When Timo Scheider drove the WRT Belgian Audi Clubentered R8 LMS across the finish line after a day of racing at Spa-Francorchamps he not only took the biggest race win to date for Audi's customer GT program, but put a full stop on the Ingolstadt marque's dominance of the race.
“An incredible feeling!” enthused Scheider. “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.”
“For a young team like us this victory is incredible,” said Vincent Vosse, WRT team boss. “The 24 hours of 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.”
From the early hours the 63rd running the endurance race belonged to Audi. In a staccato opening few hours the lead changed hands several times, including the Porsches of Haribo Team Manthey and AutOrlando Sport – both teams very capable of good results, but slowly the Audi's rose to the top.
First the two Team Phoenix run cars topped the leader board, though the no.98's stay at the lead group was ended by a problem exiting the pits in the fourth, perhaps an early sign of a gearbox problem that resulted in the car completing much of the race without second gear.
The second Phoenix car was more persistent, assuming the lead in the third hour the team of Marc Basseng, Christopher Haase and Frank Stippler held the lead into the hours of darkness, past midnight and towards the race's half way point in the early hours of the morning. However, with Haase aboard the car suffered a problem with air jack system that knocked out of the lead before Haase crashed the car at turn nine causing heavy enough front end damage to rule the race leading car out of the race and causing one of the five safety car periods of the 24 hours.
That handed the lead over to the no.33 car of the WRT squad – along with Team Phoenix the other heavily Audi supported team in the race. DTM men Schieder and Mattias Ekstrom were joined by Greg Franchi for the race, and having been given the lead by demise of their colleagues they never surrendered it. Over the second half of the race they extended their lead from a matter of seconds to the two lap margin they enjoyed as they cruised over the line in photo formation with Phoenix’s surviving no.98 car and sister WRT Audi which claimed fourth overall for Felipe Albuquerqe, Bert Longin and Stephane Ortelli.
As the no.33 held the lead constantly in the second half of the race second place was equally consistently occupied by the no.76 Schubert Racing BMW Z4 – Claudia Hurtgen, Edward Sandstrom and BMW works driver Dirk Werner taking second overall. Third overall was the no.35 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS.
The top three overall were also the top three in the premier Pro Cup class – GT3 cars taking centre stage at the 24 Hours of Spa for the first time. Honours in the Pro-Am Cup, the race's second class went to the French SOFREV ASP Ferrari, with the four man, all-French, driving squad of Ludovic Badey, Franck Morel, Guillaume Moreau and Jean–Luc Beaubelique.
The quartet triumphed by a lap over the best placed of the British entries – the Team Preci–Spark Mercedes of Jones brothers David and Godfrey and Mike Jordan. The Brits had held the class lead, taken during Jordan's final stint in the car, but the greater pace of the Ferrari eventually knocked them down to second. Their battle – initially including the no.44 DB Motorsport BMW before an untimely meeting with the wall at the Bus Stop gained greater significance after the exclusion of the no.2 Vita4One Ferrari that, running third overall at the half way point enjoyed a healthy advantage.
The exclusion was the result of communication problems between the team in the pits and driver Louis Machiels that resulted in the Belgian missing the window to serve what should have been a straight forward drive through after he had started the 458 while it was still raised on jacks after drive change stop.
The third class – the Gentlemen Trophy – was won by less than a lap by the no.19 Level Racing Porsche over the Muehlner Motorsport Porsche, the deficit more than explained by the German teams travails of having to fit a new left side door to the car in the closing hours.
As well as the second place in Pro-Am there was further British success with RJN Motorsport in the GT4 category, Alex Buncombe, Jordan Tresson and Christopher Ward taking the class.
“We had a lot of problems early on with a few small issues with the car and this let the Lotus pass,” said Buncombe. “We have consistently been the fastest car all weekend and had a few little niggles at the start of the race, which unfortunately put us down to second in the class. Lotus Sport Italia didn't finish the race in front us to so we took it all from there. We had to be careful and just make sure we got to the end, which is what we did.”
“The race was unbelievable and left me pretty speechless. We have done a lot with RJN but never really had any success with the 24 hour races so to win here at Spa is incredible and unforgettable. It has been a fantastic day and an awesome week for us.”
Disappointingly, especially compared to the other big 24 hour race won by Audi this year, the close racing was largely confined to the lower classes, with attrition being the main actor upon the order among the Pro Cup entrants.
Both the Porsches that led early fell away from the lead with a cocktail of problems. The AutOrlando Sport, who began the weekend leading the points in the Blancpain Endurance Championship fought technical problems, before crashing at Radillion during the night.
The Manthey entry was first delayed by electrical problems that took it out of contention of the lead, but with an experienced team behind it and a driving quartet that included Richard Westbrook and Christian Menzel the black 997 fought its way back into the top ten before being abandoned by Westbrook at the end of pitlane after the rear of the car burst into flames as he pulled away from the team's pitbox.
The Blancpain–Reiter Lamborghini – again potential winners fell out early, much to the frustration of the team, the no.25 car ended the race on its side in the entrance to pitlane – no one, including driver Nikolaus Mayr–Melnhof able to offer up explanation to exactly how. The following hour the no.24 car of Marc Hayek, Peter Kox and Jos Menten expired in spectacular fashion, leaving a plume of smoke lingering on the dive down between La Source and Eau Rouge.
The race for victory effectively ended for Belgian team Prospeed Competition in the first couple of laps, both their Porsches damaged in a clash at the Bus Stop after Ludovic Sougnez outbraking himself while trying for second and spearing his teammate out of the lead.
However, while all around them were losing heads and cars Franchi, Ekstrom and Scheider were near faultless.