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Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Wins Nogaro Main Race

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT secured a podium clean sweep this afternoon in the FIA GT Series Main Race on a wet Nogaro circuit. The Audi R8 LMS ultra of René Rast and Niki Mayr-Melnhof took victory after a close-fought battle with the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 of Sebastien Loeb and Alvaro Parente. Star of the race was Laurens Vanthoor who went from fifth to third on the final lap to complete an all-WRT podium in France.

Having raced in perfect weather conditions yesterday, the weather conditions today resulted in a safety car start for the main race. Pole sitter Sebastien Loeb, used to difficult conditions, kept his cool and when the safety car came in he pulled away from the rest of the field. Only Niki Mayr-Melnhof was able to follow Loeb and his McLaren.

Further down the order Ricardo Zonta (BMW), Sergey Afanasiev (Mercedes) and Matheus Stumpf were engaged in a battle and in the treacherous conditions the fight nearly got out of hand. Stumpf was pushed onto the grass by Afanasiev and was fortunate to stay in control and not spin off on the wet grass. Afanasiev was given a warning, but before he probably even knew he was off into the tyre barrier after making contact with Ricardo Zonta. The HTP Gravity Charouz driver returned, but was given a drive-through for the incident.

At the front Mayr-Melnhof managed to stay close to Loeb and as the pit window opened the gap was just 0.4s between the two drivers. After 17 laps Loeb came into the pits to hand over his McLaren to Alvaro Parente. Mayr-Melnhof moved into the lead and when he came in for his stop a lap later the extra lap plus a quick pit stop by the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT pit crew resulted in his teammate René Rast rejoining the race right in front of Parente and a repeat of yesterdays battle seemed to be on the cards.

However a message showed up on the timing screens that Parente’s teammanager would have to report to race control and as if that wasn’t enough Parente made a mistake at the end of the straight and tapped the right rear of Rast’s Audi. The Audi spun but rejoined and Parente moved into the lead. The next message on the screen was that the contact between cars 9 and 12 was under investigation.

What followed was an exciting end of the main race. Edward Sandström, in the #13 WRT-Audi that had started from the last row, was catching Alon Day in the third placed HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes and his teammate Laurens Vanthoor was putting in fast laps as well, rapidly catching the cars in front of him.

Rast did not give up after being spun and on lap 28 he was right behind Parente again as Sandström took third overall from Day with an audacious move. One lap later Parente was told to come in to serve a drive-through penalty, the penalty not the result of the contact but for Sebastien Loeb unbuckling his seatbelt before stopping the car.

As Parente came into the pits Rast took the lead. Unaware of the gap to the rest of the field Rast kept on going and eventually finished the race almost 12 seconds clear of his nearest rival.

An incredibly strong stint by Laurens Vanthoor resulted in the young Belgian taking third place. When Parente returned from his drive-through Vanthoor was still in sixth place, but soon after he passed Parente at the end of the straight. He then closed the lap and on the final lap he first passed fellow Belgian Enzo Ide before passing Alon Day just a couple of corners before the chequered flag. With Sandström finishing in second place Vanthoor secured an overall 1-2-3 for Vincent Vosse’s squad.

Nissan GT Academy Team RJN’s Lucas Ordonez and Alex Buncombe secured third place in the PRO-AM class and eight overall, a superb result for the squad after starting from 19th on the grid. The incident with the BMW Team India car in yesterday’s Qualifying Race resulted in a broken steering arm on the #35 Nissan GT-R. The team didn’t have the part available at the circuit and after calls were made last night a friend of Alex Buncombe brought it to the track today. After missing the warm-up session in the morning to repair the car Ordonez and Buncombe thanked the Nissan crew by securing a third place finish in the PRO-AM class.