In a weekend “filled with ups and downs,” new GT3 Teams’ championship leader Haas RT felt a win was potentially in the offing at the Hankook 12H ESTORIL.
Words – James Gent
Images – Nico Mombaerts
Haas RT believes “the pace to win was there” with its Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II after a frustrating 24H SERIES weekend at Estoril.
The Antiguan team, already a race winner this year at the European season-opening Hankook 12H MUGELLO, led more laps than any other team bar outright winner WTM by Rinaldi Racing across both the Hankook 12H ESTORIL and its 6H Qualifying Race prelude, but secured just one podium finish after a number of mechanical problems struck. The team’s 6H Qualifying Race was marred first by a puncture and a post-race penalty en-route to 3rd place overall, while the #21 Audi was retired altogether from the Hankook 12H ESTORIL after a difficult run.
All the more frustrating, given that Haas RT led the victorious WTM by Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 during the opening stages of both the six-hour and the 12-hour races.
“A weekend filled with ups and downs,” the team explained in an official statement. “After qualifying in P2 we managed to end the 6H Qualifying Race in P2, with a time penalty dropping us to P3 in the end, meaning we lined up in P3 for the 12-hour race.
“Lots of positives to take from the weekend. The pace to win was there, and the mechanics put in a great effort to be the fastest crew out there. Nevertheless we are left with an empty feeling.”
Hankook 12H MUGELLO winner Mathieu Detry and Audi factory driver Frédéric Vervisch were joined by Gregory Servais in Estoril, the trio sealing a front row start for Friday’s 6H Qualifying Race just two-tenths shy of polesitter WTM. Having maintained his position at the start, Vervisch thereafter kept WTM’s Krumbach in his sights until the first Code 60 of the six-hour event was called on lap eight. A rapid turnaround by Haas’ mechanics during the resultant flurry of pit stops meant the Audi R8 leapfrogged into the lead shortly afterwards, Vervisch going on to lead the race outright for 31 laps collectively. Sadly a left-rear puncture would drop the Audi out of the top 10 and two laps behind the WTM Ferrari.
A stellar comeback drive for Vervisch, Detry and Servais was marred only by an odd collision with PCR Sport’s Mercedes-AMG GT4 heading into turn nine – the contact ended up breaking the #418 Mercedes’ front left steering arm and damaging the suspension – and a 42-second time penalty, served for exceeding the speed limit during Code 60. Believing the penalty to be incorrect, Haas RT ultimately opted not to serve it, and eventually finished 2nd overall to the WTM Ferrari, 25 seconds ahead of Kessel Racing’s own Ferrari 296 GT3. The penalty was however deemed to be valid, and, when carried out post-race, dropped the Haas RT Audi to 3rd in the 6H Qualifying Race.
The following day’s Hankook 12H ESTORIL got off to a similarly impressive start as the day before, Vervisch moving past Kessel Racing’s Alessandro Cutrera into 2nd on the opening lap and undercut the WTM Ferrari during the first round of pit stops. Impressively, the Antiguan team completed its pit stop more than a minute quicker than WTM.
The #21 Audi R8 would this time only lead six laps however, as the effects of the previous day’s contact with PCR Sport was finally felt when the Audi’s rear left bearing failed. This lengthy repair – during which Haas RT replaced the entire rear left hub – cost 17 laps and dropped the Audi to the very back of the field. Brutally, after a consistent comeback run to 11th, the #21 Audi was once again brought to a halt when the gearbox started to develop problems with less than 90 minutes left on the clock.
Ironically, though Haas RT did not go the full distance in Estoril, points for a classified 6th in-class were still enough to propel the series newcomer to the top of the GT3 Teams’ championship, just two points clear of nearest rival CP Racing heading into the European season finale – the Hankook 24H BARCELONA – on 15-16-17 September. Mathieu Detry also leads the GT3 Drivers’ standings by two points over CP Racing’s Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Shane Lewis.