In a result absolutely unsurprising to anyone, Audi took the top four spots at the World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Spa. The only part of the outcome even slightly surprising was that the winning car was not a hybrid.
Audi’s new R18 e-tron quattro hybrids ruled the race in the first half hour, when the track was wet, but with the switch to slicks came a switch in domination, and the R18 Ultras proved quickest.
A few penalties and a few punctures shook up the finishing order; after six hours the #3 Audi Ultra of Romain Dumas, Lôic Duval and Marc Gené was 47 seconds ahead of the e-tron quattro of Marcel Fässler, Benôit Tréluyer, and André Lotterer. A lap back came the Ultra of Oliver jarvisd and Mark Bonanomi, followed after a minute-and-a-quarter by the remaining hybrid Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen, and Dindo Capello.
Audi’s nearest competitor was four laps behind.
Audi’s drivers probably could have pushed harder if someone had been chasing, but it isn’t likely they held back much, because Spa, for Audi wasn’t about championship points—Audi is going to win the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, that’s a given—and it wasn’t about race wins. For Audi the point or racing at Spa was to get good competition-conditions data to help the team win at Le Mans. If Audi only raced once more all season, and that race was a winning effort in the 24 Hours, the team would be ensured corporate financing for a couple of seasons to come.
Audi learned some important things: for instance, that they way the cars are currently set up, the hybrids system is a boon in the wet and a drawback in the dry, causing understeer—both Allan McNish and Dindo Capello (veteran Audi pilots) went off at the same corner in the same way—simple loss of front-end grip
Audi also learned that both new versions have possible issues with tire wear, particularly right rear. Three of the four Audis came in for fresh rubber in the final half-hour—the #1 Audi with a puncture, #2 and #4 for fresh rubber. Audi engineers were paying great attention to tire temps on the removed rubber—rear tire wear might be an issue with the new cars.
One thing must be said in Audi’s favor—they let the fastest car win. Undoubtedly the corporate overlords would have preferred a hybrid victory to fuel the promotional machine, but when it was clear that on a dry track the standard R18 Ultras were faster, Audi let an Ultra win over an e-tron quattro.
Spa was in many ways a microcosm of Le Mans. The fastest P1 class was dominated by turbodiesels, as it likely will be at Le Mans.There were intense battles back in the pack, among gas-powered P1s, P2s and GT cars, much like Le Mans is sure to offer. And as will likely happen at Le Mans, the team with the biggest budget and most experience, building a car to take full advantage of all the latest rules, performed the best. Audi triumphed unchallenged, as it is likely to do at Le Mans.
And the race was very much worth watching or attending, offering fast cars in a beautiful setting, much as will be the case at Le Mans.
The overall outcome may have been pretty clear from the start, but the process was totally worthwhile. Get your tickets for Le Mans.