Image credit: Phoenix Racing.
Phoenix Racing delivered a brilliant recovery with drivers Niki Mayr-Melnhof and Markus Winkelhock in the Blancpain Sprint Series (BSS) season opener at Nogaro, France. After having started the main race on Easter Monday from the last grid position the Austrian-German pairing battled its way forwards to eighth place. In qualifying the team based in Meuspath at the Nürburgring had demonstrated the excellent performance of the Audi R8 LMS on clinching a position on the second row of the grid.
Following the previous track tests the Phoenix Audi had been perfectly set up for the 3.64-kilometre circuit at Nogaro. By finishing the first free practice session in third place Mayr-Melnhof/Winkelhock had managed a good start of the Easter weekend. In the second qualifying session the Phoenix duo, as the best Audi team, achieved the second-best time. Ultimately, Markus Winkelhock in Qualifying 3 did not manage a really perfect lap and qualified the number 6 Audi R8 LMS ultra for position four on the second row.
The setback followed right on lap one of the one-hour qualification race on Easter Sunday that Winkelhoff had to tackle from position six due to a grid penalty. After a spin following contact with another vehicle the Audi was standing perpendicular to the track and was massively hit by other vehicles particularly at the right front. That ended the race for the #6 Audi. For the Phoenix team the incident resulted in extensive repair work that lasted late into the night. “The team did an outstanding job, our Audi was running superbly again in the warm-up on Monday morning,” Phoenix GT Team Manager Bernhard Demmer praised the squad.
Niki Mayr-Melnhof started the one-hour main race from the last grid position and started a remarkable recovery. The Austrian showed a strong performance, making up five places, before turning into the pit lane for the mandatory driver and tyre change. After the pit stop, which the Phoenix team smoothly performed with typical swiftness, Markus Winkelhock continued the recovery, setting the second-fastest race lap and overtaking five vehicles in the process. The former GT World Champion saw the chequered flag in eighth place and at least scored the first points.
“The performance of our car at Nogaro was absolutely top-class, particularly in practice and qualifying we were extremely strong,” said Niki Mayr-Melnhof. “Unfortunately, the first race was over for us shortly after the start. From the rear things were going pretty well for us in the second race and in eighth place we were at least able to limit the damage.”
Round two of the Blancpain Sprint Series will be held at Brands Hatch in the UK on 9/10 May. However, Ernst Moser’s team will be racing again earlier, in the Blancpain Endurance Series (BES) season opener at Monza, Italy, on 11/12 April. The Phoenix trio of Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase and Christian Mamerow will be driving a new next-generation Audi R8 LMS.