Image credits: Phoenix Racing
In the Audi R8 LMS ultra Laurens Vanthoor (B), Markus Winkelhock (D) and Marco Mapelli (I) only had to admit defeat by a razor-thin margin of two seconds in the twelve-hour race at Bathurst. The sister car of Phoenix Racing with Christopher Haase (D), Stephane Ortelli (MC) and Felix Baumgartner (A) took ninth place, which made them the second-best Audi team in the strong GT3 field in the iconic 12-hour race on the unique 6.21-kilometre Mount Panorama Circuit in Down Under, 200 kilometres west of Sydney.
The black #15 Audi sporting typical kangaroo graphics in which Laurens Vanthoor had clinched the pole position on setting a new lap record immediately took the lead after starting from the top spot on the grid. On the 29th lap Markus Winkelhock, at 2m 03.3091s, set the fastest lap of the race as well. In a race in which the safety car was deployed 20 times the last safety car period also produced the decision. In a sprint towards the chequered flag across merely two remaining laps the powerful Nissan overtook both the Phoenix Audi and the Bentley. Vanthoor, who drove the final stint, managed to recover second place in a remarkable manoeuvre in the final corner.
“Australia was again worth a visit. The race remained thrilling all the way to the final turn. Obviously, we’d have liked to win but we’re more than pleased even with second place,” said team boss Ernst Moser, who had won the Bathurst 12 Hour with Phoenix Racing and Audi in 2012. “We had a very good pace but when the heat set in we were slowed down a bit by a minor performance loss. Both driver teams did an outstanding job and deserve a huge compliment, particularly Felix Baumgartner to whose performance I take my hat off. He tremendously stood his ground. But the team, as well, did an absolutely impeccable job. It was simply superb. I can only thank everyone who made this commitment possible and who supported us. We definitely want to come back.”
Laurens Vanthoor, the reigning champion of both Blancpain GT series, drove the last two stints, totally exerted himself at high air temperatures and the corresponding heat in the cockpit and closed the gap to the Bentley that was leading the race some of the time. However, when the race was re-started for the final sprint he had no chance against the Nissan but still managed to secure second place on the last metres. “Of course I’m a bit disappointed that it wasn’t enough for victory. I gave everything, really everything. But we were lacking a bit of top speed while we were battling for victory with the Bentley, plus the Bentley cleverly defended itself. In the end, the Nissan just blew past me. At least, I managed to advance from fourth to second in the final turn. We’ve earned this trophy.”
Markus Winkelhock wasn’t completely sure either whether to feel pleasure or frustration. “We barely missed our aim although we were so close to it. Our Audi had perfect balance. Unfortunately our performance dropped a bit when the heat set in around noon. We were lacking a little top speed at that time and overtaking became difficult. But Laurens (Vanthoor) still recovered second place in the end. All of us are happy with that and Bathurst was again great fun. Plus, we’re taking a nice trophy home.” Marco Mapelli was happy about that too. “Those were twelve hours of intense racing. We gave everything but it wasn’t quite enough for victory. I can only thank everyone. It was a tremendous experience.”
The #16 Audi of Phoenix Racing that was sporting distinctive graphics, a green crocodile, as well established itself in the pack of front runners after starting from position 13 on the grid too and was also in contention for a podium place some of the time. In the end, the R8 of Christopher Haase, Stéphane Ortelli and Felix Baumgartner crossed the finish line after 268 laps in ninth place, with a gap of barely one lap.
“I’m very pleased,” said extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner following his second major endurance race after the Nürburgring 24 Hours. “This was a tough job and I learned a lot. Phoenix Racing was perfectly prepared and did an impeccable job on all four days here at Bathurst. We kept developing and I became faster and faster. Our Audi also also held up well in a couple of minor incidents, which are inevitable in this race. This race has whetted my appetite for more and I’m hoping for other opportunities to race with Audi and with Phoenix Racing.”
Stephane Ortelli was impressed as well. “This is a fantastic event and a great track. We had a perfect car and became faster and faster. Chris (Haase) drove very good stints and Felix (Baumgartner) really impressed me. We’re the second-best Audi team here. That’s tremendous, and I definitely want to come back.”
For Baumgartner, Ortelli and Haase this marked the first run at Bathurst. “For us rookies, ninth place is a very good result. We made no mistakes and had a steep learning curve,” said the two-time winner of the Nürburgring 24 Hours Christopher Haase. “We were running well and were even in contention for a podium place some of the time. But then the engine temperatures went up as the heat outside was increasing. That made it tricky to sacrifice slipstream in order to improve cooling and to still maintain your position. Taking second place in this tough competition and providing the two best-placed Audi cars is a remarkable result for the team. It’s been extremely good fun and I’m hoping for a new opportunity next year.”