Dries Vanthoor and Marcel Fässler claimed their first Blancpain Sprint Series win of the season in the #5 Audi Club Team WRT, controlling the race from start to finish over 34 laps at the Hungaroring.
Pole-sitters Vanthoor and Fässler built up and maintained a comfortable gap to the #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart to secure their place at the front of the grid for tomorrow’s feature race. Jake Dennis and Pieter Schothorst took third for an Audi double podium.
Overall championship leaders Vincent Abril and Steven Kane failed to score points for the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport, allowing Bortolotti and Engelhart to inherit the series lead. Sprint Cup title favourites Maxi Buhk and Frank Perera extended their lead at the top, courtesy of a solid fourth-placed finish in the #84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport entry.
Vanthoor takes early lead, Buhk goes backwards
Assuming responsibility at the start, Vanthoor kept ahead of a racy Bortolotti into Turn 1, before eking out a five second gap by the time the ten-minute pit window opened. Dennis in the #3 Audi kept in close contention after sliding past Buhk in the opening lap for third place.
Overtaking was always going to be tricky, however Buhk found himself going backwards in the first stage of the race – a sense of deja-vu for the German, as another Audi swept past round the outside of Turn 1, this time it was Robin Frijns who relieved the 24-year-old of fourth.
As Vanthoor continued to pull away at the head of the field, Buhk slowly reeled Frijns back to within striking distance; the Dutchman struggling with his tyres near the midway stage of the hour long race.
Yet, he wasn’t the first of the front-runners to pit – Buhk and seventh placed Abril sensed an opportunity to avoid the squabbling pack at the top of the Pro-Am class, handing the reins over to Perera and Kane respectively.
At the other end of the spectrum, Bortolotti and Vanthoor held off pitting for as long as possible, their lap times consistent and competitive. The former blinked first, with Engelhart assuming the final charge. In fact, Vanthoor waited until the very last moment to swap tyres and driver – the Belgian pushing until the end, determined not to let a season’s first victory slip from his grasp.
His work had paid off, Fässler having the luxury of a clear track ahead of him and breathing space to Engelhart behind him, as the Swiss sports-prototype supremo settled into his stride.
Vanthoor watched on from the Audi garage, chewing fingernails and hopping across to the pit wall intermittently as Engelhart shaved tenths off of the gap, but he had no need to worry; Fässler delved into a second wind to ensure a second straight Qualifying race win for Audi – bringing them level at the top of the Sprint Cup Teams’ standings with HTP Motorsport.
Pro-Am: Mattschull and Ferrari prance to victory
The #333 Rinaldi Racing partnership of Alexander Mattschull and Daniel Keilwitz led the #39 Kessel Racing team of Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo van Dam to secure a 1-2 for Ferrari in Pro-Am, after passing the #83 AKKA ASP Mercedes of Jean-Luc Beaubelique and Jules Gounon for the category lead in the second half of proceedings.
Beaubelique’s miserable afternoon was completed in a lowly position, after contact with Frank Stippler’s Audi at Turn 5 sent him into a spin.