Belgian Audi Club Team WRT completed a dominant Blancpain GT Series weekend at Misano with a one-two finish in the 60-minute Sprint Cup race. The podium was completed by the #25 Audi R8 LMS of Sainteloc Racing, with last year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa winners returning to form ahead of this year’s 70th edition of the endurance classic.
As with Saturday evening’s opening race, the #1 Audi R8 LMS of Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas secured the top step of the podium at the Italian venue. With the #2 car of Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens following them home, it was a perfect outing for the WRT squad.
For the second race in succession, the Belgian squad’s win came despite an AKKA ASP Team car leading much of the opening stint around the 4.2km Misano circuit. The #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Raffaele Marciello started from pole and held his advantage into turn 1, while Mies made up ground early on by getting past Franck Perera’s Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for the second spot.
Marciello quickly built up a gap of 1.5 seconds over Mies, and it remained this way for several laps. But, as the stint progressed, Mies began to erode the Italian’s advantage slowly. Marciello then made an uncharacteristic mistake when he ran too deep into a corner and damaged the front of his Mercedes-AMG GT3. While it was not enough to end his race, it would harm his chances.
Mies quickly pounced on the wounded Mercedes, flying past Marciello and into the lead. The German driver then began to pull away before ducking into the pits to hand over to crewmate Riberas.
Marciello remained on track for another few laps, but the damage to his car left the #88 AKKA machine unable to compete for the top positions even after he had handed over to Michael Meadows.
Riberas pulled out of the pits with a very healthy lead, with the #2 machine now his nearest challenger some eight seconds behind. Vanthoor had been involved in a closely-fought multi-car battle during his stint, before handing over to Stevens for the second half of the race.
The British driver emerged into a much calmer situation than his crewmate, with Riberas well up the road and the #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS not close enough to pose a serious threat.
Christopher Haase had been aboard the #25 car during the opening stint and was part of the same competitive all-Audi fight as Vanthoor. After the German driver handed over to Simon Gachet, the Sainteloc car emerged in third position. While the Frenchman was unable to challenge Stevens for P2, he was equally untroubled by Steijn Schothorst’s fourth-placed Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS.
Out front Riberas completed a calm and collected stint to win by just over 10 seconds from Stevens, capping a memorable weekend for the WRT squad.
Riberas had this to say about the race, “We had a fantastic car this weekend, fantastic team spirit, fantastic mechanics and, obviously, I have a fantastic teammate. We have increased our lead in the championship and that’s very good news ahead of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.”
Having travelled to Misano searching for a first Sprint Cup win of 2018, the #1 crew leave the circuit with a pair of first-place trophies.
The podium was completed by the #25 Sainteloc-Audi, with Haase taking a top-three for the first time since winning last season’s Total 24 Hours of Spa and Gachet claiming his maiden Blancpain GT Series podium. The Audi dominance continued in fourth place, with Schothorst next across the line in the #66 Attempto machine he shares with Kelvin van der Linde.
But fifth spot, as well as a hard-fought Silver Cup victory – belonged to an AKKA ASP Mercedes. Having performed brilliantly on Saturday before a technical problem ended their race, the #87 machine of Nicolas Jamin and Denis Bulatov made amends on Sunday with an impressive run. “We started from P12, and third in class, but managed to take P5 overall and the Silver Cup win. It’s a great achievement and I’m especially happy for the whole AKKA ASP Team, as everybody kept their head down to prepare for the second race,” said a delighted Jamin.
Bulatov made good progress from 12th on the grid before Jamin took over in sixth spot. The Frenchman quickly homed in on Silver Cup rival Stuart Leonard in the #17 WRT-Audi and passed the British driver to secure the class victory.
Audi was once again on top in the Pro Am category, as Markus Winkelhock and Nyls Stievenart completed a clean sweep of the weekend and provided Sainteloc Racing with another trophy.
A double victory at Misano provides a significant boost for the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT drivers in their pursuit of championship glory. Having already held the lead in the Endurance Cup standings and the overall table, they now occupy the top spot in the Sprint Cup classification as well.
With the season’s blue riband race, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, just over a month away, the Blancpain GT Series will now move to Belgium for the official test day will take place on 3 July 2018 at the iconic Ardennes venue.