The #58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S of Shane Van Gisbergen, Rob Bell and Come Ledogar has won a frantic opening round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at Monza.
Held at a brilliantly sunny Italian track, the massive grid of 56 cars managed to just about snake their way through the tricky first chicane with pole-sitter Dominik Baumann in the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG hanging onto his lead from the snarling pack of GT3s behind.
He’d hold that lead for a good chunk of the early running, but the Pro-Am Black Pearl Racing Ferrari with Daniel Keilwitz on-board had other ideas and he snatched the lead from Baumann to put his 488 into first position in front of a happy Italian crowd.
Keilwitz would sit in first position until the first round of pitstops where the size of the field can have an impact on the field. Coming out of the pitbox towards the exit first was Jazeman Jafaar who’d taken over the #84 – but he had an issue switching off the pit limiter and in his rush to switch it off, stalled the car.
That provided a golden opportunity to Come Ledogar in the #58 Garage 59 McLaren he’d taken over from Rob Bell who duly stretched into the lead of the race. Thankfully for Jafaar, he managed to get the car going again in second place, with the Black Pearl car in settling for third after the pit crush.
Those positions would stay generally fixed with the Mercedes and McLaren fighting tooth and nail for the first Endurance Cup victory of the year with Maxi Buhk in the Mercedes sitting behind the rear wing of V8 Supercar star Shane Van Gisbergen in the 650S.
Lap after lap, Buhk would make darting moves up the inside only for Van Gisbergen to parry the attacks away and remain cool and collected in the heat as the chequered flag fell.
He said: “This was crazy! It was a little bit frustrating with all the traffic, but we all had the same problem anyway. The battle for the last 30 minutes was pretty cool. He had a couple of good goes there, but I really enjoyed it. It was pretty tense, I can tell you that. It’s a good thing that we come away with a win on a track where we thought we would not be strong.”
For Buhk, second place sees the entry he shares with Baumann in all the Blancpain GT Series races – including the Sprint Cup – go to the top of the points table as Laurens Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS had to settle for ninth place after having a rather mediocre race.
Buhk added: “I got close to passing Shane when he was slowed down by a lapped Lamborghini, but it did not work out. That was the closest I got to taking the lead, I think. It was a great race, and I am happy with second as well. When I heard over the radio that Vanthoor had hit trouble, I knew I could score important championship points here, so I did not try anything stupid to pass the McLaren, we just had a good fight.”
Claiming the last spot on the podium was the Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek, Wolfgang Reip and Maxime Soulet which had a clean, if unremarkable, race to the podium. Picking their way through the traffic, the trio showed the big Bentley could be potent this year.
“I only heard minutes before the start that I had to do the opening stint, so that was a bit of a surprise to me. I was a bit worried by the Ferraris in front of me, for they have a great straight-line speed, but I managed to overtake them,” said Soucek, he added: “When I was behind the Nissan of my friend Lucas Ordonez we had a good scrap and I thought it wise to wait for his tyres to degrade so I could overtake him. The Bentley proved to be amazing all through the race.”
The next race of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup is at Silverstone on May 14/15.