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Blancpain Endurance Series: Audi Victorious at Le Castellet

The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS No.1 of German duo Christopher Haase and Christopher Mies and Stephane Ortelli (MCO) secured overall victory in an incident-packed race at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Light rain fell just before the start but cleared by the formation lap and the action began on a drying but greasy track surface. Rain was never a factor in the race unlike at Monza and Silverstone in the opening two rounds.

For the winners overall, the Audi R8 LMS No.1 of Christopher Haase, Christopher Mies and Stephane Ortelli, it was a satisfying result. “This is great not just because of the podium but we also came ahead of BMW. I really think this comes down to the team, they gave us such a great car,” Mies said.

“Our strategy and pit stop were brilliant and at the correct time and all this together combined to this excellent finish.

“This wasn’t a normal race for me, right from the start to the end we were really pushing extra hard; now we leave with some good points.”

The 2011 PRO teams’ champions led home the 2012 season pace-setters Bas Leinders, Maxime Martin and Markus Palttala in the No.3 Marc VDS Racing BMW Z4. It broke a sequence of four straight wins in Blancpain Endurance Series races for the Belgian team.

“I have been racing here many times but never with so many cars so it is a good feeling to win here in such tough competition,” Ortelli said. “I am pleased for my co-drivers and for the team. We have a great family feeling at WRT.

It was a good comeback after a difficult Free Practice. I want to dedicate this win to my dad Jean who first brought me here in 1973.”

Third place went to the No.71 PRO Kessel Racing Ferrari of Italian trio Stefano Gattuso, David Rigon and Daniel Zampieri.

In fourth overall and first in PRO-AM was the No.52 AF Corse Ferrari of Niek Hommerson (NLD), Louis Machiels (BEL) and Andrea Bertolini (ITA). It was a stunning performance from 27th on the grid.

In the Gentlemen Trophy class, the Exagon Engineering Porsche 911 GT3 R of Christian Kelders and Daniel Desbrueres was transferred from PRO-AM Cup and was metronomic come race day. The pair became the third class winners of the season.

The Swedish JB Motorsport Audi R8 was second. The GCR Racing/Guy Dodge Viper exited in a ball of flames after an exhaust fire an hour from the finish.

The tale of the race was a string of retirements from the front runners. As a consequence, the finishing order both overall and in class had a fresh look about it as the incidents and accidents took their toll.

The No.2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS, with Edward Sandstrom at the wheel, stopped at T14 just eight minutes into the race. The car was pushed to the side of the track with transmission problems.

Sweden’s Sandstrom said: “I was coming round the back of the circuit towards the last corner and I just lost drive and couldn’t do anything.

“I’ve never had a problem with transmission in all my time with Audi so it’s a bit of a surprise. The car felt good and I was looking for a long stint and a good finish for the team. I feel sorry for the team and for my team-mates but it’s just one of those things I guess.”

Jerome Demay (FRA) in the Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 No.40 came to a shuddering halt at T14 after 20 minutes after a big contact with Mark Blundell (GBR) in the No.23 United Autosports McLaren MP4-12C.

Demay was sent into a spin courtesy of a rear puncture and the fast-approaching Blundell had nowhere to go and ploughed into the Audi with both cars suffering major damage.

Demay spun to a stop at the point of impact while Blundell parked a sorry-looking McLaren metres from the scene.

United Autosports team manager Richard Dean said: “Mark (Blundell) was going really well. He had moved from the P30s and running well into the top 20s and had made some strong progress so it’s a shame it ended like that.”

The accident brought out the Safety Car to allow debris to be cleared from the circuit with the pack making a dash to the pits for early stops.

From the highs of a PRO-AM class victory and fourth overall at Silverstone, the Blancpain Reiter Lamborghini No.24 experienced disappointment at Paul Ricard.

Starting from 20th position in class after a moderate Qualifying, Marc A. Hayek, President & CEO of Blancpain was struck by the Nissan GTR GT3 driven by Alex Buncombe with just one hour of the race distance completed.

The incident happened at the chicane at the second corner. The No.24 car suffered extensive suspension damage and was unable to continue.

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