Cast your mind back a couple of months. We popped over to Spa where Audi was performing a quick workout ahead of its Le Mans assault at the legendary La Sarthe. We commented at the time that Lots Of Rain happened, casting an ominous watery shadow over the weekend’s proceedings.
Well, just before this year’s Spa 24 hour race kicked off, a brief, duplicitous glimpse of blue sky and the comedy sight of majestically luxuriant Euro-hair and facial foliage fooled us into thinking, ‘no, maybe this year it’ll be different’. It wasn’t. Come race time, a flash of lightning; then, the Universe’s very own subwoofer of thunder rumbled into play and all hell broke loose. It cleared up just before the race start, but such was the velocity throughout most of the first half of the race, you’d have thought the Gods displeased with the lack of oversteery carnage in the 2012 race season.
Cars were spinning off everywhere, and thus set into a motion that would become the theme of this year’s Spa 24 hours: The Safety Car. Fittingly, it was an Audi.
This Audi soon became a familiar sight, because while this year might have seen the largest single entry of GT cars to the Spa 24 hours - the fourth round of the Blancpain Endurance series - a large chunk of the race would be played out behind the Audi’s rear bumpers. It was deployed no less than sixteen times throughout 24 hours, totalling a period of five hours and seven minutes. Sixteen times in 24 hours.
Still, there remained breakneck racing and superb turns of overtaking and determination. For the first nine hours of the race - a considerable margin, lest you forget how much of a sprint race modern endurance racing has become - the rather delectable BMW Z4 of Markus Palttala, Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin led.
That was until, somewhat inevitably, an Audi R8 LMS appeared, took over and basically dominated the race, eventually leading home a 1-2. Surprised that an endurance racer with four rings stapled to the front of its nose took the podium? Yeah, us neither. But there’s no denying Ingolstadt’s sheer capacity for Winning Stuff. This victory at Spa, plus back-to-back victories at the Nürburgring 24hrs and of course, Le Mans, means Audi has won three 24 hour endurance races in the space of 71 days. Kudos, Dr Ullrich, and of course, Mssrs Piccini, Rast and Stippler who took the Spa trophy back home to show mum.
That Z4 still made the final step of the podium mind, so it wasn’t a complete Audi 1-2-3 (as it had looked for a while in between). Incidentally we caught up with Dr Ullrich on the grid just before the start, and in his typically modest and humble demeanour - replete with that terrifyingly intelligent glint in his eye - he told TG, “we’re feeling good, but we’ll take it slowly. Let’s see how it pans out shall we?” The smile on his face spoke volumes.
Still, nice to see Tom Kristensen making his first 24 hour debut outside of Le Mans. Just before the race he shouted across the grid to Bernd Schneider - lined up next to him in the SLS AMG GT3 car - and offered a thumbs up. Bernd’s team wouldn’t finish, but Kristensen, well he did alright: he finished sixth.
But there was a terribly galling and horrible episode for RJN Motorsport. This team - co-sponsored by Nissan’s GT Academy and sporting both Lucas Ordonez (first GT Academy winner) and Jann Mardenborough (2011 GT Academy winner) - started 41st on the grid but made up an incredible 21 places over just two hours after superb stints from Alex Buncombe and Jann. But electrical gremlins meant the 3.8-litre V6-engined monster wouldn’t start on the third hour at the driver change pit-stop.
A frantic few hours were spent in the garage practically rebuilding the car’s electrics, when it coughed into life and pumped out a hot lap, only to cut out at Eau Rouge, terminating its race immediately. Consider this: Jann - who’s never driven at Spa before - was lapping comfortably in the 2m 25s zone. Those were the times of the top ten drivers.
Have a click through the gallery for more action, and then stay tuned this week as we’ll have more from rising star Mr Mardenborough…
Words: Vijay Pattni
Photos: Katie Johnson