The GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen and Mirko Bortolotti claimed a well-earned victory in the final round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at the Nurburgring. However, the bigger news came from the Garage 59 McLaren team who won the drivers’ title for Rob Bell, Come Ledogar and Shane van Gisbergen.
The start of the race was typically frantic with 54 cars all fighting for the best position in turn one and the biggest loser from the accordion effect brought by that many cars fighting for such little space was the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin of Jonny Adam which was spun round by the AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 of Duncan Cameron. The Aston would continue, but near enough last.
That said, it could have been worse as Andrew Watson hit the barriers hard in the #59 Garage 59 McLaren 650S and had to retire on the spot. With that, and other cars going off including the IMSA Performance Porsche 911, the decision was made that the safety car should come out to allow marshals the chance of recovering the numerous cars scattered about the place.
When the track went green once again, there was drama for the championship leaders as the #58 Garage 59 McLaren – which was in the hands of Rob Bell – as they hit the back of Marco Bonanomi’s Sainteloc Audi R8 LMS down at the Dunlop Hairpin and received a drive-trough penalty for causing a collision.
It would get worse for the McLaren crew as an hour later – at the halfway point of the three-hour sprint – they had a bit of door-banging with one of the Black Falcon Mercedes AMG GT3s and had to come in to replace a punctured rear-right tyre which dropped them down to 30th. That meant Duncan Tappy – subbing for Shane van Gisbergen this weekend – and then Come Ledogar had to hold station in the knowledge that as long as the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes couldn’t climb any higher than fourth place the Endurance Cup title was theirs.
With the GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Christian Engelhart fighting with Laurens Vanthoor in the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS, and Alex Buncombe lying in third trying to join in the fun in the Nissan GT-R, there was no opportunities for Maxi Buhk to haul the Mercedes onto the podium.
After the race, McLaren ace Rob Bell said: “I still can’t believe that we are the champions, certainly not after the way things went today. I have to thank the whole of the team, they worked very hard this season. I still can’t believe I made a small error, and I have to admit that at that point I thought it was all over. But somebody once said to me that sometimes you have to win ugly, and we won ugly today.”
Garage 59’s victory was more remarkable for team manager Bas Leinders who has claimed the title as a driver with Marc VDS Racing and now as a team manager.
Away from the title winners, it was important to remember there was a strong race for victory ongoing in the last 30 minutes of the race as Engelhart – in his first Blancpain GT Series race – was having to fight as hard as he could to stop Vanthoor from swooping past and claiming the first win for Audi in the Endurance Cup this season. Try as he might, Vanthoor couldn’t get past and would have to settle for second place in the car he shared with brother Dries and Frederic Vervisch.
That however, wasn’t the drive of the day as the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport crew of Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Vincent Abril went from the back of the grid – 54th place – all the way up to ninth and a well-deserved top ten place.
In the Pro-Am Cup, the title went to the Kessel Racing team of Michael Broniszewski, Andrea Rizzoli and Alessandro Bonacini who survived onslaughts from the rest of the mammoth grid and from inconvenient full course yellows to hold on in the face of ISR Racing. Afterwards, Bonacini said there was no way they’d lose their grasp on the title: “I wanted to win this Cup very badly, because we came very close a couple of years ago and finished second. Now we did it, and this is a great sensation, because I can keep this feeling all through next year. It was hard though, and I could not believe my eyes when I saw the Audi in front of us at the beginning of the last stint. But Andrea did a perfect job in catching them again.”
Finally the AM Cup honours went to Liam Talbot, Marco Zanuttini and Vadim Gitlin, to make it two trophies out of three for Ferrari teams as they fought off the challenge from Team AKKA ASP which was always going to be an easy battle as soon as the latter decided to not compete in the Spa 24 Hours. Although, Gitlin was convinced he and his colleagues would win the title as soon as they failed to finish at Monza.
He explained: “I had never raced at the Nürburgring before, so it was very difficult for me. I knew we had to keep seventh position to claim the Am Cup and that was exactly what I did. This is an important win for min, for it is the first time I win a championship. It has been a dramatic season, because we did not finish the first race and I had a tough stint in Monza. But I don’t know why, at that moment I became completely convinced that we would the Cup this year. And here we are.”
The final round of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup is at Barcelona on the first weekend of October where the overall Blancpain GT Series titles will be decided.