If over twenty-four hours ago you’d thrown a glance at the starting grid for the 2012 24 hours of Spa, chances are your money would have been on a BMW victory. After all, three of the top five qualifiers (and three of the top four Pro category qualifiers) were Beemers.
Granted the grid had been decided by an incomplete qualifying session, heavy rain moments before the Super Pole session causing a wash–out and thus reducing any competitors’ chances of improving their grid position to dust. Even considering that though, it would have been a brave man who’d bet his shirt on the #16 Audi Sport Performance Team Phoenix entry secure outright victory from 29th on the grid. And with a lap in hand. Turns out though that a full day of competition – and at the limit – is nothing if not unpredictable.
Polesitters Mathias Lauda, Gregory Franchi and Frank Kechele in the #66 Vita4one Racing Team Z4 were barely out of first gear when the #3 Marc VDS Racing Team BMW of Markus Palttala, Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin had nailed their move into the lead on lap one, disappearing quickly into the lead thereafter.
By the end of the first hour, and having avoided the earlier chaos, the #3 Z4 already had a healthy 2m 5s lead. Andrea Piccini, Rene Rast and Frank Stippler in the #16 Audi R8 meanwhile had already made up 15 places in the opening 60 minutes.
As the front running Lauda/Franchi/Kechele and Stephane Lemeret/Jeffrey van Hooydonck/Jeroen den Boer (#36 DB Motorsport) BMWs began to fall back, so the Audi Sport machines started to streak forward with renewed vigour, the occasional deluge transforming the track surface to ice aside. Come the end of the second hour, Audi Sport held second, third and fourth, Piccini/Rast/Stippler just creeping onto the final podium spot ahead of the sister #2 car of Marco Bonanomi, Edward Sandstroem and Laurens Vanthoor.
Good strategy and a bit of luck had played their parts, no question, but clearly the Phoenix boys – having risen from the depths – weren’t finished yet. By the tenth hour, they’d taken the lead.