It wasn’t the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa that Team WRT had wanted, but the Belgian squad still achieved a great result, by taking a fantastic win in the highly-competitive Silver Cup with Benjamin Goethe, Thomas Neubauer and Jean Baptiste Simmenauer, and more class honours, with second in the Gold Cup, thanks to Ulysse De Pauw, Arnold and Maxime Robin and Ryuichiro Tomita.

Since the initial sessions, it was clear that the Audi R8 LMS was lacking the pace and speed to fight for overall victory this year and the race proved it, as no R8 finished in the top-10. The only WRT Pro car to see the flag was the one of Nico Müller, Valentino Rossi and Frédéric Vervisch, 17th after a solid race marred with incidents.

Team WRT Principal Vincent Vosse was philosophical at the end of the long race: “To come to Spa is a pleasure every year and to see a fantastic edition such as this year’s, with the come-back of a record crowd, was great. It’s nice to be part of it. Of course, the result is not what we wanted but everybody could see that the Audi cars had not the pace to go for a win or even a podium. The race of our Pro cars was not perfect, but that did not change much the result. The disappointment is mitigated by the great success in the Silver Cup, with our three young guns doing a faultless race, and the podium finish in the Gold Cup. A great applause to the team for the outstanding work in a race where pressure was very high.”

The Spa week started with a high in free practice, as car #32 was the fastest, but the rest of the sessions would clearly confirm a lack of pace for the Audi cars with respect to the competition, with none of the Team WRT cars in the top-20 in pre-qualifying. The qualifying session saw a relative improvement, with two cars making it to the Superpole, thanks to P5 for car #32 and P17 for car #30. In the final exercise determining the top ten rows on the grid, Dries Vanthoor was 14th after a slight mistake in his flying lap and Thomas Neubauer 18th. The other cars qualified 32nd(#31), 35th (#46) and 44th (#33).

The start, in perfect conditions, went on smoothly, despite the 66 cars on track, and so was the first hour and a half of the race. Without a tremendous pace, Team WRT drivers still started to climb positions: Kelvin van der Linde in car #32 reached sixth by the 1.5-hour mark from P14 in first lap, with Benji Goethe in car #30 in 14th, while Vale Rossi took over from Nico Müller in car #46 after one stint to run in P21. Car #33, with Ryuichiro Tomita, scored the best positions gain, being 34th from 52nd on the grid, while Diego Menchaca in car #31 was 44th.

The first full-course yellow occurred after one hour and a half and was used by all WRT cars to pit and was followed by two others as re-starts yielded further incidents. In these animated phases leading to dawn, came the first trouble for the WRT patrol: car #33 had to be rescued from a gravel trap after an off-track, car #31 lost 25 laps in the boxes to change the transmission, while car #32 was slowed by two punctures and two 5-second penalties. The good news came from car #46, which ran as high as 4th and held in the top-8 by the 6-hour mark, while car #30 was 14th and leading in the Silver Cup rankings.

Still, both cars dropped positions because of the different pit stop strategies and two more full-course yellows, as the race settled in full darkness. Rossi was 13th when he was hit by a Mercedes and sent into the gravel, while Thomas Neubauer was third in the Silver Cup at that moment. One lap later the race was red-flagged for 50 minutes because of the crash of another competitor.

The early morning would bring more disappointment: at 6:15, Weerts had to jump on the brakes at the exit of La Source to avoid a car that had just stopped and was unfortunately hit by Müller, who was right behind him. The race was over for car #32, while car #46 could continue after repairs. After that it climbed positions to enter back in the top-20 with 4 hours left. Car #33 was then in P28 and car #31 in P39, after serving a 45-second penalty for track limits. The only real satisfaction for Team WRT was coming by cars #30 and #33, the former leading the Silver Cup again in the early morning and the latter latter climbing back the Gold Cup field.

In the last phase, the young guns of car #30 were able to keep P1 in the Silver Cup and defend it fiercely until the flag, while car #33 finally came back in the top 3 of the Gold Cup to take an excellent final P2. Car #46 climbed back to P17 overall, while car #31 finished 39th and 10th in the Silver Cup.

Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer: “A good weekend and a very good result. It was long and a lot happened. At some point, I lost hope, but we came back, thank you to my teammates and the whole team. At the end, no mistakes and no penalties, good strategy and it worked out.”

Benjamin Goethe: “We just won the Spa 24 Hours Silver Cup! It’s been such a long race. It such an achievement, we made it up to the end, and it’s a very emotional moment. I am so happy for the entire team, they deserve it so much. What a week it has been!”

