Audi 1-2-3 at Spa 6 Hours


Audi Sport achieved an emphatic podium lock-out in the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday. On the face if it, all bodes well for the team’s bid for a 12th victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours next month. But the result does not tell the full story as sports car racing prepares for its biggest race of the year.

Audi was deeply impressive at Spa, but the team will be far from complacent following the performance of Toyota’s low-downforce TS030 Hybrid on its race debut.

Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler came back from a puncture sustained during the only safety car period of the six-hour race to beat Silverstone victors Loic Duval, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish by more than a minute. The 2012 Le Mans winners sliced through the traffic and put on a charge in an R18 e-tron Quattro that was clearly working perfectly in the Ardennes forests.

Audi’s own low-downforce car, which the team will race at Le Mans, was also making its race debut at Spa, in the hands of Marc Gene, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis. The Joest-run team was pleased that the trio put in a performance above expectations to finish on the podium – but the fact remains that the low-downforce Toyota was faster. Nicolas Lapierre, Alex Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima might have challenged for the victory at Spa had a malfunction with the hybrid system not forced them out.

“We showed good domination today,” said Treluyer, “but Le Mans may be different. We never know. The number seven Toyota showed good potential.”

McNish expanded on the theme: “Our sister [low-downforce] car was quicker in qualifying, but the Toyota was able to go longer on its fuel in the race. And to see their low-downforce car so quick here suggests they have made progress.”

His countryman Jarvis added: “We were very good on one and two-lap performance, but they were stronger on race pace and they could go longer. We can’t underestimate them. They would have been in the fight for the win had they lasted. They’ve made a huge step.”

We won’t know until we get there, but Le Mans could be much closer than this result suggests.

The ‘standard’ Toyota of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin finished fourth at Spa, ahead of the first privateer P1: the Rebellion Racing Lola of Hick Heidfeld, Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost. As Heidfeld admitted, even they are getting bored of being the best of the rest, but as it stands it is all they can hope for at the moment.

The secondary LMP2 class didn’t offer quite the thrilling finish of last year, but it wasn’t half bad. The Jota Sport team that won this race last year was leading coming into the closing stages, but as everyone expected Lucas Luhr was forced to make a ‘splash and dash’ stop for fuel. It handed the win to the deserving Pecom Racing ORECA trio of Pierre Kaffer, Nicolas Minassian and Luiz Perez Companc, who had been the pacesetters of the class all day.

Ferrari claimed GT honours, with Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella pipping the Aston Martins – despite complaining that the British cars were faster and more efficient than the 458 Italias. “The Aston Martins are stronger than us,” said an annoyed Fisichella. “They have more power, 30 kilos less weight and 10 litres more fuel. There is something wrong. I hope something will change in the regulations before Le Mans.”

As with the fight for overall honours, the GT class promises a thriller at the 24 Hours.



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