World of Sport: Blancpain Endurance; WTCR; F2; GP3; World Rallycross; NASCAR Cup
BLANCPAIN GT ENDURANCE BARCELONA (E) SEPTEMBER 30 ROUND 5/5
The battle for the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup turned into a straight fight between the Black Falcon Mercedes trio of Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman and Auto Sport Promotion Mercedes star Raffaele Marciello at Barcelona last Sunday. In more ways than one.
First off, Engel, Stolz and Buurman pulled level in the championship with Marciello after claiming the point for pole position. And then in the final hour a quickfire series of safety cars turned the event into a Merc-versus-merc sprint to the flag with race victory and title honours at stake.
Buurman proved more than equal to the challenge of Tristan Vautier, who lined up with Marciello and Daniel Juncadella at
ASP, through three restarts in the last hour. The last came with just five and a half minutes left on the clock, but Buurman got his head down and pulled out a lead of just under two seconds.
It couldn’t have been much closer, and the intrigue only continued after the race. The Black Falcon Merc was excluded from the results for a technical infringement in another case of gaffer tape being used to seal part of the induction system. The team appealed, so the original results remain provisional. Marciello, for the moment at least, has the Endurance Cup title in his possession along with the overall BGTS crown he sealed on Sunday and the Sprint Cup he wrapped up earlier in September.
The race didn’t look as though it was going to be close early on. Pole ended up giving Engel a huge advantage after Nicki Thiim jumped to second at the start in his R-motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage. The Aston was fast over one lap last weekend, but the nature of the Circuit de Catalunya took its toll on its brakes and tyres, making it a less convincing proposition over a stint. But its straightline speed also made it difficult to pass.
That explained why Engel had a lead of 20 seconds when the first round of pitstops began as Thiim backed up the rest of the field. Marciello had moved up from sixth on the grid to third behind the Aston, but what happened next proved decisive in the outcome of events in Catalonia.
Juncadella just failed to get out of the pits in front of the Aston now driven by Jake Dennis. The DTM driver had a fresh set of Pirelli tyres but, tucked up behind the R-motorsport car, he couldn’t exploit the advantage they offered. Of course, he wasn’t going to chase down the still-growing deficit to the Black Falcon car now driven by Stolz, but that was artificially closed just after halfway with the first safety car of the race. The second, just after the ASP Merc had got ahead of the Aston in the final stops, eradicated it entirely.
The problem for ASP was that its rival now had the advantage of new tyres. Buurman certainly had the edge at each of the restarts, though Vautier reckoned that wasn’t all. “They appeared to have a more aggressive set-up that gave them an advantage for those first few laps after the green,” explained the Frenchman. “But it was probably more equal after that, so I don’t think that final safety car actually helped us.”
The Aston, which Matthieu Vaxiviere took over for the final stint, was running fourth when a heavy contact with Dries Vanthoor’s WRT Audi R8 LMS resulted in front-suspension damage for the British car and a drivethrough for the German one.
The incident promoted the SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 shared by Davide Rigon, Mikhail Aleshin and Miguel Molina to fourth. That became third – and then second after scrutineering – when it got past the Emil Frey Racing Jaguar of Adrian Zaugg, Alex Fontana and Mikael Grenier.
The Xk-based Jag ended up a provisional third and the Silver Cup victor on the day and in the championship. It came from nowhere to score its best ever BGTS result in what was its final race courtesy of a late final pitstop that coincided with a yellow-flag period.
Engel leads from Thiim, and Black Falcon Merc took the flag first…
ASP Mercedes driver Marciello has title ‘taped’ – for now