Audi dominates in Blancpain GT series at Zolder
Will Stevens and Markus Winkelhock (#2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8) claimed victory in the Blancpain GT Series main race at the Zolder track. A safety car intervention in the dying minutes meant there was only one lap of racing left when the lights went green again. Stevens held off all attacks, with Filip Salaquarda crossing the line in second, in the #75 ISR Audi he shares with Clemens Schmid. The #17 Team WRT Audi of Stuart Leonard and Robin Frijns finished third.
The Silver Cup honours went to Jules Szymkowiak and Fabian Schiller (#85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG), with Giacomo Piccini and Michael Broniszewski (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari) taking their first Pro-Am Cup win of the year.
After yesterday’s hectic start, polesitter Stuart Leonard was determined to follow the starting procedure to the letter. Others didn’t, and Leonard was passed by Michael Meadows in the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG before the lights went green. Meadows was given a drive-through penalty, effectively ruining any of his chances of a podium finish.
This transformed the duel between Clemens Schmid (#75 ISR Audi) and Markus Winkelhock (#2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8) – both of whom had managed to overtake Leonard on the opening lap – to a fight for the lead. Winkelhock managed to get alongside the white Audi once, but Schmid kept his cool and held on to first.
Both Audis entered pit lane at the same time, but then the pit stop of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT crew made the difference. Will Stevens (in the #2 Audi) was able to leave the pit lane with a lead of a couple of seconds over Filip Salaquarda, now at the wheel of the #75. The Czech driver’s position came under threat, when Robin Frijns (who had taken over from Stuart Leonard) set a series of fastest laps. However, Frijns could not manage to overtake Salaquarda.
When the race was neutralized after a contact between the #86 and #88 Mercedes-AMG cars, the gaps between the leaders was reduced to naught. It took a while to clear the track, and when the safety car came in, there was only one lap of racing left. Stevens handily used the presence of a backmarker behind him to drive away from Salaquarda and Frijns, and they in turn had to manage the presence of yet another Audi, the #5 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 in the hands of local hero Dries Vanthoor. Although Frijns tried to find a gap twice, Salaquarda managed to hold to second. The first victory of the Winkelhock-Stevens duo was never under threat, and in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup driver standings the German-British pairing are now only five points behind leaders Maxi Buhk and Franck Perera, who finished in sixth in Zolder. Qualifying Race-winners Frijns and Leonard also made a jump forward in the standings, and are now seven points down.
In Silver Cup polesitter David Fumanelli made a slight mistake in the second lap, and the #42 Strakka Motorsport McLaren dropped a couple of places. That promoted the #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG to first in Silver Cup, but that was not enough for Jules Szymkowiak and Fabian Schiller. The youngest duo of the field had started the Qualifying Race from last, but some inspired driving in both races eventually led to a more than decent eighth place overall. The runner-up spot in the Silver Cup went to the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Lorenzo Case and Phil Quaife, after contact in the final corner dropped the #67 Attempto Racing Lamborghini of Pohler and Van Splunteren and the #42 Strakka Motorsport McLaren down the order. The latter was also penalised with a one-minute stop & go, which was converted to an addition of 90 seconds to its race time.
In the Pro-Am Cup Michael Broniszewski quickly fought his way to the front, at the wheel of the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari. He passed the leading Ferraris of Piti Bhirombhakdi and Alexander Mattschull in the opening laps and the reigning Blancpain GT Series Pro-Am champion – who had never raced in Zolder before – never looked back. Giacomo Piccini finished the job in the second half of the race. It was a great recovery from the Italian-Polish duo and the Kessel Racing team, after an unlucky spin in Saturday’s qualifying left them with a badly damaged car. With Bhirombhakdi and Carlo Van Dam claiming second in Pro-Am and the Ferrari 458 Italia of Stephen Earle and David Perel scoring full points in the Am Cup, the weekend ended on a high for the Swiss Kessel Racing squad.