In one of the most thrilling editions of the 24 Hours of Spa, Audi has clinched its fourth victory in the world’s biggest GT3 endurance race. After 3,824 kilometers, Jules Gounon/Christopher Haase/Markus Winkelhock had a winning advantage of 11.862 seconds. In a very balanced competition, four marques were battling for victory until the end and ultimately claimed the top four positions.
Audi Sport Team Saintéloc, in its first factory-backed commitment with Audi Sport customer racing, shone with a convincing performance. In the world’s toughest GT3 race, the number 25 Audi R8 LMS ran impeccably, its drivers having stayed clear of all trouble and ending the race without any sporting penalties. In the penultimate hour of the race, Christopher Haase chased leader Raffaele Marciello over several laps until the Italian pitted. Following his own final service and the stops of his rivals, the 29-year-old Audi Sport campaigner took the lead and went on to celebrate his first victory at Spa: “It was such a tough race. I could hardly get out of the car. This is a special moment in my career because this was a race I wanted to win at all costs. On the last two laps, I tried to reduce my pace a little and keep off the curbs. That’s how we did it.”
For Jules Gounon from France, this success marked the first victory he has clinched, both in this race and with Audi: “Sensational. I’m speechless. Audi and our team did a fantastic job. I can’t say thank you often enough – also to Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock. They drove sensationally. We had to fight like lions after having lost a lap due to a loose wheel nut. The strategists from Audi and Saintéloc Racing have played a major part in this success as well.”
Markus Winkelhock had previously won the iconic event in the Ardennes with Audi in 2014. This was the second 24-hour race victory claimed by the 37-year-old professional race driver this season, following his success at the Nürburgring in May.
Sébastien Chetail, who formed Saintéloc Racing in 2004, and his squad celebrated the first-ever 24-hour success in their team’s history.
Pre-race favourites included two other teams relying on the Audi R8 LMS. Audi Sport Team WRT took the lead on home soil with three different driver squads during the race. After three hours, car number 5 with Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Dries Vanthoor was the front runner, but on Saturday night a damaged brake pad forced the squad to make an unscheduled pit stop. From position 45, the trio battled its way back to eleventh. After nine hours, car number 2 with Christopher Mies/Connor De Phillippi/Frédéric Vervisch was running in front. However, time lost during a pit stop and an unfortunate on-track positioning when the safety car was deployed caused the driver trio to lose ground, ultimately clinching fifth place. They were trailed by Antonio García/Nico Müller/René Rast in the number 1 sister car. Although having run at the front some of the time as well, two sporting penalties cost the three pros a valuable time.
In the end, four Audi R8 LMS finished among the top ten. Audi Sport Team I.S.R. from Prague with Pierre Kaffer/Kelvin van der Linde/Frank Stippler achieved ninth place. Three privateer drivers in another Audi R8 LMS from Saintéloc Racing – Fred Bouvy/Christian Kelders/Marc Rostan – saw the chequered flag in fourth place of the AM classification and position 27 overall.