‘HTP Merc held off WRT Audi to take victory’
Stellar pitwork and impressive fuel conservation from the number 1 WRT Audi crew of Laurens Vanthoor, Frederic Vervisch and Dries Vanthoor was not enough to deny the HTP Mercedes of Maximilian Buhk, Dominik Baumann and Jazeman Jaafar a first victory of the year in the Blancpain Endurance Cup at Silverstone.
Running a low key seventh in the opening stint after qualifying outside the top 10 for the first time this season, the Audi truly came into contention after some classic WRT strategising.
New-for-2016 pit regulations introduced to improve safety and nullify spending on fast-flowing fuel rigs specify that all cars must complete their stops within two time brackets – less than 70 seconds or over 90 seconds – leaving teams with the choice of short-fuelling and saving 20 seconds against their rivals, or filling their tanks to the brim and running flat to the finish. WRT rolled the dice and it paid spectacular dividends, with Dries Vanthoor returning to the track in second after spending just 69.3s in the pits.
That put the teenager into battle with the pole sitting Grasser Lamborghini, which Rolf Ineichen had taken over from Mirko Bortolotti, benefiting from a 20kg weight break after a tough weekend at Brands Hatch.
After a few laps sizing him up, Vanthoor made the move stick into the Loop, but didn’t hold the lead for long. Jaafar had quickly followed the Audi past Ineichen and took advantage of Vanthoor’s hesitation in traffic with a robust move on the exit of Club.
Afterwards, Vanthoor focused on saving fuel before handing over to his older brother for a final-stint showdown with Buhk that promised much, but ultimately delivered little. The pair traded fastest times for a while, but the Audi proved simply unable to live with the pace of the Mercedes over a long run. A safety car period to recover Nyls Stievenart’s stranded Ferrari afforded Vanthoor some hope, but having lost out to the Garage 59 Mclaren by just 0.3s at Monza, Buhk wasn’t going to settle for second again and made sure Vanthoor never got close enough to attempt a move.
“I think we were good in the first couple of laps on new tyres, but we’ve seen this season that over a long run they are really consistent and can carry on with their pace where we drop a bit, so that’s something that we need to work on,” Laurens Vanthoor said. “But if you had asked us yesterday to be P2 we would have signed immediately, now we’re back on the right track.”
For Malaysia’s Jaafar, it was a first win since making the permanent switch to GTS and a memorable one at that, which sees the HTP team take over the lead in the Endurance point standings.
“It’s an incredible feeling to win in only my fifth GT race,” he said. “I’m still learning this form of racing because everything is judged by traffic and how you plan things ahead. I saw an opportunity as soon as Dries was stuck behind the Lambo and I went for it. It was a very risky move and there was slight contact, but we managed to pull a gap from there.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen took over the Lamborghini in the final stint to score a first podium of the year ahead of the battle for fourth between Philipp Eng’s ROWE BMW and the second HTP Mercedes of Indy Dontje, who were separated by 0.12 seconds at the line.
A Mercedes also took the honours in Pro-am, as Maro Engel passed the ISR Audi that had led the class from the start and Jonny Adam’s Motorbase Aston Martin in the final two laps.
HTP Mercedes squad beat the WRT Audi