Maxi Buhk, Dominik Baumann and Jazeman Jafaar have won a Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup race that was filled with 180 minutes of non-stop action, taking the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG across the line just seconds ahead of Laurens Vanthoor’s Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS.
The start was as frenetic as might be expected with so many cars taking to the Silverstone tarmac with a number of little incidents punctuating an opening lap in which the top 10 stayed in starting position and stayed out of trouble.
Punctures and bodywork damage led to both the #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan GT-R and the #100 Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 visiting the pits early doors with the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 having to make a longer visit to the garage with looked like suspension damage at the left-front.
None of that would worry the leaders as Mirko Bortolotti kept his nose clean starting from pole and kept a good eye on his mirrors to make sure Franck Perera in the second place ISR Racing Audi R8 LMS didn’t get close enough to make life awkward as Maxime Martin tried to move forward in the #99 ROWE Racing BMW M6 from his position in third.
The first sign the race could be getting a bit feisty was shown by Clemens Schmid in the #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG who was closing in on the #7 Bentley Continental of Guy Smith. The Mercedes was closing all the way down the Wellington Straight and at Brooklands the Austrian decided to make a lunge down the inside of Smith and the result was contact and a spin for the Crewe-built machine resulting in the Bentley slipping out of the top ten whilst Schmid climbed up in to fifth place.
Also battling for a position rather aggressively, albeit without the contact, was fellow HTP Motorsport driver Dominik Baumann who decided to pick a fight with the #99 ROWE BMW which was settling into third place. Baumann wasn’t fazed by the BMW’s handy display of defensive work and got through and onto a podium place at Club Corner.
It tended to settle down after that, the Emil Frey Jaguar G3 of Stephane Ortelli slipped from fifth down to eighth, but everyone seemed to be holding position and watching as Franck Perera closed in on Bortolotti for the lead of the race. It appeared the Audi would get through down the Wellington Straight after the Lamborghini was baulked by traffic at Aintree allowing the Audi to close right in. However, a brilliant display of safe but robust blocking by Italian Bortolotti meant the status quo was maintained.
That battle was closing the gap from third to the two leaders as Baumann closed the gap down to one second but again traffic played its part in the battle and the Mercedes driver couldn’t close up far enough to cause trouble for the leading pair.
However, even the lead battle was being disrupted by traffic as Perera found himself trapped behind a stubborn #488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 which was just a bit too fast to be too easily overtaken and stretched the gap between the pair by an extra second.
It didn’t matter that much though as pitstops were starting to filter through and the #99 with Maxime Martin aboard was the first of the front runners to pit as the BMW dived in from fifth place and handed over to Alexander Sims. He was quickly joined by Frederic Vervisch in the #1 Team WRT Audi who passed the car over to Dries Vanthoor.
While those behind were pitting, the two leaders stayed out for the maximum time they were allowed with Perera pulling slightly further down the pits than Bortolotti. That will be important in a few words time as Rolf Ineichen in the Lamborghini managed to extend the lead by a few seconds as Henry Hassid was held in the pit box a fraction longer by traffic filing down pit lane.
That delay allowed Vanthoor to swoop into second place and relegate the ISR car into third. Indeed, Hassid wouldn’t be able to keep up the early pace of Perera and would slip down the order overall, but retain the lead in the Pro-Am class, but that would change as the race came to an end – more on that further down.
Hassid was slipping down because HTP were moving up. Jazeman Jafaar had taken over the #84 and was up and on the back of the Team WRT Audi and was clearly not content on staying in third place for long. Indeed, Luciano Bacheta in the #85 sister Mercedes was also moving on up into fourth place and forming quite the double act at the sharp end of the massive 52 car field.
As the second hour got well underway, Vanthoor made the best use of that big grid and as the battle for the lead compressed in the traffic, the Audi driver made an attack at The Loop and claimed the lead with Jafaar following the Belgian through to relegate Ineichen into third.
Vanthoor didn’t have time to savour his lead though as Jafaar dived up the inside of the R8 and snatched the lead away.
After that, the second round of the Blancpain GT Series tended to settle into a nice rhythm with the lead ever so slightly increasing as the Mercedes fell into a nice consistency with its lap times. At one point the lead increased to 5.5 seconds as the final round of pit stops saw the expert mechanics carry out their finely honed routines.
In the final half an hour the race went from exciting to a bit weird, a routine safety car intervention for the #42 Ferrari which tangled with a Porsche and decided to park the car at the exit of Club Corner with damaged suspension was very standard for a time but when the incident was over and the safety car was due to come in it turned its lights off and looked like it was going to come in, it didn’t – twice. It appeared as though the lapped traffic that was waved through didn’t catch up to the pack fast enough and race control were unsure as to whether the safety car should come in, or stay out.
Never mind though, as the safety car intervention set up a brilliant final ten minutes in which Maxi Buhk in the #84 was battling to hold on to a lead that Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 was desperately trying to snatch away. In third, Jeroen Bleekemolen in the pole-sitting Lamborghini was trying his best to catch up to the lead but the Huracan was suffering in traffic that was being less than obliging.
They would cross the line in that order, with Philipp Eng holding on to fourth place in the face of very stiff competition from Indy Dontje in the #85 HTP Motorsport car, but the Dutchman couldn’t get past the big BMW.
A bigger battle though, would be in the Pro-Am class as Maro Engel hammered the Black Falcon Mercedes past Jonny Adam’s Oman Racing Team Aston Martin and Philippe Giauque’s #74 ISR Racing Audi to take the class victory on the very last lap. To add insult to injury for Giauque, Adam also slotted the Aston up into second and Oman Racing Team’s first podium in the Blancpain GT Series.
In Am Cup, the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 of Stef Vancampenhoudt and Pierre Ehret led when it mattered and fought off the Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari to claim victory.
The next round of the Blancpain GT Series is the third round of the Endurance Cup at Paul Ricard at the end of June.