Sven Müller. Matteo Cairoli. Mathieu Jaminet. Lechner Racing. Fach Auto Tech. Martinet by Almeras. Those are the three men, and their three respective teams, around whom the 2016 Porsche Mobil1 Supercup title fight revolved.
Each took their turn to mount the top step of the podium and each endured heart-break along the way. In the end it was Müller who emerged victorious after one of the closest fought Supercup seasons on record.
It was that very trio who composed the first podium of the season all the way back in May at the Circuit de Catalunya. Cairoli had the upper hand for the first two rounds, sweeping to success in Monaco as well and looking every bit the man to catch.
Neither Müller or Jaminet had a particularly stellar weekend in the principality, the former a lowly thirteenth and the latter fifth and off the podium. A third position for Michael Ammermüller was to be one of few highlights from the Lechner driver’s season. After being ruled out of title contention only by a monumental accident at Spa-Francorchamps in 2015, Ammermüller rarely looked to be on the ultimate pace in 2016. Third at the Hungaroring and second at Monza capped his rostrum tally, still impressive in a field as deep in talent as this.
The trip to the Red Bull Ring for the third race of the Supercup season was to be one of two significant flash-points that derailed Cairoli’s title bid. After claiming his third win on the bounce, a technical infringement resulted in the Italian being thrown-out of the results.
This effectively gift-wrapped the win for Müller and with Jaminet also on the rostrum, the impact on Cairoli’s championship aspirations would prove to be catastrophic. The Austrian GP weekend provided the first evidence that Jeffrey Schmidt (Lechner) would put together one of his most consistent campaigns to date. Two further third position results at Hockenheim and the finale at the Circuit of the Americas were the undoubted highlights, but 2016 appears to be the year when the quick but erratic Schmidt was able to harness that pace on a more consistent basis.
At the British GP support race at Silverstone there was the anticipated appalling weather, which allowed the GB guest contingent to star. It was Josh Webster and Nick Yelloly who provided the stand-out results, brining Team Project 1 a fourth and a fifth respectively on their return to Supercup competition.
The podium though, had a very familiar look. With a subtle twist. This time Cairoli was not the man stood atop the podium, he was actually at the bottom. Jaminet was on the middle step having been unable to convert his maiden series pole into victory. Thus a feisty Müller found himself on the top step and equalling Cairoli’s wins tally at two-all. Suddenly the thirteenth in Monaco was looking ever less relevant.
Robert Lukas (FÖRCH Racing by Lukas Motorsport) starred at the Hungaroring to claim pole-position, and he was only defeated in the race by Müller who now had the momentum in the title fight.
Jaminet meanwhile was about to come down to earth with an almighty bang. Excluded from qualifying, he then sparked a multi-car accident at the start, which would result in a further grid penalty for the proceeding race at Hockenheim. Cairoli was seventh and suddenly the battle seemed to have taken a definitive twist towards Lechner and Sven Müller.
Lukas couldn’t quite scale the podium heights in Germany, but was an impressive fourth. Jaminet was held back by his misdemeanours from a week previously and could only manage eighth. Meanwhile Müller had qualified on pole-position and was aiming to cement his position as the man-most-likely. Cairoli had other ideas and after a battling drive stole victory from Müller at the German’s home race.
Spa-Francorchamps was the venue for a notable return to form, as Christian Engelhart qualified a season’s best third and then maintained that position in the race. The MRS-GT Racing driver was absent at times in 2016, the opener in Barcelona a microcosm of sorts with Engelhart exiting a battle for fourth alone in the gravel trap. There or thereabouts but rarely right in the fight for success, where a man of his experience ought to have been.
Jaminet was another man returning to form at Spa, and in quite spectacular manner. After qualifying second he wrestled for victory with Müller and a subtle error by the latter gave Jaminet all the impetus he needed to steal a first ever Supercup success.
Cairoli recovered from a rare podium absence (fourth) in Belgium by claiming a fantastic home success in Monza. However, the race was marred by two spectacular airborne accidents.
The first involved a nightmare scenario for the Lukas Motorsport team, with three of their cars becoming entangled at the exit of the Parabolica. Chris Bauer lost control and a desperately unfortunate Patrick Eisemann struck his teammate’s stricken machine and barrel rolled. The guesting Pablo Sánchez López found himself into the barriers in avoidance to round out the Lukas horror show.
Whilst all three drivers escaped injury, there was more drama to come as Dylan Pereira (MOMO-Megatron Team PARTRAX) straight-lined the second chicane. Returning to the circuit he clipped Lechner driver Ryan Cullen, who found his own Type 991 GT3 Cup upside down and contacting a sponsors hoarding.
Cullen is a man it is worth taking a moment to discuss, highly impressive in only his second year of Porsche competition having exited the single-seater ranks at the close of 2014.
After Ben Barker exited to focus on his wider GT racing commitments, Cullen often flew the flag for the British contingent in a highly competitive field. Two mid-field results in Barcelona and Monaco were followed by a fantastic sixth in Austria in tricky conditions. Another top-ten at the Hungaroring was his final of the season, with a collection of finishes on the cusp of the first dozen completing his score-card. A third season in Supercup would more than likely see Cullen a consistent presence in the top ten, which would be something to savour.
Paul Rees (MOMO) didn’t always look as comfortable in Supercup has he had done in Carrera Cup GB but more than signalled his intentions for next season with a stunning seventh in the first race in Austin. Experience from 2015 definitely played a part in that result, so how Rees would perform with knowledge of each Supercup venue in 2017 is a fascinating prospect. Ditto his teammate Pepe Massot who only joined the order at Spa and then finished eleventh in a twenty-nine car field. The Spaniard’s recent racing has been marred by injury, so a return to full time competition and full fitness makes him another man to watch next year.
To the Circuit of the Americas for the now traditional Supercup season finale and all eyes were on the three heroes of the Supercup 2016 narrative. For one there was to be last-minute heartbreak, for another a case of too-little-too-late.
The first description applies to Cairoli who was doing all he needed to in the first race of the weekend, leading the field from the front and controlling his own destiny. A mechanical fault, so rare in Porsche one-make racing, robbed him of victory and ultimately his shot at the title.
Second the following day was insufficient to revive his hopes. Jaminet meanwhile scooped up victory from the heartbroken Italian on Saturday and then fought race long to do the double on Sunday. Yet all eyes during the season finale were focussed on Müller, who cruised to eight to claim the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup title for 2016. His mid-season run of victories and consistency had enabled him to claim the biggest prize in single-make racing.
Having also taken the Carrera Cup Deutschland crown, Sven Müller signalled in 2016 that he is a star of the present, and most definitely the future, in GT racing. Yet the achievements of Cairoli and Jaminet cannot be looked over.
Both joined Müller on a different level from the rest of the field in 2016 and deserve recognition for their individual successes. In a sense it creates a headache for Porsche looking to 2017, providing a package to keep the trio within their GT and World Endurance Championship ranks. Giving such talent to rival manufacturers would border on the ludicrous.
Supercup 2017 will look a little bit different, with a second generation Type 991 GT3 Cup being given its first run before migrating to national Carrera Cups. Mexico replaces Austin as the venue for the double-header season finale, but the journey there remains unchanged but for the absence of the German Grand Prix. Trying to second-guess front-runners is hard, but of the top three from 2016 only Jaminet would really be able to justify another shot at the crown. With Supercup staples like Ammermüller and Engelhart hopefully returning, alongside all-star debutants such as double Carrera Cup GB champion Dan Cammish, there is no reason 2017 can’t provide an even more enthralling contest in the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup.