6 Hours of Shanghai – Round 8/9

While the Chinese trip – which served as the penultimate round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (November 4-6), as well as the Audi brand’s involvement in Sport-Prototype – did not match their expectations, Benoît Tréluyer and his team-mates Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer are now looking towards Bahrain to end on a high.

Despite the announcement of the four rings’ withdrawal at the end of the current season, the Audi team remained in a hard-working mindset, as it was business as usual heading into the weekend for Doctor Ullrich’s men.

“We have an extraordinary team and even after the announcement, which obviously isn’t good for anyone, everybody is still extremely motivated,” said Benoît as he arrived at the gigantic Shanghai paddock. “There is sadness in the air, one can see it when you catch each others’ eyes, but everyone is making sure not to show it. A huge amount of work has been done heading into this event.”

Unfortunately, from as early as the first free practice session, it looked like the #7 Audi R18 was suffering from a mysterious lack of performance.

“We lose a lot on the straights and on corner exit,” explained the Alençon-born driver. “We are behind the sister car, but are quite happy with the chassis set-up as it gives us good speed in the corners. We sacrificed a bit of our performance in qualifying in order to benefit from new tyres for each stint. We noticed that degradation was quite high and it was difficult to regain grip on a set of used tyres. It is a characteristic of the Shanghai International circuit, but we haven’t experienced it to this extent before.”

Despite this, confidence remained high prior to the race. On long runs the car was capable of maintaining a good pace, with the Frenchman and his team-mates keen to demonstrate its full potential.

“André struggled a bit at the start of the race,” said Benoît. “The balance of the car and the grip weren’t good. Nevertheless, he managed to stick with the leading group. His second stint was better, even if the balance issues were still there. The team tried to solve them during André’s runs and, when I climbed into the car, it was getting better. I struggled a bit during the first laps, but some new adjustments worked and I began to understand how to drive the car. My second stint was really good and we were even quicker than the #8 Audi.”

Whilst it was running at the front during the opening stages, the #8 Audi suffered a setback as they encountered a refuelling issue, experiencing a flow smaller than anticipated and dropped a lap down.

“Oliver [Jarvis] in the sister car was a lap down, whilst we were fighting with the #2 Porsche and #6 Toyota,” reported Benoît. “Even if we were a bit far back, we were hoping to make some progress. However, Oliver didn’t understand the situation and hit me when I was overtaking some GT cars.”

Twenty-five minutes were lost in the pits to repair the air jack system, which was damaged during the contact. For Tréluyer, Fässler and Lotterer, the hunt for a podium finish was over.

“It is a shame for the team,” lamented Benoît. “At the time I was not happy at all. These are things that shouldn’t happen. Nevertheless, it did happen, and we need to move forward. We all make mistakes.”

Putting that behind them, the team will travel to Bahrain in less than two weeks (November 17-19) for Audi’s final race after 18 years at the top of Endurance racing. It is a date Benoît will not want to miss.

“I hope that we can solve the problem we faced here and will be able to use the full potential of the car,” continued the triple Le Mans winner. “We were less competitive than planned this weekend whilst Porsche and Toyota were better than we anticipated. Up until now, our predictions always came out to be true. We are going to double check our calculations and analyse everything in order to arrive in the Middle East with a car that is capable of winning. On paper, the Sakhir circuit is not ideal for a car competing in our megajoule class, but as our R18 runs well when temperatures are high, we hope to be in a good position.”

For one last time, Doctor Ullrich’s men will force back their tears… at least until the chequered flag.

“What we want is to win,” concluded Benoît. “We will let the emotion get to us after the race.”