Audis strike double blow in Championship opener
Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor secured a double victory for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT No.32 Audi R8 LMS ultra by adding a win in the Championship Race to their victory in the Qualifying Race of the previous day at Nogaro.
The second WRT car, the No.33 of Frank Stippler and Oliver Jarvis finished second as they had done on Sunday to round out an all-consuming Easter weekend for the Belgian squad.
Third was the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Mercedes SLS of Marc Basseng and Markus Winkelhock, from sixth on the grid, just ahead of their team-mates Nicky Pastorelli and Thomas Jager.
The sun finally broke through in south-west France to the delight of the 38,263 spectators who lined the grandstands, grassy banks and Paddock of the Circuit Paul Armagnac to witness an exhibition of formation flying from the Audis.
The No.33 Audi of Stippler had held the lead heading into the midway pit stop, but after an internal duel between the WRT team-mates, it was Vanthoor who got the better of Jarvis for the top step of the podium at the finish.
Enzo Ide and Francesco Castellacci in the No.3 flew the flag for Ferrari with 5th place while the No.3 Ferrari 458 Italia of Toni Vilander and Filip Salaquarda recovered from a drive-through penalty after a false start to claim sixth.
Peter Kox and Darryl O’Young were seventh in the Reiter Engineering Lamborghini No.25. Dutchman Kox produced a storming mid-race drive, at times running nearly two seconds faster than the front-runners. He also set the fastest lap of the race – 1:27.881.
There was no repeat of a podium finish in the Qualifying Race for the No.24 Gallardo LP600 for Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Tomas Enge. Von Thurn und Taxis was swamped at the start dropping from third to 15th before a spirited fightback brought eighth place.
Mike Parisy made a stunning start in the Exim Bank Team Porsche. It was a little too hasty for race officials who applied a drive-through penalty for not holding position before the start signal. The Frenchman had managed to reach fourth but dropped down the order after his scenic tour of the pit lane. He and co-driver Matt Halliday eventually finished ninth, an encouraging result for the No.9 Chinese car. The No.8 of Benjamim Lariche and Ren Wei was 15th.
For Hexis McLaren it was a story of toil and strife. Both cars have been hampered by starter problems. Today the No.1 MP4-12C of Fred Makowiecki and Stef Dusseldorp retired after three laps while the No.2 of Gregoire Demoustier and Alvaro Parente was struck down with electronics issues mid-race.
The Vita4One BMWs finished 10th and 11th just ahead of the Valmon Racing Team Russia Aston Martins while the Sunred Ford GT was 14th.
So Audi sit emphatically on top of the points’ standings ahead of the second round of the championship in Zolder on 20-22 April.
What the drivers say …
Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS No.32 (1st)
“I never expected, even in my best dreams, that we would achieve this result at the first race. I am still quite speechless, but I think it is because we did a great job, we worked hard together, and we did a lot of testing. Audi have put a lot of effort into it, as well as Belgian Audi Club WRT, and then the co-operation with Stephane (Ortelli), everything is going the perfect way at the moment. I am really happy, this is one of the most beautiful victories I have had, so I hope we can continue in this direction.”
Stephane Ortelli (MON) Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS No.32 (1st)
“For Sure it is great to win, but Frank (Stippler) and Oliver (Jarvis) did a great job as well. All the week we have been testing, sharing the information, we are looking strong because we know how to share the job. We have really experienced drivers, I really like the team, and for the rest of the season I think it is looking very good, it is very special.”
Oliver Jarvis (GBR) Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS No.33 (2nd)
“First of all the team did a fantastic job, two fantastic pit stops. Its not easy down there, a lot of action going on, but the guys did fantastic. It was very close to Laurens (Vanthoor) for a few laps, where he’d been out already for a couple of laps his tyres were a little bit warmer, but we had a great fight.
“In the end Laurens was just a bit too quick for us, but we’ve had a good weekend, with two second places so we’ll go away very happy and remember that it is a long season. Hopefully we can beat them in the future, it is going to be a great fight throughout the year.”
Frank Stippler (DEU) Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS No.33 (2nd)
“For the first race it was quite a nice weekend and a nice Birthday present. Congratulations to Laurens (Vanthoor) and Stephane (Ortelli). It was a nice fight, and it was good for the team, they have worked hard, and work over in other series as well, such as the Blancpain Endurance Series, and it would be good for them to get some rest now, as they have worked extremely hard.”
Marc Basseng (DEU) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG No. 38 (3rd)
“At the end the pace was quite good, especially at the very end of the race the performace of the car was good. I treated the tyres softly most of the time, and I think that may have helped at the end.
“In testing at the start of the week we were struggling a bit, but we improved the car quite a lot over the week and we are getting more and more competitive. Markus did a good job today, we started in a similar way last season, so hopefully we can push for a win in Zolder.”
Markus Winkelhock (DEU) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG No.38 (3rd)
“We slowly improved the car step-by-step but the weather yesterday did not help us at all, but today the car was great and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is known to be good to the tyres over a long stint, so that helps us as well.
“My stint was good, I had to wait to pass the Ferrari for a while but next time, at Zolder, there are some faster corners and that will maybe help us. We know that Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will make it hard for us to win at their home track.”