Audi makes it quattro

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German manufacturer wins its fourth Spa 24 Hours

Audi claimed a fourth victory in the Spa 24 Hours GT3 blue riband by a scant 11 seconds in July, at the end of a closely fought race in which the top six cars finished on the lead lap.

The German manufacturer followed up on its 2011, ’12 and ’14 victories with a first win for the second-generation R8 LMS. Victory in the double-points round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup was sealed by factory-backed Sainteloc team drivers Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase and Jules Gounon, who beat the best of the M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3s shared by Maxime Soulet, Andy Soucek and Vincent Abril.

Audi stalwart Sainteloc, which was running with factory backing for the first time, came back from a major delay in the small hours on Sunday morning. Gounon left the pits with a misthreaded right-rear wheel and lost the better part of two laps.

But the works Sainteloc entry was the fastest car on the track when it mattered as the sun came up on Sunday morning. It made it to the head of the field for the first time in the race – not counting one lap in the eighth hour – approaching three-quarter distance, at a time when factory Audi rival WRT’s challenge was faltering.

The Belgian team’s pair of works entries were not quite the competitive proposition they had been earlier in the race. And René Rast, who shared the no1 factory car with Nico Müller and Antonio Garcia, had been penalised for a coming-together with Raffaele Marciello in the best of the Auto Sport Promotion’s Mercedes-AMG GT3s as he attempted to take the lead.

Haase, who added a first Spa victory to his two in the Nürburgring 24 Hours with Audi, said: “I can’t believe I’ve just won the Spa 24 Hours – it is incredible.

“We lost two laps in the night and came back. I’m done, but that’s the emotion of Spa.”

The second-placed Bentley Continental GT3 was another car to fall off the lead lap during the night, but came back into contention on Sunday morning.

Soulet took over second position at the final round of pitstops when Marciello, who shared the best of ASP’s fleet of Mercs with Edoardo Mortara and Michael Meadows, was held at the car’s final pitstop to ensure that he did not exceed the 65-minute maximum stint time on the run to the flag.

That dropped the Merc behind the Bentley, which beat it to the chequered flag by 40sec.

The Porsche 911 GT3-R run by LMP1 driver Timo Bernhard’s team took fourth place with Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen. The Team 75 Bernhard Porsche had to fight back from a three-minute stop-go pitstop infringement penalty early in the race to seal the position.

The two factory WRT Audis took fifth and sixth positions as the last cars classified on the lead lap. The Rast car lost time at its penultimate pitstop, dropping it behind the sister car of Christopher Mies, Connor de Phillippi and Frédéric Vervisch.

HONDA OPTS FOR GT3

Honda has unveiled plans to have NSX GT3s racing in the hands of customers around the world in 2018. The Japanese manufacturer, whose new GT3 racer has so far raced with factory support and Acura badges in North America, is building a run of 12 cars in advance of the start of next season. It envisages building a total of 70 cars over the model’s seven-year homologation life.

Honda Motor Europe racing boss Robert Watherston explained that the time was right to push forward with plans for a customer programme after the successes of the Acura-badged car in both the GT Daytona class of the IMSA SportsCar Championship and the Pirelli World Challenge.

“We’ve led the Daytona 24 Hours, had pole positions and race wins in North America, so having proved the competitiveness of the car, we felt it was the right time to announce a customer programme,” he said. “GT3 offers a global platform, so it is the perfect opportunity to reach a lot of people with our flagship car.”

The cars will be built by longtime Honda motor sport partner JAS Engineering, which led development of the NSX GT3 racer in Italy. It will provide service for the cars in Europe, a role undertaken by Honda Performance Development in North America and Mugen in Japan. The car will retail for €465,000 (£413,850) before taxes.

NEW SERIES LAUNCHED 

A new endurance event in New Zealand is set to form part of a mini-series for GT3 and GT4 machinery.

The 12-hour race at the Hampton Downs circuit on New Zealand’s North Island, scheduled for next October or November, will link up with Bathurst in Australia and the Sepang endurance race in Malaysia in the series planned for 2018/19. The series, to be known as the Asia Pacific 36, has been launched by the architect of the GT3 category, Stéphane Ratel.

“I like the idea of the series: the name is good and there could be drivers who want to do it at the end of the European season,” he said, “but it will really be about Australian and Asian teams.”

Sepang will no longer form part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge from next year The race, with has been promoted by Ratel since 2015, will be replaced by the Suzuka 10 Hours. The Japanese fixture will become the Asian round of the series alongside Bathurst, the Spa 24 Hours and the California 8 Hours at Laguna Seca, which will take place for the first time this September.

Ratel also reiterated his intent to add an African round to the IGTC in the future. He wants to revive the famous Kyalami 9 Hours, which was briefly a world championship sports car round in the 1970s.

BENTLEY: 500 NOT OUT

Bentley celebrated the 500th race start for its Continental GT3 at the Spa 24 Hours. The no8 M-Sport car, best-placed of the trio of Continentals on the grid for the Belgian enduro, officially took the honour, less than four seasons on from the car’s debut at the end of 2013.

The British manufacturer has notched up those 500 starts in series across four continents with a roster of cars that stood at 25 ahead of the Spa BGTS event – chassis no26 was delivered shortly after the race. The Continental GT3 has gathered 44 victories – both overall and class – over the 500 starts, as well as a total of 116 podiums.

“We’re a small team with big ambition, and to see what everyone has achieved so far is inspirational,” said Bentley motor sport boss Brian Gush. “We continue to grow and to learn and we’ll utilise our experience over future years to make the next 500 races even more successful.”

A second-generation Bentley GT3, developed like its predecessor at M-Sport, is expected to start racing next year.

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