W hat do Spa and Nürburgring have in common? Very much. Weather changes, for example, because the Ardennes are nothing more than the western extension of the Eifel. The micro-weather situation is related and can be similarly repulsive. Then the racetracks: both slopes are blazing fast, with real courage. Eau Rouge and Fuchsröhre are sinks of style-defining dimensions, Blanchimont and Schwedenkreuz not only share the left-hand twist, but also the spirit. Spa and Nürburgring are simply the best roller coasters in motorsport.
One team won the big 24-hour races in 2012
This relationship has now found a remarkable continuation on the sporting level. It just has to be said that the big 24-hour races on these two racetracks in 2012 were won by the same team - Phoenix Racing. The car was (almost) the same, the Audi R8 LMS Ultra. In order to end the game with parallelism, a pilot was also involved in both successes - Frank Stippler.
The 37-year-old could hardly believe his luck: “I won my home race within 70 days.” That you can see that, because from his place of residence in Bad Münstereifel to the Ring it is a nimble 43 kilometers, to the Belgian Spa in about double the distance.
Stippler worked hard for himself in Spa for the honorary title of marathon man. Long Lulatsch sat at the wheel of the R8 for almost nine hours. There were plenty of amusing anecdotes from the winning car. On his penultimate stint on Sunday lunchtime, for example, a small plug failed with a big effect: the combination utensil is not only responsible for the radio, but also for the pilot's fluid supply. Stippler professionally repaired the connector during a safety car phase. The focus was on the radio - the fluid intake was of course irrelevant.
'With that, my personal oil level had already dropped to below minimum during the last stint.' After the race, Stippler got out of the Phoenix-R8 completely dehydrated and with glassy eyes. As a bonus there was a doping test. Only after six and a half liters of water and four hours of waiting was Stippler able to successfully finish the last item on the agenda.
Duel between Audi and BMW
The Audi victory at Spa did not come as a surprise, but it was nowhere near as dominant as it was last year when the Audi R8 took the pressure offOpponents were able to counter at every stage of the race with lap times that were up to two seconds faster than those of BMW, for example. As in the previous year, the Ingolstadt-based company showed up with the full pomp of a works outing in Spa, but the balance of power was more finely balanced.
That also had something to do with the fact that the Balance of Performance (BOP) in the host Blancpain Endurance Series as must be described as largely successful. The series by Stéphane Ratel adjusts the balance of power itself and thus differs from the classifications of the FIA, for example. While in the previous year every paddock talk was about the BOP in the second sentence, this time it was pleasantly calm and peaceful.
And that despite the fact that it makes a difference whether you are racing as a factory, factory-supported or flat customer sport Appearance sees. This is where the traditionally strong canter of the German manufacturers differed in what is probably the largest race in the history of the GT3 class: Porsche and Mercedes left the field exclusively to their customers, Audi relied on a flawless works outing. And BMW gave the hybrid - a little more than customer sport, but a little less than work.
Only two brands were capable of winning in Spa on paper anyway: Audi and BMW, because only they each provided four cars in the Pro class for thoroughbred professional occupations. This class, in turn, had a below-average number of 14 cars. The majority of the field of participants was drawn from the Pro-Am class, where professional pilots and amateurs joined forces. Here alone 39 cars were on the grid - and none of them was a real podium candidate for the overall standings.
The fact that the GT3 boom also has natural limits was proven by the fact that 82 cars were named - but only 66 showed up in the paddock. 14 teams each put a 15,000 euro entry fee in the sand - because they couldn't find any drivers who were willing to pump enough money into the racing frenzy.
Numerically, the starting field at Spa was still strong, but quality and depth were manageable. With Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, BMW and McLaren five brands were represented in the potential overall winner class. But if you separated the vegetables from the roots, you got six cars that could win - and they came only from Audi and BMW.
This is where the hair-splitting began: “Ultimately, victory will be decided by the quality of the third driver ', So Vita4One-BMW team boss Michael Bartels whispered before the race. His calculation was simple: The four top Audis all seemed to be very strong throughout, while the BMW teams were forced to compromise for refinancing reasons. “Maybe we can still make it onto the podium,” said Bartels.
After the race, the analysis looked very different. The third drivers at Bartels and the second strong BMW team, Marc VDS,by no means caused dips in competitiveness. And the balance in the pure vehicle performance revealed that BMW had extremely realistic chances of victory.
The numbers game of the race analysis gives the following picture: On average over the 200 fastest race laps, the two best-placed Audi and BMW (i.e. the top four) were on par:
Audi # 16: 2.22.625 min.
Audi # 01: 2.22.686 min.
BMW # 66: 2.22.456 min.
BMW # 03: 2.22.493 min.
But this racing arithmetic is pure theory, because the race was not decided by the net speed of the vehicles. A total of 16 caution phases chopped up the race, the SafetyCar lurched in front of the field for five hours. In addition, two rain showers of biblical proportions created chaotic conditions on the slopes. “I've never seen so much water on a racetrack in my entire career,” reported the not exactly inexperienced René Rast from the cockpit of the Audi winning car with starting number 16.
