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May 5th, 2012
Loic Duval, Marc Gene and Romain Dumas took advantage of the Audi R18 Ultra’s superior speed over its in-house rivals to deny the e-tron hybrid version victory on its debut, as the German cars finished 1-2-3-4 in Saturday’s Spa six hour race.
The second round of the World Endurance Championship was completely dominated by the four Audi machines, but the superior pace of the #3 Ultra car in the dry meant that Duval, Gene and Dumas scored a hard-earned but deserved win over their team-mates.
The race began in wet conditions which gave the four-wheel drive e-trons a distinct advantage when the hybrid power kicked in over 120km/h around the soaking sweeps of Spa and Tom Kristensen, in the #2 car initially led from the #1 car of Andre Lotterer.
The duo swapped positions on lap three and Lotterer quickly established a lead, the pair followed by the conventional ultra cars of Marco Bonanomi (#4) and Gene (#3).
The two hybrids pitted first and stayed on intermediates for their second stints, but former Peugeot driver Gene, in his first race for Audi, changed to slicks in a smart move that provided the catalyst to begin a spirited pursuit of the e-trons. This was further assisted by a right front light problem for Kristensen’s #2 car, forcing a regulatory nose change and costing the car 45s, dropping it to third.
Gene closed the gap to Lotterer over the remainder of his stint before handing over to Duval who delivered a supreme performance to move ahead of leader Benoit Treluyer, now in the #1 car, mid-race as the ultra’s superiority took hold.
Not long after Duval had taken the lead, two safety car periods, the second because of a massive shunt for the LMP2 Norma at Eau Rouge, ensured the #3 car had a comfortable gap to its rivals thanks in part to its fortuitous track position.
After that it was a question of Dumas bringing the car home in the final two stints. The two Frenchmen now lead the drivers’ championship.
Marcel Fassler brought the #1 car home second more than a minute behind Dumas after a late stop for tyres – still an impressive result for the all-new flywheel hybrid machine.
Jarvis also stopped late on in the #4 car he shared with Bonanami but took third ahead of the Sebring-winning crew of Kristensen/Allan McNish/Dindo Capello which endured a catalogue of issues through the race. These included that nose change, being delayed by the safety car, a small off when the Scot was at the wheel and finally a late-race stop-and-go penalty for a pit infringement. In the end, the crew that came into the race as championship leaders was nearly three laps off the lead.
Behind the Audis, Rebellion won a spirited battle among the petrol runners as Nicolas Prost brought the #12 Lola home fifth overall. Nick Heidfeld put in a strong middle stint in this car to move it ahead of Pescarolo’s Dome in the mid-race at a time when the Strakka HPD was also in the hunt.
The Dome, driven by Sebastian Bourdais and Nicolas Minassian would finish 16th after problems late on, which meant the sister Rebellion car of Andrea Belicchi and Harald Primat finished sixth ahead of the Nick Leventis, Jonny Kane and Danny Watts for Strakka.
Sam Hancock and Simon Dolan took a well-deserved victory for the Nissan-powered Jota team in the LMP2 class after inheriting the lead late-on when Robbie Kerr pitted five minutes from the end to take on fuel.
The ADR-Delta car had led for much of the race, having taken pole, though Jota’s Zytek had always been within striking distance.
The GT race was settled in enthralling style as Richard Lietz’s Felbermayr Porsche held off Gianmaria Bruni’s AF Corse Ferrari by less than a second as they raced past the chequered flag.
The Porsche had established a strong lead in the wet early stages, but Bruni’s late-race pursuit meant the result was in doubt right to the end.