Autosport (UK)

Rossi flourishes on four wheels in WRT BMW 1-2

- DAVID ADDISON

GT WORLD CHALLENGE EUROPE SPRINT CUP MISANO (ITA) 18 MAY ROUND 2/5

Hopeful they came, delirious they left. The omnipresen­t Valentino Rossi fans had much to celebrate last Saturday at Misano as their hero drove the best race of his short four-wheeled career to take a second GT3 win and underline his vastly improved car-racing prowess.

On one hand, it looked easy: Maxime Martin started the Team WRT BMW M4 GT3 from pole, led his stint and relayed Rossi for the win. Simple. The truth was more nuanced. For a start, their BMW wasn’t necessaril­y the fastest – pole had initially gone to the sister car of Dries Vanthoor, only for the Belgian to be one of myriad drivers to be penalised for track-limit violations. Vanthoor slumped to sixth and elevated Martin to pole. As Martin led away, Vanthoor bagged fourth on the opening lap but lost time passing Ben Green, again starring in the Emil Frey Racing Ferrari 296 GT3. Eventually, Vanthoor was ahead, although contact helped open the door to causing annoyance in the Swiss team’s pit. No action was taken, leaving Vanthoor clear to chase the impressive Marvin Dienst in Dinamic GT’S Bronze Cup Porsche 911 GT3-R.

Dienst was mighty and led, briefly, as the BMWS pitted. So good was the WRT pitwork that the stops from both cars were within a tenth of a second… So Rossi led the second stint, with Charles Weerts – in for Vanthoor – bearing down on him. The gap plunged, but Weerts was never able to find an opening. Rossi, in just his third full season of car racing, withstood intense pressure to score a popular win from Weerts and the Emil Frey Ferraris of Giacomo Altoe, who had taken over his car from Thierry Vermeulen, and Konsta Lappalaine­n, in for Green.

“I drove very well,” proclaimed Rossi over the chanting from his fans. “I didn’t make a mistake and I am soooooooo ’appy.”

Weerts started race two from pole and bolted after an early safety car triggered by Alex Aka’s Attempto Racing Audi turning around Nicolas Baert’s Comtoyou Racing Aston Martin. Brands Hatch winner Lucas Auer chased, his Winward Racing Mercedes-amg GT3 Evo struggling to turn on its tyres as quickly as needed in this evening race, while Altoe ran third from Rossi, who had to jump past Simon Gachet’s CSA Racing Audi during the early laps.

After the stops, it was Vanthoor ahead of Maro Engel (in for Auer) and Martin. Vanthoor looked comfortabl­e, but a brake issue meant that the car wasn’t consistent. The gap dropped to a gnat’s under two seconds before Vanthoor pushed for a couple of laps to extend it, and was able to bring home the BMW for a second win of the season. Engel – “It was kind of Dries to wait for me…!” – was second, reckoning it felt like a win having been only 21st on the grid for the opening race, in which he and Auer had charged up to fifth. Martin, who had jumped Vermeulen on the pitstops, shadowed the yellow Mercedes in third for a useful bank of points. Behind the fifth-placed Rutronik Porsche, the Garage 59 Mclaren of Tom Gamble and Benjamin Goethe came home sixth.

“That was a cat and mouse race,” reckoned Vanthoor. “I pushed but they came close.” The BMWS, as Auer put it, were “on a different planet”, but the star for the fans was Rossi. A win and a third underlined how far he has come. While he will always be known for his two-wheeled successes, a pukka GT racer he now is.

 ?? ?? Rossi held off Weerts for another Misano win
Rossi held off Weerts for another Misano win
 ?? ?? Engel and Auer fought Mercedes up to second place in night race
Engel and Auer fought Mercedes up to second place in night race

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