Frederic Vervisch and Laurens Vanthoor set Misano alight as they stormed to main race victory in their Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS at the first round of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup.
At the start of the race, the pole sitting Bentley Team M-Sport with Maxime Soulet had a nightmare opening lap as Phillipp Eng in the ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3 got past into the first corner and was quickly followed by Vervisch who was lying in third.
Things would get worse for the Bentley as an over-optimistic Dries Vanthoor in the #4 Team WRT Audi tried to fly down the inside but would just end up punting the Bentley into a spin dumping Soulet down into last place. Vanthoor, for his efforts, would be given a drive-through penalty.
That would leave the battle for the lead – temporarily – a two-horse race as Eng lapped in clean air and battled defiantly against Vervisch who couldn’t quite string together a run good enough to get past the BMW.
A bigger battle was taking place a few positions down the order as Marco Seefried in the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 458 Italia started to become something of a rolling road-block in sixth place as Stef Dusseldorp in the second ROWE BMW and Frank Stippler in the ISR Audi tried everything in their power to get past the Ferrari.
Lap-after-lap the pair would be stuck behind the Ferrari without much hope of getting past. The order was only shook up when Will Stevens in a Team WRT Audi got past the BMW and then combined brilliantly with Stippler to stream past Seefried. Dusseldorp was the biggest loser in that move as he remained stuck behind the Ferrari, he wasn’t their long though as he was tapped into a spin by Niki Mayr-Melnhof in the Phoenix Racing Audi and dropped down the order.
Back at the front the Audi got up into the lead with an inspired piece of driving as Vervisch pulled alongside Eng and utilised every inch of track limits in his Team WRT machine as he stayed around the outside of the BMW through turns 4 & 5 and then ran onto the run-off area to keep his speed up to move past Eng.
With one position relinquished, Eng had a battle on to make sure he didn’t slip further down the order as former Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes AMG GT3 did everything in his power to get through into second place.
By the time the pit window opened the top order remained Team WRT from ROWE Racing and AKKA ASP and it was Vervisch who blinked first to hand the car over to rapid GT racer Laurens Vanthoor who had but one objective – keep it fast, keep it first.
That seemed to do the job for the Audi as it set off into the distance with Maxi Buhk, who had taken over the car in fourth position after a good stint by Dominik Baumann in the HTP Motorsport Mercedes, settling into second place at a distance where he could take immediate advantage from any minor mistake from Vanthoor.
The biggest battle remained the one for third, which had enjoyed a temporary reprieve during the pit stop. Now, it was reigning Euro F3 champion Felix Rosenqvist in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes who was fighting to get past Alexander Sims in the #99 Rowe BMW.
It appeared for long stretches that Sims had just enough grunt to keep his nose ahead but a robust overtaking move by Rosenqvist – leaning on the BMW – saw him claim the last spot on the podium. It seemed as though the Swede was set on third place, but just one minute from the end of the race he pulled off the track and retired the Mercedes.
While all this was going on, the true drive of the day was from Bernd Schneider in the #86 HTP Motorsport who drove valiantly alongside team mate Jules Szymkowiak to move the car up from 37th to 7th as the flag fell.
At the front Vanthoor’s margin of victory would be just 1.6 seconds from Buhk, who tried valiantly to catch the Belgian but could have done with an extra couple of laps to have a better chance of letting something happen. Third would be Sims in the #99 BMW, and fourth would go to Garage 59’s Alvaro Parente and Rob Bell who had a great – if unremarkable – drive up the order to gain some valuable points after their engine issues in the qualifying race yesterday.
The next round of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup is at Brands Hatch on May 7/8. The next round of the wider Blancpain GT Series is the first round of the Endurance Cup at Monza in two weeks time.