Ryuichiro Tomita and Kelvin van der Linde gave the #31 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT a Race one win in mixed conditions whereas events would go against the Belgian squad in Race two as the #163 Emil Frey Lamborghini of Giacomo Altoe and Albert Costa secured a 1-2 after a penalty for the #32 Audi.
This weekend saw a newly condensed schedule for the GT World Challenge Europe with practice and qualifying happening on Friday and the races taking place early Saturday morning to allow drivers to compete in the Nurburgring 24 Hours later in the day.
Friday saw the Emil Frey Racing crew start the penultimate Sprint Cup round in perfect fashion as the #14 Lamborghini of Mikaël Grenier and Norbert Siedler dominated proceedings to get a double pole position. Grenier got his first series pole by leading the way in the first session, despite ending the session in the gravel, while Siedler came out on top in a close second session to lead a front-row sweep for the Emil Frey squad.
Race one started out in tricky conditions as various strategies were employed. The #31 Team WRT crew started from third on the grid with a set of Pirelli’s rain tyres fitted to their Audi, however the front-row starters decided to begin the race on with slicks. The track was damp but it became worse when more rain hit the Dutch track. Due to now being on the wrong tyres, the Emil Frey car and the #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG of Jim Pla quickly fell down the order as the cars that made the right call found better traction around the 4.2km circuit.
Tomita surged into the lead almost immediately and was joined at the front by Altoè of the sister Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini. They had moved up from 10th on the grid to run second throughout the opening stint, never falling far behind the leader. Drama was to follow however when Altoè’s rear left tyre failed on the pit straight just before the Italian had been set to make his scheduled stop. Tomita then made way for Van der Linde, who resumed control at the head of the field.
The action did not abate though as two Silver Cup runners were battling for the second step of the overall podium. Hugo Chevalier coming out on top in the #108 CMR Bentley after passing Simon Gachet in the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi with 20 minutes left to go. Even then there was always a squabble going on especially in the Pro-Am class. The class lead changed on several occasions with Andrea Bertolini in his #52 AF Corse Ferrari and Nick Foster in the #20 SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes-AMG all at one time holding the advantage. In the closing stages though it was Eddie Cheever III of Sky Tempesta Racing who made it count and took the lead from Foster’s Mercedes.
Kelvin Van der Linde took victory by an imposing 30 seconds from Chevalier. Chevalier captured a fantastic result for his CMR squad, as well as a maiden class win alongside teammate Pierre Alexandre Jean. Gachet took the Sainteloc car to third overall and class runner-up with Steven Palette. Albert Costa was fourth despite struggling with damage to the rear of his Lamborghini following the earlier tyre blowout.
Race two and pole-sitter Mikael Grenier ran at the head of the field from the off but the Canadian had van der Linde, Costa, Jules Gounon and Mattia Drudi for close company. Not much changed in the order as it held through the opening quarter before Van der Linde attempted a dive on Grenier into the Turn 12 right-hander, however the WRT car went too deep and had to cut across the gravel at turn 13 in turn dropping to fourth. Gounon got caught out by the recovering Audi and lost time as he went wide into the Turn 14 gravel in avoidance.
Just a few corners later Felipe Fraga and Drudi tangled at Tarzan costing both drivers time and allowed Dries Vanthoor to climb from seventh place to third in the course of one lap with the two Emil Frey Lamborghinis in sight up the road. Albert Costa then overtook Siedler for the lead at turn 12 and made it a much cleaner move than Van der Linde did earlier on.
Coming into the pitstops, the WRT crew’s swift work got Charles Weerts out just ahead of Altoe but there was drama to come in the form of a drive through issued to the #32 car as the engine was still running as it was brought up onto it’s jacks in the stop. The team however didn’t come in to serve the penalty which meant that although they finished ahead of Altoe and his Lamborghini on the road, the penalty was converted into a thirty second post race time penalty. This allowed Emil Frey Racing to claim a one-two with Grenier managing to bring the car home in second followed by the #31 Team WRT Audi in third.
Silver Cup honors went to Thomas Neubauer and Aurelien Panis in the Tech 1 Racing Lexus RC F GT3. Panis obtained the lead during the pit cycle but needed to defend hard from Toksport WRT Mercedes driver Oscar Tunjo who was pressuring the Lexus in the closing laps. Ultimately Oscar Tunjo, who drove with Juuso Puhakka, couldn’t get past in the remaining time left and settled for second, half a second behind the Lexus which was sixth overall.
In Pro-Am, Sky-Tempesta Racing is proving to be the cream of the crop as Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever earned their second victory of the weekend and their fourth of the season. Froggatt brought the No. 93 Ferrari across the line 7.5 seconds clear of Louis Machiels, who shared the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari with Bertolini.
Next up in the Sprint Cup will be the title showdown at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which will hold a three races on 9-11 October. Weerts and Vanthoor lead the way, but their advantage over teammates Tomita and Van der Linde is just half a point heading into the decider. The HRT Mercedes-AMG crew of Maro Engel and Luca Stolz are just four points off top spot, despite skipping the Zandvoort weekend, while AKKA ASP, Sainteloc Racing and Emil Frey Racing also retain a shot at the title.