It was even more fatal than the water - to put it mildly - Opaque handling of the SafetyCar phases. Two security vehicles each split the field, which makes perfect sense considering the route length of over seven kilometers. However, the fact that all teams complained in unison that they had been delayed for several minutes at the end of the pit lane in front of the red light must be classified under the category of embarrassing.
Some teams were so frustrated and angry that they stopped their pilots instructed to ignore the red light. 'The drive-through penalty under yellow cost less time than waiting for the green at the pit lights,' said a team boss who threatened death if we should reveal his name. Another team boss ordered to stop only under green - because that cost less time than refueling under yellow. 'I stood at the traffic light at least three times and cursed like a pipe sparrow,' said Frank Stippler, who shared the winning car with Rast and Andrea Piccini.
'We had the same problem,' said BMW team boss Bartels, “But I think luck and bad luck balanced each other out over the yellow phases.” Maxime Martin, one of the stars of the race and Belgian on top of that, didn't find the yellow phase soup to be a good hair either: “With the best will in the world, you couldn't read a scheme. I was once let out shortly before the SafetyCar, at the next stop I stood for an eternity, although the track was free. '
Speed, consumption or tires?
So what does the race in Spa have to decide if not the net speed of the vehicles? In any case, not the criteria that are important in endurance sport, such as consumption or tires. The rule, christened Lex Audi in the paddock, according to which the maximum driving time per stint is limited to 65 minutes, was carried over from the previous year. With that, the issue of consumption was off the table.The limitation of tire sets practiced in 2011, however, was lifted, which is why all teams were able to draw on the full. Tire management, on the other hand, was of decisive importance: only those who had the right tires on at the right time could gas.
The Vita4One top car with the starting number 66 lost its chances of victory right here: “We switched to slicks too early and then too late on rain tires ”, says Michael Bartels. “That cost us almost two laps.” The number 66 BMW Z4 GT3 fell back to 17th place. Frank Kechele, Greg Franchi and Mathias Lauda still managed to take third place on the podium - even if a puncture on the last lap made their faces reddened.
The other dangerously strong BMW Z4 of the Belgian Marc VDS team had with Maxime Martin the undoubtedly fastest driver in the field in their ranks. Born in Brussels, Martin led with his team mates Bas Leinders and Markus Palttala until halfway through the race - also thanks to the courageous and sometimes extra-galactic performance of Martin.
In the third safety car phase, Martin outdid the Audi works teams WRT and Phoenix with unbelievable speed: In the first lap under green in pouring rain and flooded track, the difference was a smooth half a minute per lap:
BMW Martin: 2.57.4 min.
Audi Haase: 3.28.4 min.
Audi Piccini: 3.32.0 min.
In the next lap, Martin was 17 seconds faster than the Audi pros and took the lead just at the six-hour mark of the 24-hour race when championship points were awarded for the first time in the Blancpain Series.
The Belgian fans toasted with domestic hops from Maes and Jupiler, but the Martin show was not over yet: Just 17 minutes after another pit stop, the nimble Belgian was again in the lead because he gave the opponents between five and ten seconds per lap growled. Of course, he also marked the fastest lap of the race in dry conditions - what a brutally good performance!
The Belgian soaring ultimately remained unrewarded, despite fourth place in the final classification: three small touches, a puncture, problems with the starter and two drive-through penalties were cone the BMW Z4 GT3 from the podium.
Thus, the second half of the race was dominated by the team-internal Audi duel between WRT and Phoenix. The loser had the most convincing explanation ready: 'The Phoenix boys were just a tad better than us in all respects,' was the fair conclusion of WRT team boss Vincent Vosse.
At the pit stops, Ernst Moser's German team and Dirk Theimann wasn't even ahead of the game: The WRT-Audi had 66 seconds less downtime in the pit lane - 52.11 to 53.17 minutes.
'In contrast to last year, our opponents were on the ball this time at the stops,' said Phoenix- Team manager Dirk Theimann. “None neededlonger than 20 seconds to change tires. So you couldn’t win anything at the stops - only lose. ”Incidentally, there was a 1: 1 fraternal harmony between WRT and Phoenix when it came to punctures , Christopher Mies and Stéphane Ortelli in the WRT Audi with starting number 1. Several spins and crossing the white line in the pit entrance including a drive-through penalty ultimately made the difference between victory and defeat.
The rest of the German GT3 manufacturers had in Spa little grin. The numerically modest appearance of the Mercedes teams petered out with accidents and electronic problems. Porsche could only be halfway satisfied because Hans Guido Riegel's Haribo team with the professionals Christian Menzel and Uwe Alzen kept their senses together, smoothly negotiated all problems - and finally finished seventh in the overall classification and second in the Pro-Am -Class saw the goal.
Of course, that didn't change the fact that the time of the Porsche 911 GT3 R seems to have expired. The customer teams were missing two seconds per lap - even when the professionals were turning the steering wheel. The fact that half a legion of 911s went into clutch damage also darkened the picture: too slow, too unreliable.
The relationship between the 24-hour races in Spa and at the Nürburgring did not only apply to the winners - but also to the losers .