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BLANCPAIN GT SERIES WEEKEND ROUNDUP: SILVERSTONE

BLANCPAIN GT SERIES WEEKEND ROUNDUP: SILVERSTONE
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The second round of this year’s Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup produced a close-fought contest as two Italian heavyweights did battle at Silverstone.

For long periods of the race it seemed set to be Lamborghini’s day. The Bologna brand looks to have found the sweet spot with its upgraded Huracan GT3 and led for much of the three-hour event thanks to Grasser Racing and Orange1 FFF Racing

But it was another famous Italian marque that triumphed, as the #72 SMP Racing crew of Mikhail Aleshin, Miguel Molina and Davide Rigon steered their Ferrari 488 GT3 to a well-deserved win. These are some of the key stats and stories to emerge from an entertaining Silverstone weekend.

The SMP Racing win is Ferrari’s first in the Endurance Cup for six years, drawing the Italian brand level with Bentley and Porsche on three overall victories. The previous win came at Monza in 2013 thanks to the Kessel Racing squad, with Rigon among the driving talent that day alongside Cesar Ramos and Daniel Zampieri. By coincidence, the pole-sitter was the #70 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia.

By securing victory at Silverstone, SMP Racing has further extended the run of different winning teams in the Endurance Cup to 11. Indeed, we have not seen a single repeat winner in the past two years. Victory for a Ferrari crew also means that seven different brands have triumphed in the past seven Endurance Cup races. If this run is to continue next time out at Circuit Paul Ricard, we can expect either Lamborghini or Bentley to triumph.

Aside from Ferrari’s return to the top step, the major theme of the Silverstone race was recovery drives. A number of red flags in qualifying left some big hitters at the rear of the field, with a total of 11 cars – eight of them from the Pro class – consigned to the back of the grid.

The biggest mover was the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG, which climbed an incredible 36 spots from 41st on the grid to fifth at the chequered flag. It could have been better still, as the #43 car had looked set for a third-place finish before contact with the #563 FFF Lamborghini dropped it to P5.

The Strakka car was beaten on the road by the #98 ROWE Racing Porsche, which finished in a superb fourth after starting from 39th on the grid. The German squad made an excellent recovery by progressing 35 places from its starting spot. Reigning Endurance Cup champion Black Falcon also took a solid points haul from 37th on the grid, with the #4 Mercedes-AMG coming through to finish seventh at Silverstone.

Strakka driver Jack Hawksworth was subsequently adjudged to have been at fault for the collision with the #563 FFF Lamborghini. Hawksworth received a reprimand and one behaviour point on his licence, but as the #43 Mercedes-AMG lost places due to the incident the stewards did not issue any further penalty.

That was not the case for the #74 Ram Racing Mercedes-AMG, which lost its Pro-Am class win after being hit with a 30-second time penalty for contact with the rival #52 AF Corse Ferrari 488. The Mercedes-AMG slipped to third in class, promoting the #52 Ferrari to its first Pro-Am win since the 2014 Total 24 Hours of Spa. It was double delight for the AF Corse squad, which also runs the #72 SMP Racing squad.

The #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini endured another weekend during which its strong pace went unrewarded. A second successive Endurance Cup pole position was followed by a rapid first stint from Christian Engelhart, who set the fastest race lap (2m00.746s) while running at the head of the field. An ill-timed puncture destroyed any hope of victory, after which Rolf Ineichen and then Mirko Bortolotti made a strong recovery. Their day concluded with more frustration, however, as a technical issued dropped the #63 car to 36th at the finish.

The fastest racing lap by a Silver Cup driver came courtesy of Sandy Mitchell (#78 Barwell Lamborghini), who registered a 2m01.749s during the second half of the event. Seb Morris (Team Parker Bentley Continental) was the fastest Pro-Am runner with a 2m01.576s, while Fabien Barthez showed excellent pace in his #23 Lexus RC F to lead the Am Cup times (2m03.891s).

The best lap set across Sunday morning’s qualifying sessions was a 1m58.890s, recorded by Nicki Thiim in the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage. This was the Dane’s final outing for the squad this season as Alex Lynn will step into the car from Circuit Paul Ricard onwards. Thiim is expected to compete at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, but will not be part of the R-Motorsport crew.

A total of 27 British drivers took the start of Sunday’s race, making the home nation the best-represented on the grid. Phil Keen was the top overall finisher, taking runner-up spot in the #519 FFF Lamborghini. There were also Brits on the podium in Am Cup, with the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin entry taking third, while Tom Onslow-Cole (#74 Ram Mercedes) was P3 in Pro-Am following the squad’s penalty.

There was huge interest in the Bentley and Aston Martin entrants during Sunday’s pit walk and autograph session, with queues of fans outside the garages waiting to meet the drivers. Unfortunately, both brands endured challenging days at Silverstone.

Having been among the Pro cars consigned to the rear of the grid, the #59 Garage 59 Aston was then eliminated during the opening lap melee, while both the #62 and #76 R-Motorsport machines hit trouble and ended up well down the classification.

The #108 Bentley showed excellent early pace to fight for a top-10 spot, only for Alex Buncombe to suffer damage while trying to pass the #17 Audi. The #108 lost significant time and was eventually classified 14th. The sister #107 Continental GT3 finished two spots up the road, but had looked set for points before tumbling down the order during the closing laps.

There were a pair of late replacement drivers at Silverstone. Two-time Total 24 Hours of Spa winner Phillip Eng joined the #10 Boutsen Ginion BMW squad after Philippe Steveny became unwell, moving the crew to Pro-Am for the weekend. There was a further change on race day as Marvin Kirchöfer stepped aside from the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin. He was replaced by none other than Maxime Martin, who pulled double duty between the #76 and his regular #62 car. Martin would only have been eligible to score points with his original crew, though in the event neither managed a top-10 finish.

It was a busy weekend all round for R-Motorsport. While the Swiss squad was shuffling its drivers, it also hosted British comedy legend Rowan Atkinson during Sunday’s race. The star of Blackadder and Mr. Bean is a well-known petrolhead, and spent the day in the R-Motorsport garage supporting the team’s pair of Aston Martins.

With two rounds complete, the Endurance Cup standings are still a work in progress. It’s close at the top, with the #563 FFF Lamborghini crew on 26 points and the #72 SMP Ferrari line-up tied with the #54 Dinamic Porsche squad on 25.

The #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG crew leads Silver Cup, four points clear of the Silverstone-winning #17 Grasser Lamborghini. In Pro-Am, the #93 Tempesta Ferrari squad hold a two-point advantage over the #97 Oman by TF Sport crew. The only notable gap is in Am Cup, where a double victory has propelled the #77 Barwell Motorsport line-up into a 22-point lead after only two races.

In the overall Blancpain GT Series standings, Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG duo Maro Engel and Luca Stolz top the table with 50.5 points. They are followed by FFF Racing’s Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli (38 points), with AKKA ASP star Nico Bastian third on 31.5 points.

The Blancpain GT Series will resume in a little over two weeks at Circuit Paul Ricard (31 May – 1 June). The French venue will once again stage its 1,000km race into the night, an event that has become an important part of the build-up to the Total 24 Hours of Spa. Additional entries and shuffled line-ups are possible as teams continue their preparations for the biggest event of the year.

Source. SRO Motorsports Group/Photo. The Editor

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