Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Motorsport
In the final Endurance Cup race ahead of the TotalEnergies 24 hours of Spa in the last weekend of July, last year's winners at Spa Iron Lynx show excellent form by outclassing the competition and securing a 1-2 finish in the hills of the French Provence. Despite a couple of pinpricks of the competition is the opening hours of the race, Daniel Serra, Davide Rigon and Antonio Fuoco left little doubt about who was going to win at Le Castellet. With a daring move on the #88 Mercedes of Jules Gounon round the outside of Signes (at the end of the Mistral-straight) in the dying minutes of the race, Miguel Molina in the #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari he shares with James Calado and Nicklas Nielsen, completed the 1-2 finish for the Cesena, Italy based team.
When the race went green, Daniel Serra managed to convert the pole into the lead. Before the end of the first lap, the first safety car was deployed after two separate incidents at the Virage de la Ste. Baume (the right hander leading up to the Mistral Straight). This took out the Garage 59 McLaren of Maldonado, Simioni and Kjaergaard and severely damaged the #2 Mercedes of Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Steijn Schothorst (who also retired a couple of laps later.
Not even a lap after the restart we saw the first lead change, after a great move from Bachler on Serra. During the first stints of the race, when circumstances were still warm, the #71 Ferrari of Serra was definitely not the fastest car on track. This was probably the #63 Emil Frey Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti, who came barging through from p6 to take the lead within 30 minutes. In the #88 AKKODIS Mercedes, Raffaele Marciello followed, Serra was already down to p4.
After the first round of pit stops, the #88 Mercedes with Marciella was in the lead, ahead of the #63 with Costa behind the wheel and Rigon who'd taken over the #71. By then, we had lost the #54 Porsche which was terminally damaged in an incident with the #93 Sky Tempesta Mercedes.
This top-3 remained the status quo, never more than a couple of seconds apart, until the next round of stops where Rigon took over the lead with a blistering stop. Having already shown in qualifying he knows his way round Paul Ricard, the Italian managed to run away from his competitors by over 10 seconds at the next round of stops. By this stage, the other Iron Lynx Ferrari had made it up to 5th, just behind the #32 WRT Audi.
When in the last part of the race the #88 was dealt two penalties for pitstop infringements and Dries Vanthoor damaged his car while passing a back marker and retired, Fuoco could seemingly cruise to victory.
A late safety car phase brought the field back together again, but Fuoco had enough back markers between him and Gounon in the #88 Mercedes to not come under real threat. It did however give Molina the chance, as already mentioned above, to close up to the bumper of the blue and yellow Mercedes and complete one of the best overtakes of the race. Not in the last place because it was the move that made it a 1-2 finish for Iron Lynx.
Just off the podium, the BMW Junior team of Dan Harper, Neil Verhagen and Max Hesse gave the new M4 GT3 its first noteworthy finish in the series with a p4. Same goes for Valentino Rossi in the #46 WRT Audi, who finished p5 with teammates Nico Müller and Frederick Vervisch.
The win in the Silver Cup went to the Al Manar by HRT Mercedes, with drivers Faisal Al Zubair, Axcil Jefferies and Fabian Schiller.
A great performance by the Inception Racing team as their McLaren 720S GT3 with Iribe, Schandorff and Ollie Millroy behind the wheel, crossed the finish p9 overal, as a Gold Cup entrant.
Serra, Rigon and Fuoco take over the lead in the Endurance Cup standings, they now have one point more than Marciello, Gounon and Juncadella. Third are Calado, Molina and Nielsen followed by Weerts, Vanthoor and Kelvin van der Linde.
The next GT World Challenge race is in Zandvoort, that hosts the next Sprint Cup event, the next Endurance Cup race is the TotalEnergies 24 hours of Spa in the last weekend of July.