More than five years after its breakthrough win at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa, Saintéloc Junior Team has returned to the top step of the podium at Hockenheim thanks to a popular victory for the #25 Audi line-up of Chris Mies, Patric Niederhauser and Lucas Légeret.
A stalwart of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS paddock, the French squad has often been in the fight for Endurance Cup glory only to hit problems during the closing stages. This was not the case today, however, as the #25 machine climbed from sixth on the grid to take an impressive overall win.
The Audi runners looked to be in control from the start. The #32 Team WRT entry led away from pole in the hands of Charles Weerts, while the second-place #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari was immediately under pressure from Mattia Drudi at the wheel of the #12 Audi. There was no time for the Italian to make a pass, however, as the race was neutralised on the opening tour following an accident that eliminated the #38 JOTA McLaren.
When racing resumed Weerts again made a clean getaway, while Drudi quickly put a move on the #71 Ferrari to take second spot. The Italian squad’s race met a disastrous end just a few corners later when the sister #51 car misjudged its braking entering the stadium section, resulting in contact that sent both into the gravel. The #71 was eliminated on the spot, while the #51 lost any chance of a strong result.
The next turning point came 10 minutes from the one-hour mark when Weerts went off the road, slipping back two places in the process as both Drudi and Jack Aitken (#63 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini) made it past. Initially it looked to have been a mistake, but when the Belgian went wide again a few moments later it became clear that the car had a serious problem.
Weerts made it as far as his scheduled pit stop and gave the #32 Audi to Kelvin van der Linde, but the South African pulled in to retire a lap later with suspected gear issues. Out front Drudi settled into the lead before handing over to Luca Ghiotto for the second hour, while the #2 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG held P2 with Steijn Schothorst at the wheel.
The Dutchman had his work cut out, however, as Mies had moved into third spot after taking over from Légeret. The experienced German driver applied the pressure and finally forced Schothorst into an error, diving past when the GetSpeed car ran wide.
Mies was on the move, reducing Ghiotto’s four-second lead to a little under two by the time he pulled in for the final stop. Patric Niederhauser took the wheel of the #25 Audi, while Ghiotto completed another lap in the #12 machine. The Italian then handed the Tresor by Car Collection entry to Christopher Haase, while Niederhauser was giving it everything to make the undercut work.
The Swiss driver did just enough. He edged ahead of the #12 machine as it exited the pits while former Saintéloc man Haase could do nothing but watch as the car he occupied for five seasons snatched the lead. Niederhauser had the pace to pull a gap over his fellow Audi Sport driver, while another member of the Ingolstadt factory ranks was third as Dennis Marschall (#66 Attempto Racing) continued the good work of teammates Kim-Luis Schramm and Markus Winkelhock.
The race was neutralised with 30 minutes left on the clock when the #11 Audi found itself in the barriers at turn 1. After a quick safety car Niederhauser led the field to green with the buffer of a lapped car between himself and the pack. The real action was happening behind as Haase and Marschall scrapped over second position, the latter finally making the pass with 13 minutes to go. All was not well with the #12 Audi, which dropped back due to a puncture and soon pulled into the pits. It was a cruel outcome for the Italian outfit, which showed so well for much of the race only to leave with nothing.
For Saintéloc, however, the long wait for victory was over. Niederhauser brought the #25 Audi home 2.6 seconds clear of Marschall, giving the Ingolstadt marque a one-one finish on home soil. Dinamic Motorsport flew under the radar on its way to a third-place finish, the #54 Porsche crew of Klaus Bachler, Matteo Cairoli and Alessio Picariello completing quietly impressive run to the podium that typified this team. The #2 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG took the chequered flag in fourth, followed by the #46 Team WRT Audi and the #63 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini.
Seventh overall went to the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini, which took Silver Cup honours thanks to a fine drive from Konsta Lappalainen, Stuart White and Mick Wishofer. White ran as high as fourth during the middle stint, keeping pace with seasoned pros such as Mies and Winkelhock. The #99 Attempto Racing Audi was eighth overall and second in class, while the #30 Team WRT Audi finished 10th on the road and completed the Silver Cup podium.
This was a significant result for the #30 crew of Thomas Neubauer, Benji Goethe and Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer, who have built a sufficient advantage to wrap up the Fanatec Endurance Silver Cup title with a round to spare, while WRT has secured the team’s crown. It follows the squad’s win at this year’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa and keeps Neubauer and Goethe on course to seal the combined Silver Cup championship.
Gold Cup honours went to the #7 Inception Racing McLaren, which snatched a dramatic last-lap victory from Herberth Motorsport. The #911 Porsche led much of the race only for a late puncture to hand victory to the Inception crew of Brendan Iribe, Ollie Millroy and Frederik Schandorff. This was a heartbreaking finish for the Herberth squad, with both HRT (#5 Mercedes-AMG) and AF Corse (#21 Ferrari) also getting by to complete the class podium.
Despite being the smallest class on the grid, Pro-Am produced the most exciting finish as Dominik Baumann (#20 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG) chased down Andrea Bertolini (#52 AF Corse Ferrari) all the way to the chequered flag for the win. Garage 59 had been dominant for much of the first two hours, leading from pole before being pegged back by technical problems. This left its class rivals to fight over the win, with the AF Corse crew of Bertolini, Louis Machiels and Stefano Costantini ultimately holding on to top spot.
While the Silver Cup is settled, the Pro-Am and Gold Cup championships remain up for grabs when the 2022 Fanatec Endurance campaign concludes at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (30 September-2 October). The overall Fanatec Endurance title will also be decided at the finale after both Akkodis ASP (#88 Mercedes-AMG) and Iron Lynx (#71 Ferrari) failed to finish today’s race, the former struggling for pace from the start and ultimately coming to a stop during the final hour.
Before that, however, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS will head to Valencia on 16-18 September for the deciding round of the Sprint Cup season. Champions will be crowned at the Spanish track, while the battle for the combined series title could also be settled ahead of the Barcelona finale.