By winning Sunday’s Main Race in the Budapest round of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup, the #5 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT crew of Dries Vanthoor and Marcel Fässler put the final note on a perfect weekend at the Hungaroring.
The duo ended up sweeping every session at the 4.381km grand prix track, while WRT placed four of its Audis in the top five of Sunday’s 60-minute contest. The #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Christian Engelhart and Mirko Bortolotti managed to hold on to third place and score valuable points to cement their grasp on the overall lead in the Blancpain GT Series team championship.
In the Silver Cup, Jules Szymkowiak and Fabian Schiller made it two class wins in as many races with the #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3. Daniel Keilwitz and Alexander Mattschull (#333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3) achieved the same feat in the Pro-Am category.
Unfortunately, Kessel Racing’s David Perel and Stephen Earle could not bring the #888 Am Cup Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 home after the car had to retire in the second half of the race.
Winning Saturday’s Qualifying Race had granted the #5 Audi pole position for this weekend’s showpiece event, which Fässler converted into the lead at the first corner despite intense pressure on the outside from Engelhart.
Just behind, Franck Perera’s #84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport car moved past Pieter Schothorst’s #3 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS in the reverse scenario to what happened the previous day.
An early retirement for the #42 Strakka Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3 led to a brief Safety Car period. Once competitive racing resumed, Engelhart was all over the back of Fässler, with third-placed Perera hurrying him along in the meantime.
Less than one second covered the leading trio, while three more WRT-run Audis lurked in the background. It soon appeared that the mandatory pit stops and driver changes would play a pivotal role in the race.
GRT Grasser Racing Team went for the undercut when Engelhart dived into the pit lane as soon as the window opened. But instead of leapfrogging the leader, the #63 Lamborghini ended up slipping behind the #3 Audi, which had pitted at the same time.
Fässler and Perera stopped shortly after, and WRT’s excellent service enabled Dries Vanthoor to keep the #5 Audi ahead of its direct competitors. Meanwhile, the #84 Mercedes suffered a slight delay, which pushed Maxi Buhk down the order.
Once the pit stops shook out, Vanthoor was holding a slender lead over Jake Dennis in the #3 R8 LMS, and Mirko Bortolotti’s #63 Lamborghini. Having tried to re-claim second position, the Italian ace fell into the clutches of another WRT-entered Audi in the #17 entry driven by Robin Frijns.
The quartet would run nose-to-tail over the remainder of the hour-long event but with overtaking opportunities coming at a premium around the tight and twisty Hungaroring there would be no further change among the front runners.
As the chequered flag fell on another Blancpain GT Series weekend, 1.477s covered the top four cars. Markus Winkelhock and Will Stevens made it four Audis in the top five, with the #84 Mercedes only 0.306s adrift in sixth.
Jules Szymkowiak and Fabian Schiller combined for another Silver Cup win aboard the #85 machine, progressing from 14th on the grid to eighth in the end. The Pro-Am category witnessed another closely-fought battle for the class honours, this time between the #333 Rinaldi Racing-run and #39 Kessel Racing TP12-entered Ferrari 488 GT3s. Daniel Keilwitz and Alexander Mattschull eventually prevailed against Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo Van Dam, but the 0.371s gap at the flag hinted at the intensity of the fight.
Dries Vanthoor, #5 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: “It was a tight fight. We knew we had to be fast during the pit stop, as any mistake would have been crucial. It has not been the best season for us until Budapest, we had a bit of a struggle and bad luck. But to go on and win like this is just amazing. We will try to do our best and give it 100% again at the Nürburgring in three weeks’ time.”
Marcel Fässler, #5 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: “The Main Race was more difficult. The set up was the same as on Saturday, so we need to analyse the data to understand. Still, we both did not make any mistake and the team did a great job.”
Jules Szymkowiak, #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3: “The car felt better today, so it was a lot of fun to drive. I am just frustrated to lose some positions at the start. Had I nailed this phase of the race, we could have finished even further up the order.”
Fabian Schiller, #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Today I struggled a little bit more than Jules [Szymkowiak]. My lap times were quite OK at the beginning of my stint but when comparing to other races, it seems that I had a bit more trouble. This is something I need to work on, but we will work on it and I am positive we will come back stronger.”
Alexander Mattschull, #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3: “It was a close battle out there, though it might have seemed easier than it was. I lost the class lead at the start but I was able to regain some ground after the first lap. After that, my goal was just to keep the position.”
Daniel Keilwitz, #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3: “It is always difficult when you have the Pro cars in front of you and your direct competition right behind. It was not easy for me to defend the class lead but in the end, we claimed another win, which that was our aim. We need to repeat the same result at the Nürburgring.”
The 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup season finale takes place at the Nürburgring on September 15-17, with the event also serving as round nine in this year’s overall campaign. Live coverage of the meeting will be available on the championship’s official website and Facebook page, as well as SRO Motorsports Group’s GT World YouTube channel.