Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor won again in the first Championship Race of the new FIA GT1 World Championship season at Nogaro, as Belgian Audi Club Team WRT repeated their 1-2 finish from Sunday's Qualifying Race.
Ortelli held the lead at the start in the No. 32 Audi R8 LMS from the sister No. 33 car driven by Frank Stippler. However, the German pilot lost second place during the opening lap after Toni Vilander passed him around the outside in the No. 3 AF Corse Ferrari 458.
Finland's Vilander had already shown his pace in the Ferrari after putting it on pole in the qualifying session on Saturday, and looked as though he could provide a challenge for the Audis. Those hopes turned to dust however when he was handed a drive-through penalty after being adjudged to have jumped the start.
Ortelli stopped just before the half way stage of the race, handing over to his Belgian co-driver Vanthoor. Jarvis came in a few minutes later, and his co-driver Oliver Jarvis came out just in front of Vanthoor and into the race lead.
Vanthoor, making his GT racing debut this weekend after switching from F3, immediately applied the pressure and looked for a way to regain the lead. He eventually found a way past just before the three-quarters mark of the race. From there Vanthoor streaked away to claim a double victory, 3.7 seconds ahead of ex-DTM racer Jarvis.
“I never expected, even in my best dreams, that we would achieve this result at the first race,” said Vanthoor. “I am still quite speechless, but I think it is because we did a great job, we worked hard together, and we did a lot of testing.
“Audi have put a lot of effort into it, as well as Belgian Audi Club WRT, and then the co-operation with Stephane, everything is going the perfect way at the moment. I am really happy, this is one of the most beautiful victories I have had, so I hope we can continue in this direction.”
Ortelli added: “For sure it is great to win, but Frank and Oliver did a great job as well. All the week we have been testing, sharing the information, we are looking strong because we know how to share the job. We have really experienced drivers, I really like the team, and for the rest of the season I think it is looking very good, it is very special.”
Jarvis crossed the line with the two All-Inkl Mercedes SLS AMGs in his mirrors, with one-time Grand Prix leader Markus Winkelhock bringing the No. 38 he shared with Marc Basseng home in third ahead of the sister car of Thomas Jager and Nicky Pastorelli.
Both Mercedes were embroiled in the battle for best of the rest honours throughout the first half of the race. Gregoire Demoustier held fourth place behind the Audis and Vilander early on, but with a train of cars behind him he was eased off the track by Enzo Ide in the second of the Ferraris. Ide himself then struggled to keep those behind him at bay, with fast-starting local man Mike Parisy getting past in his Exim Bank Team China Porsche.
Parisy's start was too fast for the stewards' liking though and he was given the same penalty as Vilander. Ide was promoted into third when Vilander and Parisy served their drive-throughs, but then fell behind Basseng. Ide and Pastorelli both pitted as soon as the pit window opened, and the Munnich Motorsport crew behind the All-Inkl entry turned their car around quicker than the AF Corse boys, allowing the Mercedes to get out in front.
Ide's co-driver Francesco Castellaci took the checkered flag in fifth behind the two Mercs, with Filip Salaquarda maintaining the two-by-two formation in the other Ferrari in sixth.
Peter Kox delivered a storming drive in the second half of the race to finish seventh in his Reiter Lamborghini he shared with WTCC racer Darryl O'Young. Next up was the team's other car, with Tomas Enge recovering ground after Albert von Thurn und Taxis dropped like a stone at the start from third on the grid back to 15th.
Matt Halliday was ninth in the Parisy car, ahead of the two BMWs run by the Vita4One Racing Team. It was an unexpectedly quiet weekend for the multiple FIA GT champion team run by Michael Bartels.
12th and 13th were the two Valmon Racing Team Russia-entered Aston Martins, with Maxime Martin and Alexey Vasiliev's No.7 having run inside the top ten until a drive-through penalty for crossing the white line at the end of the pitlane.
It was a terrible end to a difficult weekend for Hexis Racing and their McLarens. Demoustier was forced into retirement mid-race with electrical issues in the No. 2 he shared with factory driver Alvaro Parente. Frederic Makowiecki had already retired the sister car three laps in, having made a storming start from the back of the grid after co-driver Step Dusseldorp had binned the car on his way to the grid for the Qualifying Race.
The WRT team will hope for another dominant performance at round two on home soil at Zolder in Belgium on 20-22 April.