Headline writers were spoiled for choice when it came to the Sepang 12 Hours winning crew. Laurens Vanthoor put any lingering doubts about his fitness firmly behind him in his first race back after a horrifying shunt at Misano by twice passing Christopher Mies’ Phoenix Audi in the closing stages, while Stephane Ortelli brought the curtain down on his glittering Audi career in the best possible fashion on the top step of the podium.
By no fault of his own, the efforts of WRT’s third driver on the day, Stuart Leonard, were somewhat overshadowed; not that they should have been however, the Brit defying the treacherous rain and stifling heat to mark his first appearance in the Audi R8 LMS with a victory.
“It was fantastic, you couldn’t ask for a better debut with Audi and WRT,” Leonard reflects. “I’ll never enter a race if I don’t think I have a chance of winning and I knew there was a possibility, but like any endurance race, there’s so much you have to take into consideration. If you look back to the early stages, the Clearwater Ferrari was looking very strong, but then they had their problems which allowed us our chance.
“I was very nervous because Stephane and Laurens are both very reputable drivers and I was under pressure to perform, but WRT did a fantastic job, my team-mates helped me out and together we pulled through.”
Since their partnership was first established in 2012, a Vanthoor-driven WRT Audi has time and again shown the rest of the field a clean set of heels. For Leonard, who has campaigned a Prodrive Aston Martin Vantage under the Leonard Motorsport banner with mixed results, the opportunity to join the Belgian outfit was too good to turn down and quickly vindicated by the events of Sepang.
“As much as I tried with my team and with Prodrive, for one reason or another it just didn’t quite work out,” says Leonard, whose sole win in Pro-Am came on home turf at Silverstone last season. “To be honest the Aston wasn’t great down the straights because of the BOP – if you looked at us coming off the corners, particularly at Paul Ricard at the Aston, even at Spa, we were slower than the BMWs which are renowned for being slow in a straight line.
“WRT’s record speaks for itself in terms of its results and the way the team is run, it’s incredible to be a part of it and watch them work. The Audi was definitely a big step forward, extremely well-balanced, good traction off the corners and within a lap I felt extremely comfortable. You can really feel the aero working, it handles really well and sounds quite different as well with the V10. It’s a very impressive piece of kit, Audi have done a very good job on it.”
One month on from that first victory, Leonard is aiming to start 2016 in the same vein as he ended 2015 at the Dubai 24 Hours. Once again, he will be partnered by Audi ace Vanthoor and regular co-driver Michael Meadows, with bronze-rated Frenchman Alain Ferté – who raced legendary Group C machinery including Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguars, the Sauber-Mercedes C11 and Peugeot’s Evo 1B in his heyday – also stepping in to fulfil Creventic’s Bronze criteria.
“Of course [the win is the aim], we wouldn’t turn up otherwise!” says Leonard. “Mike is very impressive, he’s always been able to get up to speed very quickly on new circuits and in new cars, and I think the Audi will be better suited to his style given his success in Carrera Cup. I don’t expect there to be any issues, I’m confident that he’ll do a good job and learn a lot from Laurens.”