Audi Motorsport endured a “turbulent” weekend at Spa-Francorchamps as they aimed to finish their preparations before next month's Le Mans 24 Hours.
The race itself was “turbulent”, being stopped before halfway because of a local powercut and dampened by two separate rain spells.
It was the first rain spell, that struck even before the race had begun that started Audi's up-and-down day when Andre Lotterer skated gracefully off at Les Combes into the barriers doing heavy damage to the right-rear corner of the no.8 Audi R15, eliminating the car, which he shared with Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler, from contesting for victory before the green flag.
That left only two Audi R15 to take the start, driven by Allan McNish and Timo Bernhard, in conditions Lotterer would relate to “like driving on ice”. The pair both understeered wide around Eau Rouge on the opening, struggling on the slippery track with the low dowforce Le Mans set-up the team had chosen to run. However, when the weather began to dry the Audis, led by the no.7 car of McNish, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen who would take the lead shortly before the stoppage for the power cut.
The race also several safety cars for accidents around the 7.004km track, which proved a problem for the no.9 car of Bernhard, Mike Rockenfeller and Romain Dumas, who twice found themselves caught out by the Safety Car, and eventually held by the red light at the end of the pitlane for two minutes after the left was not turned off at the right time.
The final safety car brought the no.7 Audi to within striking distance of the leading Peugeot, and the Ingolstadt based team were only helped when the rain reappeared and they made the move to intermediate tyres, with Peugeot continued on slicks. On the right tyres for the conditions Kristensen reeled in the Peugeot, being driven to the finish by Simon Pagenaud.
But when the Spa weather once more changed – this time for the dryer – the Dane began to fall back into the clutches of another Peugeot, driven by Stephane Sarrazin, in a battle for second. With the intermediate tyres past their best Kristensen was powerless fend off Pagenaud, and the Frenchman demoted the Audi to finish third.
“We were very quick and could catch up,” Kristensen would say later. “Unfortunately however the track was dry again 15 minutes before the race finished, in this respect it was, with hindsight, the wrong decision.”
The no.9 car would finish fifth, two laps off the ultimate pace while the luckless no.8 effort would recover to twelfth place having been as low as 47th.
Audi Motorsport principal Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich relates the closing moments of the race; “Due to the information we had we decided to change to intermediate tires as it started to rain harder – for safety reasons, but also because we had made the correct decision at this moment in time with the weather forecast we had.”
“Unfortunately it immediately stopped raining, and then we knew that the decision was false. Nevertheless, the race was very good for the team. We were faced with many difficult decisions throughout the race. It was good that the team could gel here for Le Mans. With an eye on Le Mans we drove with very little downforce and were nevertheless competitive. We'll certainly be able to make use of all the information we gathered at the 24-hours in June.”