Tradition is tradizione, and one more year, the grandiose Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, one of the world’s temples of speed, will host the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup. In truth, the historic track near Milan has been rebranded “Monza Eni Circuit” as from this year, owing to its new title sponsor, but its substance hasn’t changed, and neither has the special atmosphere surrounding it. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT travels to Italy determined to fight for a win that has been always elusive in the Lombard track, certainly not one of the most favourable to the Audis R8 LMS. Having reduced its number of entries to 2 in order to improve efficiency, the Belgian squad is hopeful to be successful in an Endurance Cup whose level is even higher than in previous seasons. Dries Vanthoor-Álex Riberas-Christopher Mies and Stuart Leonard-Robin Frijns-Sheldon van der Linde compose the top-level line-up of the Belgian outfit.
Team Principal Vincent Vosse is more determined than ever ahead of the Endurance Cup season-opener: “It is always a pleasure to go to Monza, although this is one of the few circuits, together with Silverstone, where we have never won. We had podium finishes but we never won. It’s a speed track that favours cars with more power, but the Audi has progressed a lot and we think we can do well there. It will entail a ‘full-attack’ approach to the weekend but we are ready for that. The decision to reduce the number of our entries to two cars in the Endurance Cup was deliberately taken to allow focusing on being more effective and competitive. This year again, the endurance Cup will be extremely well-attended, with 54 cars expected at Monza, and the level has further risen. There are a lot of good teams with great drivers around, but we too are well-equipped, as proven by our line-ups”.
In car #1, experience and speed are perfectly balanced, as Dries Vanthoor and Christopher Mies are joined by Álex Riberas. Two weeks after debuting with the team at Zolder in the Sprint Cup, the Spaniard, who knows well endurance racing, will now make his first appearance with the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in a 3-hour race. Dries Vanthoor, who could not hide his disappointment for how things developed at his home round in Zolder two weeks ago, is now completely focused on the challenge ahead: “Zolder is now completely behind us, it went how it went, and it’s history. Monza is going to be a great fight, of a different kind. We know that we will have to compete against cars with higher top speed and that the track is going to be very crowded, but we have a good car and excellent line-ups. We had the possibility to test there some time ago and had very good feedback. Still, it is going to be a weekend that will require to go flat-out since minute one of free practice. We will need to qualify well and stay out of trouble; if so, we have chances of doing well.”
In car #17, two other stalwart drivers of the Belgian squad, Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard will be associated with a new recruit, Sheldon van der Linde, who will make his debut with the team. The younger of the two South-African siblings is anxious to be in action. “I am really proud to join a top team so successful as the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and to drive alongside Robin and Stuart”, says the 19-year-old from Johannesburg, “I am not as experienced as them, but I am sure everybody will help me learning fast. I am very excited ahead of this season and I think we can get strong results. Testing at Monza end of March was very useful, as I hadn’t raced there before. It’s definitely a track that suits my driving style.”
Sporting Director Thierry Tassin confirms the positive outcome of the recent test at Monza: “It was a very useful session, and also our only pre-season test without rain!” Thierry also draws the attention to a key change introduced in the Endurance Cup: “As from this year, the qualifying time of each car will be determined by the average of the best lap times of each of the three drivers, who each will have at their disposal 15 minutes and a set of new tyres. This may change things a bit and stresses the importance of having top and balanced line-ups. For the rest, with 54 cars entered, pit stops will have to handled very carefully, as the pit lane is going to be very crowded, especially in case of safety-car or full course yellow. Similarly, the start is going to be a delicate moment, especially at Monza, where first corner is a tight chicane.
The event format is over two days, with free practice and pre-qualifying on Saturday and qualifying on Sunday morning. The 3-hour race will kick-off at 15 hours.