Champaign and breakdown service in the Ardennes
There was no rest having just completed the 12 hours of Bathurst, The team switched their focus to the penultimate round of the NEO Endurance Series at Spa Francorchamps. The Belgian Grand Prix Circuit is always a lot of fun for the drivers and offers long straights and many opportunities for overtaking. With only one roud remaining at the famous Le Mans circuit, all the teams were battling hard to position themselves for the best possible starting position at the last race with double points on offer.
The qualifying took place at the same time as the opening hours of the Bathurst race, which made it quite tricky for the drivers to split up for both tasks. Netherless, our Prototype team managed to take yet another pole position driven by Maximilian Benecke with a time of 2:04,003. Our GTE teams also managed to have great qualifying runs with the #71 PRT Blue car starting from 2nd and the #72 PRT Red car from 4th. The strong qualifiying results made the team very positive about securing top results in the upcoming race.
A great start and opening laps by Max in the prototype meant he could really show his dominate pace and lap by lap increase the lead to the chasing Evolution Racing Team car. In the GTE class, our #71 PRT Blue car with Max Wenig starting from second used the draft of the pole setter Mitchell DeJong to immediately make the pass on the #81 VRS Coanda car right after the Kemmel Straight into Les Combes. Patrick Heinrich driving the #72 PRT Red car also had a great start and safely held onto his 4th position right behind Ricardo Castro Ledo in the #79 Core Simracing car.
Everything was looking really good for the team having broken away from the rest of the field. Unfortunately the situation didnt last long. As the Prototype traffic started to come through problems began to strike. A HPD dived down the inside of the Core Simracing car into Blanchimont and made the driver go wide and lose his car due to lack of grip off the racing line. Unfortunately the car spun to the inside of the track right into the #72 Red car with no chance of avoiding the incident for Patrick Heinrich. Both car’s made contact and ended up in the wall, with both cars retiring from the race.
If that wasnt enough bad luck for one race more was to come!, the #71 GTE Blue car after having slightly pulled away from the VRS Coanda car in 2nd started to hit some troubles as the tire temperatures started increasing rapidly and ultimately made the gap melt down to nothing. While the two vehicles were going side by side into the Les Combes corner complex contact was made resulting in a spin for Maximilian Wenig in his #71 Blue car with a loss of time of about 10 seconds. Luckily, the cars were fine, and both could carry on without any issues. Max Wenig found himself back in third position behind the Thrustmaster Mivano GTE car.
The #7 Prototype car of Max Benecke & Patrick Wolf did a great job throughout and extended its lead even more as the race went on. Both did their laps without any major issues and dealt with traffic perfectly. The #71 PRT GTE Blue car decreased the gap to the Mivano car in front and finally, with Jonas Wallmeier behind the wheel managed to overtake the Italian team. However, the distance to the leading Ferrari with Joni Takanen as its second driver was too big and there was no way to close down the gap pace-wise with the time remaining.
In the end, there was also some minor trouble with the Prototype car. Patrick Wolf behind the wheel came up on a slower GTE who just lost it at the exit of turn 14, Campus, and spun to the inside of the track hitting the side of the HPD and pushed it into the wall. With substantial damage, the team decided to pit for repairs immediately and lost about 40 seconds in total. This made the fight back to the lead seem impossible at the tim. Netherless the two drivers of Patrick Wolf and Max Benecke gave it everything they had and managed to close up the gap to the leader.
Surprisingly for both drivers, they managed to successfully get back into the lead with just five laps remaining of the race. They brought home their 5th win in 5 races, just 2.3 seconds in front of the Thrustmaster Mivano Prototype car and 2.4 seconds of the Core Simracing car, which apparently is an incredibly close finish.
The #71 Blue GTE car, however, was not able to close down the gap to the Coanda Car and came home in well-known second position with MSP Phoenix being the first Ford of the season to step on the podium in third place.
Overall, the fifth round of the NEO Endurance was a success for the team, even though our #72 GTE Red car collects another DNF, We still managed to bring the Prototype car home again in first place with maximum points which gives them a comfortable lead in the championship going into the final round at 24 hours of Le Mans and takes some pressure of the drivers. With their second position, the GTE Blue team has now made the big pass in the championship securing P2 of the overall standings. Theoretically, there is still a chance of winning the GT championship, but with the VRS Coanda #81 car having a 51 points lead, chances are slim and we will need a lot to happen on the French street circuit.
With the 24h race being at the same time as the Sebring race in the Blancpain GT Series, the team again has to deal with task conflicts during the opening stints of the race, but we are positive that our drivers are capable of such a challenge and looking forward to the final round of the NES.
Thanks a lot to Jamie Wilson for the HPD pictures!
Watch the broadcast here: