It’s been a while since Markus Winkelhock last tasted victory when he went up to the podium balcony at the Nürburgring. Even podium finishes were hard to come by a year ago, but that is all history now. A week after the German drove to glory in the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, the one-time Formula 1 driver returned to the top step of the podium in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup race at Zolder after he already picked up the third-place trophy on Saturday after the qualifying race.
“The start wasn’t bad,” Winkelhock says about the beginning of the big points-paying race. “From my point of view, it looked like the Mercedes made a jumpstart from the first row because he overtook [Stuart Leonard], who was the pace-setter, so that wasn’t perfect.
“I was able to overtake Leonard into the first corner, but was still in P3. Then the Mercedes got a drive-through, and I could follow the ISR Audi as it was on the same pace. At some points I was a little bit faster, but it’s so difficult to overtake.”
No matter how hard Winkelhock tried, he wasn’t going past Clemens Schmid in the white Audi on the track. The decisive moment would come during the pitstops, the place where WRT has made the difference numerous times.
“I tried to just stay behind him and hope for another good pitstop like we did in the last races. It worked out: I came in directly behind him and we had a fantastic pitstop. We gained the position and were leading the race.
“It was an almost perfect weekend, with two podiums: third and first. I’m very happy.”
Audi’s win didn’t come as a surprise to Winkelhock, who saw the signs going into the weekend.
“I did expect Audi to be this strong because we’ve got a better Balance of Performance and the last couple of years this was always an Audi track, they were always fast here. I expected us to be definitely stronger than the last weekends.”
After the struggle that was 2016, the former FIA GT1 World Champion seems to be back up to speed.
“[Winning] the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring is something really special, but to be on the podium a few times in a row is very nice, especially after last year when I had a really bad season with a lot of bad luck.
“It’s always nice for your confidence when you know the pace is still there. I hope it continues like this.”