Thomas Neubauer: “I am absolutely exhausted but so, so happy. The last stint was very stressful, always thinking about what might happen. I am very grateful to my teammates and the entire team, they did a fantastic job, despite the problems we were having with some of our sister cars.”

Ulysse De Pauw: “I am super happy, I didn’t expect to race spa one month ago, so I am very grateful to Team WRT for their trust. It was a tough race, we lost three laps at the beginning, but then we came back and we finish second in the gold Cup. Well done to the team, who has been able to handle perfectly a 5-car entry.”

Arnold Robin: “I did a big mistake in my first stint and the team and my teammates did a great job to put us back in contention and finish second. Amazing!”

Maxime Robin: “It’s so good! What an incredible race and what an incredible job by all the team and my teammates. The strategy was perfect and to be on the Spa podium feels like a dream!”

Ryuichiro Tomita: “I didn’t expect to finish on the podium after the issue at the beginning, but we did an amazing recovery, thanks to the great work of everybody, and I am really happy. I really enjoyed my last stint, on this fantastic track, it was just a dream. Now let’s go for the podium at Hockenheim too.”

Nico Müller: “It was a challenging race, as always, and to finish it is not a bad achievement, although we had hoped for a smoother race. For Vale it was important to finish and gain experience, he did a mega job, always on the limit. We had a number of hiccups, even before the race, and we can be pleased to finish.”

Valentino Rossi: “What a fantastic experience was this first 24-hour race! It’s something you can’t understand if you haven’t done it. It was tough, especially the last 8 hours, but I enjoyed every minute. I was quite fast, so I am happy, I also did some mistakes, we also had some bad luck, but at the end, to be able to finish and have a good result is very rewarding.”

Fred Vervisch: “It’s great to finish and P17 is a decent result given the circumstances. In the night, Vale had that contact and spun, we lost one lap, and then Nico was involved in this unfortunate incident in the morning, with more time lost, despite the very quick repair made by the boys. Otherwise, Vale made a great job, driving exactly the same time as us, I am sure he gained a lot of experience.”

Diego Menchaca: “It was a very unfortunate race for us, because of this technical issue that cost us three hours. It wasn’t the fault of the team, who had rebuilt the car on Friday, it just happens in racing, but then we were out of contention for anything. Still, we went through the night and finished the race with no other problems, doing proper stints, enjoying and learning.”

Dries Vanthoor: “Not a lot to say, we just did not have the pace to fight with the leaders. We were not in an ideal position, but we hoped for the race, but actually none of the Audis were competitive, we suffered of a lack of performance. We tried different things, we changed the camber angles for the race, but nothing changed. We were also unlucky with the puncture and then with the incident that put us out. It wasn’t our race, let’s hope we can come back at Valencia.”

Kelvin van der Linde: “Spa 24 Hours is always a love-hate relationship. We gave it our best shot this weekend, but you win some and you lose some. The team put together a great car, but Lady Luck was not on our side: first punctures, then safety car procedures, before contact ended our race. I can’t lie, I really wanted the double 24-hour win after victory at the Nürburgring but for now the box for Spa remains unticked. Thanks to the team for all their hard work, we’ll come back stronger.”

Charles Weerts: “I can’t say the word that comes to my mind and would be straight to the point to define this race… We lacked pace, as everybody could see in the Superpole, and in the race, we fought hard to come back, but we were never in a good position. Then we had penalties, two slow punctures and were disadvantaged by the red flag. Eventually, there was this incident with the McLaren, I still don’t understand what he was doing, and that ruined the race of two of our cars…”

GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup – Round 3
TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium – 27-31 July 2022

Race results:

  1. Marciello-Juncadella-Gounon (Mercedes AMG) 536 laps
  2. Stolz-Götz-Schothorst (Marcedes AMG) +31s040
  3. Serra-Rigon-Fuoco (Ferrari 488) +46S926
  4. Engel-Buhk-Grenier (Mercedes AMG) +48s430
  5. Harper-Verhaegen-Hesse (BMW M6) +1m01s266

13. Goethe-Neubauer-Simmenauer (Audi R8 LMS) + 3 laps (1st Silver Cup)
17. Müller-Rossi-Vervisch (Audi R8 LMS) + 5 laps
24. De Pauw-A.Robin-M.Robin-Tomita (Audi R8 LMS) +8 laps (2nd Gold Cup)
39. Hutchison-Menchaca-Proctor (Audi R8 LMS) +39 laps (10th Silver Cup)
DNF Vanthoor-van der Linde-Weerts (Audi R8 LMS) 293 laps (damage)

Photo: Michele Scudiero, Brecht Decancq