DAYTONA Beach, Fla.—APR Motorsports gambled in 2012 that the Audi R8 would be a winning ride in Grand Am’s Rolex series as it was in every other series where the car raced around the world.
After a season of struggling to develop the car, APR’s investment finally paid off at the 2013 Rolex 24 at Daytona, where the team finished second, only 1.4 seconds behind the GT winner.
Impressive enough in its own right, this result shows APR’s strength when one considers the car lost three laps to penalties and collisions during the night, and still nearly won the class.
“We had to drive very hard to come back from the issues and the penalty early in the race, and it was tough to battle with the Ferraris and Porsches because they have a top speed advantage,” said driver Marc Basseng on the APR website.
“But this race is about staying on the lead lap for 23 hours, and the last hour will be crazy. You can’t win this race by running an easy pace because the cars behind can always get their laps back, like we did. It’s good racing, I really enjoy it. Thanks to APR and Audi for this great race.”
APR Motorsports was the first team to race Audi’s Rolex.-specific R8 Grand Am, campaigning the untested car throughout the 2012 Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series season.
The car was significantly different than the globally successful R8 LMS upon which it was based, lacking some of the sophisticated traction control and engine management functions which made the LMS a winner. While APR’s Grand Am version of the car occasionally showed speed, it never had the combination of speed and reliability and the luck needed to win.
Throughout the 2012 season the car ran mid-pack, its best finish a ninth at Montreal before finally breaking through with a second-place finish in the season finale at Lime Rock.
All that changed after an off-season of further development—and a healthy admixture of factory technical support. Audi decided to invest seriously in it R8 Grand Am program, sending APR a second car, plus two more for other customer teams, along with a horde of technical staff led by Mr. Big himself, head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.
APR came to Daytona with a pair of R8s and a handful of factory drivers, ready to finally seize the success which had eluded the team the year before.
APR’s #51 Audi was driven by a team of Rolex and Continental series veterans: Matt Bell, David Empringham, John Farano, and Alex Figge. The #52 car got the full factory treatment with Audi drivers Marc Basseng, Frank Stippler, and René Rast joining APR’s Ian Baas behind the wheel.
Neither car qualified particularly well, but given the extremely deep GT field, that was not surprising. A 24-hour race is about consistent speed, not a single hot lap. APR was interested in the finish, not the start.
The #52 APR car showed its true potential by advancing to second in class by the end of the first hour of racing. The car stayed near the front of the field until an unfortunate penalty for a misunderstood wave-by procedure cost the team two laps. Contact with a Daytona Prototype cast the car a further lap.
APR didn’t despair. Race strategist Jeff Mishtawy and race engineer Philipp Mondelaers knew that the Grand Am wave-by rules which had cost them two laps could, if used properly, gain them back the lost track position.
After pushing hard all night, APR made it back into contention for the lead with three hours to go. The first 21 hours were fast; the final three, frantic, and the last hour was insane. Five cars: the #52 APR Audi, two other Audis, a Ferrari and the 2012-winning Porsche were all together and fighting for the class win. The Audis were down on speed but had the edge through the infield.
The final hour came down to both speed and strategy. A caution period with an hour to go left teams with a choice: pit under yellow, take a full load, and hope the fuel lasted, or make a shorter pit stop and know the car would need a second short stop later.
Here APR’s experience paid off: the team opted not to pit under yellow, taking the lead in the class, then surrendering it later when the car pitted under green. The car lost track position, but it had enough fuel to run flat-out to the finish, while most of the competition slowed down to save fuel, or ran out of gas in the final lap.
René Rast, driving the final stint, pushed the #52 APR Audi right to the limit lap after lap, chasing the class-leading Audi. In the end, Rast ran out of time; he couldn’t quite catch the class leader and had to settle for second, a scant 1.4 seconds behind.
“We were pushing like a sprint race,” said Rast. “After losing time over the night we had a big fight with the Ferrari and Porsche, and losing by a hundred meters was difficult. It was like a proper sprint race that had nothing to do with endurance.
“The Audi was great—we had a lack of top speed but the handling in the infield and under braking was very good. It’s difficult to lose by such a small margin but we pushed as hard as we could.”
While the team would have preferred to finish on the top step of the podium, second place in the Rolex 24 is a huge achievement for any team. APR will certainly be pleased with the way its 2103 Rolex season started, and will be looking to carry that momentum forward to its next race the Grand Am of the Americas at Austin, Tex. Circuit of the Americas on March 2.
Tickets for round two of the Rolex Sports Car Series are on sale at the Circuit of the Americas ticket outlet website.
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