It looks as if a weekend where everything works fine shouldn’t happen... The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT lived another unfortunate and frustrating outing at the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup round at Le Castellet, where took place the Paul Ricard 1000 kms. After Monza and Silverstone (where came a consolatory podium finish), the French enduro brought more questioning about the pace of the Audi R8 LMS this year and a frightening accident that involved Ezequiel Pérez-Companc in lap 2.

Luckily, there were no severe consequences for the young Argentine, who had no responsibility at all in the crash, while the other two cars of the squad completed in the second part of the top-20 a race that could have yielded more for both.

Vincent Vosse’s comments in the early hours of Sunday proved that the Team WRT Team Principal had gone through many emotions: “The main and best news is that Ezequiel is doing fine, under the circumstances, after a terrific and unacceptable shunt in which he found himself a complete victim. I really hope for the good of our sports that this accident will be analyzed and that dangerous behaviour will be sanctioned. Other than that, it is another mixed weekend, where we have seen many positive things from the team and the drivers, but where, once again, we hadn’t the expected results. Everyone could see that the Audi cars had not the right pace against competitors, and this is becoming consistent now. All players involved in the series need to analyse the data thoroughly after this round and take measures.”

The situation highlighted by Vosse was evident since free practice and confirmed in Qualifying. The best of the three Belgian Audi was #10 with Charles Weerts-Rik Breukers-Norman Nato, which took P12 on the grid, while car #2 of Dries Vanthoor-Ezequiel Pérez Companc-Álex Riberas was only 19th (following also the damaging of lateral aerodynamic deflectors on the flaps in front of the kerbs) and the #17 of Paul Petit-Alex McDowall-Shae Davies took P25.

As said, drama stroke already in lap 2 in the race, as Pérez-Companc was hit from behind by the Bentley of Derek Pierce, while braking at 280 kmh in one of the fastest corners of the track. The Argentine lost control of his car, collected the Ferrari of Florian Scholze and both hit very hard the barriers. Ezequiel was brought to the medical centre of the track and subsequently to the hospitals of La Ciotat and Marseilles for more in-depth checks and magnetic scans.

With car #2 out of contention, car #10 and car #17 took brilliantly the baton. In car #17, Alex MacDowall had a storming start of the race, benefitting also from a timely first pit stop, during the first full course yellow. The Brit climbed up to P7 overall. Later, with Paul Petit and Shae Davies at the wheel, the car was slowed by under-steering and paid both a drive-through (for not slowing enough under a yellow flag) and the extra refuel stop resulting from his very early first pit stop to finish in P19 and 7thin the Silver Cup.

In car #10, drivers also alternated double stints, with Charles Weerts taking an excellent start and running 5th for a while. When, 35 minutes into the race, the first full course yellow occurred, it was decided to keep the car on track as long as possible. Later, the car lost valuable time (during another full course yellow period) as regulation impeded it to overtake a Lambo with a punctured tire. Rik Breukers kept excellent pace but lost some positions because of a spin, and Norman Nato, in his first race for the team, eventually crossed the line in P13.

The next round of the Endurance Cup will be the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the most important rendez-vous of the season, while the GT World Challenge Europe will be back on 29-30 June with the Misano round.

Dries Vanthoor: “Things were not entirely bad in practice, as we did a few changes that improved the car, but Qualifying was messy. I could not find a clear lap and then the front left aero went damaged on the floppies. In the race, of course, Ezequiel had that massive shunt, car and race destroyed, but the important thing is that Ezequiel is ok. As we know, it happens, so... on to the next one.”

Álex Riberas: “Not the weekend we had hoped for, of course. All Audi cars were struggling with the pace, but I still think we have great potential. It is always hard to see a big crash like Ezequiel’s and to see a team mate going to hospital, but luckily, it seems it is going to be only a character-building experience for everybody in the team.”

Charles Weerts: “We had a good qualI, with P10, and I had a good start, and as we delayed the pit stop, I was even P2 at some point. We were less lucky with other full course yellows, as we lost much time behind a slow car. In the second part of the race, it proved complicated to come back and basically, we had to stay where we were.”

Rik Breukers: “We started the weekend well and we had a good qualifying. In the race, I think the strategy played a little bit against us, because of the full course yellows, and I also had a spin. Eventually, not the result we wanted but we’ll push hard at Spa.”

Shae Davies: “We qualified reasonably well, as we went for race set-up rather than lap times, the race was a little bit of a shame with the drive-through penalty, we could have finished in the top-10, but that’s it. For me, it was the first time on a double stint and the first night drive, I am happy of how it went, it is good preparation for Spa.”

Blancpain Endurance Cup – Round 3
Paul Ricard 1000 kms, France, 31 May – 1 June 2019

Race results:

  1. Pepper-Kane-Gounon (Bentley) 176 laps
  2. Molina-Aleshin-Rigon (Ferrari 488) +37s097
  3. Lind-Caldarelli-Mapelli (Lambo Huracán) +38s204
  4. Lynn-Kirchhöfer-Dennis (Aston Martin +39s313
  5. Werner-Campbell-Olses (Porsche 911R) +44s322

13. Weerts-Breukers-Nato (Audi R8 LMS) +1m46s724

19. Petit-Davies-MacDowall (Audi R8 LMS) +2 laps
DNF Vanthoor-Pz.Companc-Riberas (Audi R8 LMS) 1 lap (accident)

PHOTO: Patrick Hecq Photography