted for Audi and that the R8 LMS has won this prestigious 24-hour race.”

Andrea Piccini (Audi Top Service R8 LMS #98)
"We had four cars on the grid and our goal was that one of these cars should win. We did it. Unfortunately it wasn’t our R8 LMS. However, throughout the entire race we showed that we are fast. But we had a few problems. We gave our all – and Audi has won. This is the most important thing.”

Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Top Service R8 LMS #98)
"Congratulations to Audi and Audi Sport Team WRT. The Audi R8 LMS has won – this was the most important thing. The team did a fantastic job and deserved to win. We are obviously a little disappointed. We wanted to win with our car and Phoenix. I believe that we also did a good job and were well on the pace. But you also need a little luck during a 24-hour race. Because it’s not always the quickest car that wins such a race, but in fact the car that gets through without mistakes and technical problems.”

Marc Basseng (Audi Sport performance cars R8 LMS #99)
"A fantastic day for Audi! The first overall victory in a 24-hour race for the R8 LMS. A strong performance. The car was continuously developed and demonstrated today that it can also emerge after 24 hours of toughest racing as overall victor. I’m delighted for the WRT team and its driver. Unfortunately things didn’t go so well for us. Obviously it would have been fantastic to celebrate a 24-hour win after the personal 12-hour win at Bathurst. We had the pace. Phoenix had a sensational pit stop strategy and incredible speed when changing tires. We really had all the trumps cards. Unfortunately Christopher (Haase) lost the car under the most difficult conditions.”

Christopher Haase (Audi Sport performance cars R8 LMS #99)
"An extraordinarily exciting weekend for Audi. My congratulations go to Audi Sport Team WRT for first and fourth places, because they made an extremely difficult job look relatively easy and deserved to win. My Audi Sport Team Phoenix team also did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, we had some bad luck, but this is the way it is in motorsport. There are other races to make up for the lack of success. This is our and my goal.”

Frank Stippler (Audi Sport performance cars R8 LMS #99)
"A huge day. I’m absolutely delighted for Audi. And personally also for Werner Frowein the Managing Director of quattro GmbH. He has invested a great amount of initiative, commitment and energy in this project. It’s splendid that the first 24-hour victory is the result. I’m also happy for WRT because I know the team from last year. An excellent team with a very professional attitude, but also a family atmosphere. Unfortunately things didn’t go so well for us because a team mate had an accident. We had every chance of winning but retired from the lead. This is sadly part of the business.”

Ernst Moser (Team Boss Audi Sport Team Phoenix)
"As we expected the Audi R8 LMS suits the demanding Spa- Francorchamps circuit very well. It has exactly the potential that such a track demands – which is why it was also the dominant car this weekend. As far as we were concerned we were unable to implement it in qualifying, however, the race pace right on the button and all four factory Audis were the fastest in the field. The problems we had left us with just one car, however, like at Le Mans it managed to reach the finish ahead of all the competition. Everybody else showed the potential of the cars. We want to build on this for the future and go for gold again next year.”

Vincent Vosse (Team Boss Audi Sport Team WRT)
"For a young team like us this victory is incredible. The 24 hours Spa was a very important race for Audi. We worked very purposefully towards the goal. Everybody stuck together for a year. This victory is the just reward for the team and us as big family. Thank you to all at Audi Sport, quattro GmbH and the Belgian Audi Club.”

Source: Audi Motorsport