As the initial 6 hour race drew to a close, another contestant was towed back to the pits, not making us feel any better, just less alone. Our crew worked like terriers on a fox hunt, allowing us to restart the second phase on time with me at the controls. Similarly Rob Bell, Kareem and Alvaro Parente’s McLaren had fixed their engine as well and were on the grid behind us. In fact, 100% of the grid, some patched, was back together and all 21 cars began the second phase.
Our core strategy was to run the brake pads to their limit and try to refuel only the mandatory 4 times required by the rules, hoping the strong competitors with thirstier steeds would need to pit a 5th time. However, we were 35 laps down, so we needed to persuade the Taliban to ambush all the leading competitors for us to have even the remotest chance of a good outcome.
The United Autosports squad utilized the last 40 minutes of the first race plus the 90 minute break (30 of which is used to re-grid for the beginning of the second 6 hour part of the race) to get the entire gear box replaced, plus new discs and endurance pads.
Our front pads, having suffered from doing 95% of the braking job in the first 6 hours without the effect of a first or second gear to slow the car, were shot despite being endurance pads. Rob Bell was in the McLaren behind me, and I was starting the race in P19 – I passed 2 GTX cars going into Turn 1 and felt the car was back in good shape, well balanced, passing one of the Ferraris at the start of the second lap.
Several corners later the engine cut down to 4,500 to 5,500 revs no matter which gear we were in. I pulled over, switched everything off and re-fired. Everything felt fine, until half a lap later the same issue occurred. After 2 or 3 of these awkward stop-start laps, Eric Petersen and Ella called me in for some diagnostic work and a fresh battery. After the examination, they sent me out again and we were trouble free for no more than a lap, so I returned for installation of new ECUs, which were immediately successful.
Our nightmare was that we’d need a great deal of luck to even finish in the top 15 now. I was able to run times ahead of all but the top 5 or 6 cars, but the man who saved the day was, The Bratt Wurst when he jumped in for the second night shift. He was doing 20+ seconds a lap quicker than the car in P18, four laps ahead of us and hauled him in like a military drone. Once his tires were at the one hour mark he’d hauled in the P2 car with 15 minute fresh tires and harassed him to death for his final ten minutes, proving this Audi has the punch and paunch to waddle with the best GT3 cars in the field.
Our infectious disease quotient was maintained as soon as Matt started his last stint, with the power steering going on vacation, necessitating a quick stop to try to fix it and followed by a real garage stop to replace the power steering motor a few laps later. We have encountered more obstacles in this race in all the practice stints and qualifying. Truly mystifying. No tsetse fly, malaria or venereal disease, but just about everything else went wrong in this race.
In the end, we’d converted to a fun strategy and closed the race out with 3 short 45 minute stints, sharing the remaining time equally. Alvaro Parente also demonstrated why he’s a McLaren factory driver by ripping up the field’s lap time from way down in P20, just a spot behind us (a whole lap). Then his teammate Rob Bell went right out and set the race’s purple lap a few minutes later. There was a great deal of camaraderie out there, very few lunatics trying to prove they can ruin your race and a good cross-section of top flight GT3 drivers.
Each of our stints, despite not vying for anything after our frequent pit and garage detours, provided each driver the chance to knock on one of the race leader’s door. John and Matt had their turns and by coincidence I caught up and got stuck behind the P4 running Ferrari. Best, closest, longest nose-to-tail racing experience I’ve ever had. The Audi ate the Ferrari alive in the technical areas, but never in a straight line. I managed to pass once by diving down inside a corner, but couldn’t keep the car on the track exiting the apex, so he was able to regain the position. At the checkered flag we’d somehow managed to extort 2 GTX cars’ positions, so we registered P17.
A combination of wonderful fun, good competition and remembering that if the car’s gremlins hadn’t chosen to tiptoe into our garage today, we probably would have ended somewhere in the P3 to P5 area at the end of the Gulf 12 Hour.
Next race is Bathurst, Australia, also in the Audi R8 Ultra. Just as a suggestion, never set foot in the Ferrari World structure.
Missed the beginning? Check out Gulf 12 Hour, Part I