Unsurprisingly, Audi’s R18 hybrids and Ultras qualified 1–4 for the World Endurance Championship’s second round, the Six Hours of Spa.
The turbodiesel Audis, two with electric assist, are by far the best-budgeted cars on the grid. Even if the rules id not favor diesels and hybrids, Audi would likely lead the fields through sheer spending; a factory effort can do so much more testing and development, employ so many more engineers and fabricators, and rent track time at will, where private efforts simply cannot.
This takes nothing away from Audi’s efforts. The four cars, all brand new to competition, ran flawlessly in every practice and qualifying session. Audi did its homework: the factory brought the best designs, tested and tweaked them to near perfection, put the best drivers behind the wheels and the best crews in the pits. Audi is reaping the benefits of hard work; they have earned their place at the front.
In past events Audi has sometimes beat itself. Unforeseen issues not revealed in non-competition testing (pick-up in the intercooler vents, overheating brakes;) over-enthusiastic driving leading to collisions; less than Audi-like strategy and pit work have occasionally slowed the Ingolstadt train.
Last year, of course, the Peugeots were just faster. Audi lost everything except Le Mans because Peugeot out-Audied Audi—preparation, execution, engineering, reliability all favored the French team by a small margin. The Peugeot chassis was kinder to tires, quicker in top end—the car worked better, and the crews backed it up.
This year Toyota is entering the arena, but realistically the Japanese team won’t be a credible threat until 2013. Toyota never budgeted for a full-scale campaign in 2012, and crashes in testing have set them back even further. 2012 is Audi’s year to run rampant through WEC’s LMP1 class. All the action will be among the also-rans.
Allan McNish in the #2 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro led the field with a lap of 2.01.579 at 207.4 kph, followed by Marco Bonanomi’s #4 R18 Ultra, Marcel Fässler’s #1 e-tron quattro, and Loïc Duval’s #3 R18 Ultra. The Audis achieved total domination with only two fast laps each.
The car closest to the Audis, the #12 Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota, was 2.655 seconds off the pace of the leading Audi, and 1.529 behind the slowest, with a lap of 2:04.234 at 203 kph.
McNish was pleased with the situation. “Qualifying felt absolutely thrilling,” he said in an Audi press release. “Our R18 e-tron quattro is making its debut, which is a very special moment for us drivers. Something like this happens only in the case of technological leaps like the introduction of the TDI engine six years ago or the e-tron quattro now, which is the next milestone.
“It’s great that Dindo, Tom [co-drivers Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen] and I are all the way at the front of the grid. The engineers gave us a strong, nicely balanced car in which I drove two good laps.”
“This is my first race in a prototype, so it’s great to be able to start from the front row,” said Marco Bonanomi.
Results in P2 were a bit surprising. The brand new ADR-Delta squad scored class pole as John Martin got the team’s #25 Oreca 03 Nissan around in 2:09.302 at 1195 kph, only four-hundredths faster than another surprise, the #32 Lotus (which is really a Lola-Judd) which was itself three-tenths faster than Jota’s Zytek-Nissan.
“Very pleased. We’re a brand new team so this is an amazing result to come to Spa as a new team and put it on pole,”John Martin told fiawec.com. “The ADR-Delta boys have done an amazing job this week and pole at Spa doesn’t really get much better than that and I’m really looking forward to the race tomorrow.
“For qualifying we took a bit of aero off to try and make us a bit quicker on the straights and make Eau Rouge a bit more exciting.”
Class stalwarts Signatech, Pecom, Greaves, Boutsen Ginion and Gulf Racing were all well down the order. It is hard to imagine these teams won’t find some speed for the race, and hard to imagine the newer teams will show the same reliability. P2 will be a very interesting class to watch.
Ferrari locked out the front row in GTE-Pro, with the #59 Luxury racing 458 Italia edging AF Corse’s #51 car by .373 seconds. The Aston Martin racing Vantage took third in class with a lap of 2:20.227, only eight-hundredths behind the AF Corse Ferrari.
Luxury Racing driver Frederic Makowiecki told fiawec.com, “AF Corse is the reference of the GTE Pro category and it is really good for us to be competitive here and at Sebring. To do a pole position is good for us as we have worked really hard to be consistent and that is why I am confident for the race tomorrow.”
Ferrari took two out of three in GTE-Am as well, but it was the second two as Nicolas Armindo’s #67 IMSA Matmut Porsche scored the class pole by .335 seconds over the #81 AF Corse and #58 Luxury Racing Italias.
“We are hoping for rain tomorrow because for the car it is very good with the rear engine and for myself, I am very confident in the wet,” Armindo told fiawec.com. “It will be a long race, six hours, and you can make many mistakes in that time in the wet on this track. The most important thing for us is for myself, my teammates and the team to learn the most for Le Mans.”
The race starts at 8:30 a.m. EDT Saturday, May 5.
For those who can make the trip to Belgium for the weekend, tickets can be purchased online through the Spa-Francorchamps website.
In the U.S. the race might be available live on Audi-TV starting at 8:15 a.m. EDT. It might be available through various other Internet sources as well, possibly the FIA_WEC feed, depending on the viewer’s locale. Visit Le Mans.org for more information.