German firm to field four factory teams for its assault on Spa 24 hours
Audi has brought two new teams onto its factory roster in its bid to win the Spa 24 Hours for a fourth time at the end of July.
The Czech ISR and French Sainteloc squads, both stalwart customers of the German manufacturer in GT3, will each run a works-backed Audi R8 LMS in the blue riband Endurance Cup round of the Blancpain GT Series on July 29/30. They will join the Belgian WRT squad, winner at Spa in 2011 and ’14, in a four-car line-up of factory R8s for the prestigious GT3 event.
The two teams have taken the place of Phoenix Racing in Audi’s Spa attack. The two-time winner of the Belgian enduro was also replaced in the factory line-up for the Nürburgring 24 Hours in May. On that occasion, Land Motorsport stepped into the breach and went on to win the race.
The factory ISR Audi will be raced by Frank Stippler, who moves over from its customer BGTS entry, Pierre Kaffer and Kelvin van der Linde.
Sainteloc’s official Audi will be shared by team regular Christopher Hasse, Markus Winkelhock and Jules Gounon, who will be driving a factory Audi for the first time.
Corvette Racing driver Antonio Garcia will return to WRT’s line-up to race with Audi DTM drivers Nico Müller and René Rast.
Christopher Mies and Connor De Phillippi, who won at the Nürburgring for Land together with Winkelhock and van der Linde, will team up with Belgian Frederic Vervisch in the second WRT works entry.
Christopher Reinke, head of customer racing at Audi Sport, said: “We are sending our four factory-supported race cars to compete under the supervision of experienced teams who regularly contest the BGTS. Together we have drawn up promising driver combinations that should enable us to fight for victory in the Ardennes.”
WRT is also running four R8s on a customer basis, while ISR and Sainteloc will run one privateer car each.
Former Audi LMP1 driver Filipe Albuquerque, who was released by the German manufacturer when it downscaled its sportscar activities last winter, is in line to drive ISR’s customer entry at Spa. The Portuguese driver tested for the team ahead of the Silverstone BGTS round in May.
ROAD TO LE MANS
The British TF Sport Aston Martin team swept the board in GT3 in the two Road to Le Mans races on the undercard for the 24 Hours.
TF’s Aston Martin V12 Vantage shared by 20-year-old Tom Jackson, a former race winner in British Formula 4, and Oman driver Ahmad Al Harthy took class victory in the two one-hour Le Mans support races open to GT3 cars and LMP3 prototype machinery.
Jackson and Al Harthy inherited victory in the opening race on Thursday after the AF Corse-run Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 shared by Maurizio Mediani and Christoph Ulrich was penalised for a failure to observe the minimum pitstop time. An eight-second time penalty after the race demoted it one position.
Jackson and Al Harthy were again beneficiaries of a late-race penalty on Saturday morning. They moved into the lead when the Imsa Performance Porsche 911 GT3-R driven by team boss Raymond Narac and Thierry Cornac took a stop-go penalty at the start of the final lap for another pitstop infringement.
Former Bentley factory driver Duncan Tappy took second for the Garage 59 team, sharing a McLaren 650S GT3 with Michael Benham.
FIRST WIN FOR STEVENS
Former Grand Prix driver Will Stevens took his first GT racing victory in the Sprint Cup round of the Blancpain GT Series at Zolder in June.
The 25-year-old Briton, who raced for both Caterham and Manor in Formula 1, sealed his maiden GT3 win together with Markus Winklehock aboard a WRT Audi R8 LMS in the full-points main race.
Stevens lined up ninth on the grid before he and Winkelhock progressed to third in the first of the two races. The German trailed the ISR Audi driven by Clemens Schmid into the pitstop window of the main event, before a quick turnaround by WRT got Stevens out ahead of the Czech-run car now with Filip Salaquarda at the wheel.
Stevens maintained the lead to the end through a late safety-car to cross the line 0.5sec ahead of Salaquarda.
GT3 DEBUT FOR AUER
Mercedes DTM driver Lucas Auer, nephew of 10-time Grand Prix winner Gerhard Berger, made an impressive GT3 debut at the Red Bull Ring round of the ADAC GT Masters series in June.
The 22-year-old Austrian, who lay second in the DTM ahead of the Norisring round on July 1/2, contested his home round of the series aboard a Mücke Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 together with team regular Sebastian Asch. They finished fourth in the opening race and then improved to second in the follow-up.
Jules Gounon and Daniel Keilwitz won the first race in their works Callaway Corvette C7 GT3, while Grasser Lamborgini won race two with Christian Engelhart and Rolf Ineichen.
BENTLEY SHINES AT SILVERSTONE
Bentley drivers Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jr closed the gap at the top of the British GT Championship points with a dominant victory at Silverstone in June.
The British duo controlled the three-hour event on the way to a one-minute victory in their Team Parker Bentley Continental GT3. They missed out on pole position by one tenth of a second, but Morris was in front by the first corner.
The team had opted to short-fuel the Bentley, which allowed Morris to stretch out a lead in his lightweight car. Parfitt Jr then emerged with a 40sec lead after the first round of fuel stops.
Morris and Parfitt Jr went onto to finish 1min 3sec ahead of the second-placed Macmillan AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage shared by James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell. Championship leaders Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen finished fourth aboard their Barwell Lamborghini Huracan GT3.
The factory M-Sport Bentley team picked up a fifth position in the BGTS Sprint Cup round at Zolder. Steven Kane and Vincent Abril came through from 12th on the grid for the qualifying race to end up as the first non-Audi home in the main event.