A great final stint from Dries Vanthoor gave the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT victory in the opening Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup race of 2018 at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza on Sunday, with the Belgian overcoming the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes of Maxi Goetz in the final half hour.
Vanthoor had inherited the Audi R8 LMS in third place after the final stop after strong stints from team-mates Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas, and soon was into second as he passed the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan of Christian Engelhart before making big gains on the #43 of Goetz to run on the back of the German’s tail.
The race at the front was ultimately decided by two decisions from the stewards, with the first move of Vanthoor on Goetz deemed to have been illegal after running all four wheels off the track on the start/finish straight, and he was promptly asked to move aside for his rival to resume the position at the front.
However, the following lap the stewards made a different, more race-defining decision to penalise the #43 after a bang of wheels with the #1 heading into the first chicane, with Goetz asked to concede the position for not giving Vanthoor enough space as they ran side by side.
Once ahead, Vanthoor was able to pull away, winning by just over two seconds, and although Strakka will be disappointed to lose the win, their first European outing with their Mercedes-AMG GT3 was impressive, with Goetz, Maxi Buhk and Alvaro Parente competitive throughout the three hour race.
As exciting the battle for the lead was, the battle for third was also thrilling, with the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon of Yelmer Buurman passing Engelhart’s Lamborghini in the final ten minutes to take the final spot on the podium for himself, Luca Stolz and Maro Engel. The two cars were nose to tail for much of the final hour before the move was completed on the start/finish straight thanks to a better run off the final Parabolica corner.
The #63 did hang on to fourth despite the close attentions of the #54 Emil Frey Jaguar Racing machine of Mikael Grenier, who, alongside Alex Fontana and Adrian Zaugg, claimed an excellent fifth overall, but more impressively the victory in the Silver Cup class. Such was their advantage, the next best placed Silver Cup finisher was the #6 Black Falcon Mercedes in tenth.
There was disappointment for the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari team however, with Miguel Molina leading throughout his stint, while Mikhail Aleshin held onto that advantage for much of his stint before falling behind the #43 Strakka Racing machine, but the car was forced into the pits to retire with a mechanical issue when Davide Rigon was behind the wheel.
The #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari of Rinat Salikhov, Dominik Schwager and Alexander Mattschull claimed victory in the Pro-Am Cup class despite an early spin, while the #89 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes of Fabien Barthez, Eric Debard and Philippe Giauque took the Am Cup honours, more than a lap clear of their closest rivals.