HTP Motorsport’s Maxi Buhk and Franck Perera dealt with an early restart to pull away from the field and claim victory in the Qualifying Race for the opening round of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup at Misano.
Starting second, they held onto that position on the opening lap and – when the race had to be red-flagged because of a crash involving at least seven cars – benefitted from race leader Marco Mapelli pitting just before the restart to race away from the sister Mercedes-AMG GT3s behind him.
On that opening lap polesitter Mapelli, in the Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, held onto his lead during the first lap. However, a crash that appeared to start with the Team WRT Audi R8 LMS of Will Stevens who was either tapped into a spin – or span by himself – saw the car lying broadside on the short back-straight coming out of turn six and in the darkness a number of drivers didn’t see Stevens until it was too late.
As the dust settled it became clear that cars including the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek, the Strakka Racing McLarens of Jonny Kane and Alvaro Parente as well as the #19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Norbert Siedler were all involved in some way.
The subsequent clean-up led to a twenty minute red flag as the marshals did a great job cleaning up the circuit. When the race did restart Mapelli dived into the pits just before the race went green with a fuel pressure issue.
With an open circuit ahead of him, Buhk pulled away from the field behind with his HTP Motorsport team-mate Dominik Baumann slipping from second to third on the opening series of corners, before being spun to the back of the field at turn eight by AKKA ASP Mercedes driver Raffaele Marciello.
Just before the halfway mark, Buhk pitted the car from the lead and handed over to Perera – who showed in qualifying just how fast he could be – and he duly kept a buffer of at least 3s to his other HTP team-mate Fabian Schiller, who was the leading Silver Cup runner after a lightning opening stint from co-driver Jules Szymkowiak.
Michael Meadows would take up the charge in the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes – handed over by Marciello – but found himself a rather isolated third at the finish.
The real fight in the final third of the race was the battle for fourth. Christian Engelhart in the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini was a cork in the bottle and found himself at the mercy of Andrew Watson in the #59 Strakka McLaren 650S. A few times the Northern Irishman would dart up the inside of the German but he couldn’t make the move stick.
Watson would have to keep an eye behind as Vincent Abril in the #7 Bentley started to close and looked to move up from sixth place.
The battle would run until the penultimate lap of the race. Engelhart and Watson were side-by-side trying to lap Reiter Engineering’s Caitlin Wood going into the final corner, but the Australian mis-judged how far up the side of her the battling pair were and partially shut the door on them, sending her and Watson into the gravel with Engelhart losing a handful of places.
Reigning Sprint Cup champion Enzo Ide would be the main beneficiary of the collision as he finished sixth in the Team WRT Audi he shares with Chris Mies.
The Main Race takes place tomorrow at 11.30am UK time.