It’s done! The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT brings home two more Blancpain titles, after an incredible Sunday at the Nürburgring, which allowed the Belgian squad to conquer the first two positions in both standings, Drivers’ and Teams’ (where some of the Belgian Audis R8 are entered by Team WRT, as the maximum number of cars per entrant is 3). Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard are the new champion pair, beating team mates Will Stevens and Markus Winkelhock. It was an exciting, breath-taking and full of surprises finale at the Nürburgring, with the Mercedes of Buhk-Perera taking a clear advantage towards the title on Saturday, after winning the Qualifying Race, where Dries Vanthoor-Marcel Fässler took third. In the Main Race, a great show by the Audi #5 and the retirement of the Mercedes overturned the situation. It was written, though, that it wasn’t to be for Vanthoor-Fässler, who had to serve a drive-through and leave the title battle to their team mates Stevens-Winkelhock and Leonard-Frijns. The Dutchman on new tires won the final and superb family duel over the German, thus clinching the coveted crown.
Team Principal Vincent Vosse was a relieved and happy man after the event: “I am very happy, it has been a good weekend. To take the first two spots in both the Teams’ and Drivers’ standings, given what was our position when we came here, is a very good result. It has been an intense weekend, with many surprises, but it ended well for us. Clearly, there is some disappointment too, for what happened to car #5. Pit stops have been one of our strengths throughout the season, and here we had one pit stop that did not work well. It had big consequences for Dries and Marcel, who would have deserved the title. I am nevertheless sure Dries who showed incredible speed in the last races will gain soon all the titles he deserves. Eventually, the most important is that the team responded and we were able to win both titles. I want to thank everybody for their excellent job and for having kept their motivation, and also all of our partners, starting from Audi, whose support has been crucial.”
The weekend started well, with the Audis R8 LMS proving competitive and # 5 of Dries Vanthoor-Marcel Fässler topping both free practice sessions, with all the other cars of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT making it to the top ten in FP2.
Qualifying proved further the competitiveness of the WRT Audis, as Dries Vanthoor took pole, the second in a row after Budapest’s, with a lap time (1.53.532) that beat the best rival by 1 tenth. Leonard-Frijns qualified 7th, with Ide-Vervisch in P14 and Stevens-Winkelhock P20, right ahead of Schothorst-Dennis in P21.
The Qualifying Race started with Dries Vanthoor leading and keeping the advantage throughout the first stint, but an issue with the seat belts and the late pit-stop by the Lamborghini put it in the lead after all driver changes, with Fässler having to concede second to the Mercedes of Buhk. The Bentley also joined a superb 4-way battle, which ended with the Mercedes winning (after a 1” penalty imposed on the Lambo, for jumping a chicane) and Fässler crossing the line in third. The Swiss, though, was somehow disappointed and explained: “It was pretty tough out there. The Lamborghini was changing its line a bit too much in my opinion. There was too much blocking going on. In such a situation it’s very difficult to race, because you can damage your car and then your championship is over. But I have to say that we lost the race in the pitlane this time. The seat belts were blocked behind my back, so we were not ready when the car was”. It was a solid race also for Stevens-Winkelhock and Leonard-Frijns, who took 5th and 6th, respectively, keeping their championship chances alive, with Schothorst-Dennis crossing the line in P12 and Ide-Vervisch in P14.
The Main Race, on a beautiful autumn Sunday, was going to be full of surprises. The Mercedes took an early lead, but by lap 2, the Audis of Fässler and Stevens were already behind it, with Leonard in P5, Dennis in P10 and Ide in P21. Things didn’t change much until the pit stop, which happened right after a safety-car period. The #5 Audi was one of the earliest pitters, but an airline got tangled in the rear right wing. The issue didn’t cause any damage or delay, allowing Vanthoor to take the lead of the race, but unfortunately, it was later sanctioned with a drive-through, as the pitstop gun got jammed in the working lane infringing to the rules on pit stop. Vanthoor served it on lap 24, rejoining 12th. In the meantime, the leading Mercedes had to retire, turning the title battle into a family matter between Markus Winkelhock and Robin Frijns, who had climbed positions with great determination, benefitting also from new tires contrary to the sister car. Precisely, in lap 24, when Vanthoor was serving the drive-through, Frijns managed to take the lead from his team mate, with an impeccable overtake on the inside at the end of the straight. The Dutchman perfectly controlled the final laps to take victory and the title. Winkelhock came in second, with Vanthoor tenth, Schotshorst 12th and Vervisch 16th.
There were, of course, faces happier than others in victory lane. Markus Winkelhock reckoned: “It’s a shame to almost have the title in your hands and then missing it narrowly… We were fifth in the standings arriving at the ‘Ring, so finishing as runner-ups is not a bad result, but still, we feel frustrated… Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do against Robin, as I was struggling with the brakes…”
Robin Frijns was, of course, elated: “Things can change so quickly… At the beginning of the race, with Dries and the Mercedes ahead of us, I thought it was done for us, but it is never finished as long as you have a chance…Then, when everything changed, I decided to go for it. On the radio, they were telling me not to do anything risky, and I think I did well: the move on Markus was very clean… Winning the title is really a great satisfaction…”. Next to him, Stuart Leonard could hardly find his words: “It’s simply great, I am speechless, watching the final laps was just so stressful…”
The Blancpain GT Series season will end in two weeks, with the final round of the Endurance Cup, to be held at Barcelona on 30th September-1st October, where the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will be fighting for the Teams’ title in the overall Blancpain GT Series championship.Qualifying Race results: 1. Buhk-Perera (Mercedes AMG) 30 laps 2. Caldarelli-Pérez Companc (Lambo Huracan) + 0s617 3. Vanthoor-Fässler (Audi R8 LMS) + 2s482 4. Soulet-Soucek (Bentley Continental) + 2s780 5. Stevens-Winkelhock (Audi R8 LMS) +13s752 6. Leonard-Frijns (Audi R8 LMS) +14s282 12. Schothorst-Dennis (Audi R8 LMS) +17s978 14. Ide-Vervisch (Audi R8 LMS) +26s624 Main Race Race results: 1. Frijns-Leonard (Audi R8 LMS) 31 laps 2. Winkelhock-Stevens (Audi R8 LMS) + 3s967 3. Caldarelli-Perez Companc (Lambo Huracan) + 4s622 4. Palttala-Krohn (BMW M6) + 5s844 5. Bortolotti-Engelhart (Lamborghini Huracan) + 6s807 10. Vanthoor-Fässler (Audi R8 LMS) +11s896 12. Schothorst-Dennis (Audi R8 LMS) +16s117 18. Ide-Vervisch (Audi R8 LMS) +19s990 Final Drivers’ standings after Round 5 of 5: 1. Frijns-Leonard 82 points 2. Winkelhock-Stevens 74 3. Buhk-Perera 68 4. Bortolotti-Engelhart 67 5. Vanthoor-Fässler 62 7. Schothorst-Dennis 27 25. Mies-Ide 3 Final Teams’ standings after Round 5 of 5: 1. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT 106 points 2. Team WRT 93 3. GRT Grasser Racing Team 91 4. HTP Motorsport 87 5. ROWE Racing 49 Press release Belgian Audi Club Team WRT]]>