GRT Grasser Racing Team returned to winning ways at the Hungaroring as the #63 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Christian Engelhart, and Mirko Bortolotti secured a memorable victory from fifth on the grid.
It became clear that the weekend’s opening Sprint Cup encounter would be a dramatic one when a thunderstorm soaked the Hungaroring in the hours before the race.
With the sun quickly drying the track surface the majority of the field elected to start on slick Pirelli tyres, but the drivers were heading into unknown territory when the green flag was waved.
Nico Bastian led the pack around on the formation lap in his #90 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3, while Engelhart took the start from fifth on the grid.
Few would have considered the Lamborghini to be an immediate contender for the lead, but the German ace displayed lightning-quick reactions to get the jump on the front two rows, then had the tenacity to dive up the inside and snatch top spot on the run down to turn one.
A trio of AKKA-Mercedes entries was squabbling for position in his mirrors, with Bastian fighting Nicolas Jamin in the #87 car and Sprint Cup title contender Michael Meadows in the #88.
Engelhart was able to pull away, but there was a surprise addition to the leading pack when Andrew Watson, who had taken the start from 11th place in his 3Y Technology BMW M6 GT3, surged past the three Mercedes cars.
Watson was one of only two drivers to start the race on Pirelli’s wet weather compound. It paid dividends early on, but as the track dried Watson began to struggle. The Northern Irish racer tried to defend, but the trio of AKKA-Mercedes cars had soon moved ahead with Jamin second, Bastian third and Meadows fourth.
There was drama behind them when Alex Riberas spun his #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT machine on the start-finish straight while trying to pass the fading Watson. Riberas made contact with the wall and, while he was able to recover to the pits, his race was run. It was a significant moment, as the #1 WRT-Audi crew led both the Sprint Cup and overall standings heading to Budapest.
Out front, Engelhart was being caught by Jamin, though the German driver was not threatened for position during his stint. He eventually handed over to Bortolotti with a healthy lead.
Denis Bulatov took the controls of the #87 Mercedes from Jamin and emerged ahead of Raffaele Marciello, who replaced Meadows in the #88. Both Mercedes drivers had a small pace advantage over the Lamborghini, though Bortolotti remained cool at the head of the field.
Marciello edged closer to Bulatov, but the Russian appeared to have the second position sewn up. Then, late on the penultimate lap, Bulatov spun and handed the place to the #88 Mercedes. Fortunately, he recovered and had built a sufficient gap over P4 to retain his spot on the podium.
Bortolotti was, therefore, able to bring the #63 Lamborghini home in the first spot to secure the Grasser squad’s first Blancpain GT Series victory since the season-opening race at Zolder. Marciello took second while Bulatov was third and clinched Silver Cup honours.
The Pro Am category was won by Kenny Habul and Tristan Vautier, who were making their first appearance of the season in the #751 Sun Energy 1 by AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Habul managed the tricky opening laps well and was able to hand over to Vautier with a comfortable class advantage. The Frenchman remained calm to complete the job for the #751 crew.
Tomorrow’s second race will present Marciello and Meadows with an excellent opportunity to further close the gap at the top of the Sprint Cup standings, with the AKKA-Mercedes pair starting from pole position as they go in search of a first Blancpain GT Series win of 2018.