May 31st, 2016: Tony Bates and Miguel Molina have driven their Audi Customer Sport Racing Australia R8 LMS to seventh place outright in the opening round of the 2016 Australian Endurance Championship, the Phillip Island 101, staging a determined fightback after a tyre issue threatened to derail their campaign.
Bates and Molina qualified fourth and factory Audi DTM driver Molina took the start, becoming involved in a hot contest with fellow professional drivers Shane Van Gisbergen, Bruno Spengler and Craig Baird in the opening stint.
Molina pitted from fourth position to hand over to Bates, who rejoined in an effective second position once other teams had completed their first pit stops. Settling into a rhythm and recording consistent times, Bates became involved in a dice with Peter Hackett and was able to hold out the Mercedes driver for a number of laps.
Unfortunately, Bates’ solid stint was interrupted with a right-rear tyre puncture on lap 41 which forced him into the pits. The team elected to conduct the second compulsory pit stop at this stage and Bates rejoined in 24th.
Not to be discouraged, the Porsche Carrera Challenge front-runner drove one of the finest stints of his career, remaining in the car for another 43 laps – over 90 minutes of total driving time – and elevating the car back up to fifth before a final stop to hand the car back to Molina for the 18 lap sprint to the line.
Resuming the race in 12th position, Molina drove a blinding last stint, which included the fastest lap of the entire race on lap 93, to haul the Audi R8 to seventh at the chequered flag.
“That was one of the most satisfying races of my life,” an exhausted Bates said after the race.
“After 63 laps in the car, I’m knackered but very pleased with our performance today.
“The tyre puncture meant we had to change our strategy on the run, and I had to stay in the car for much longer than we were planning, but I felt really comfortable in the car and I was able to punch out some fast times once I had clear track.
“Just before the last stop, another tyre was starting to go down which cost us some more time, and a Safety Car at that stage would have worked perfectly for us – in fact, it was extraordinary that we completed a three-hour race without a single Safety Car.
“It’s always one of those situations where you ask ‘what if’ and there’s no doubt that without the tyre issues we would have been right in contention for the win, because Miguel was by far the fastest driver on the track in the last stint.
“Considering the calibre of the drivers in the field, seventh is still a good result and a solid bundle of points for our Australian Endurance Championship campaign.
“I’ve fallen in love with the Audi R8 and I can’t wait to drive it at more events this year but I’m still focused on fighting hard for the Carrera Cup Challenge title as well,” Bates concluded.
The next round of the GT Championship is at the Townsville 400, 8-10 July and the next Endurance Championship round is at Sydney Motorsport Park, 26-28 August.