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GTWC Sprint: AF Corse and AKKODIS ASP take victories at Brands

Text: Rick Kiewiet

Images: Aaron Lynch & SRO.


In their first race for AF Corse, Bentley renegades Ulysse de Pauw and Pierre-Alexandre Jean booked a sensational win in the first GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup race of the season at Brands Hatch. In the first race for their new employer, in a new car, the Ferrari 488, Belgian de Pauw and Frenchman Jean clinched the victory ahead of Weerts and Vanthoor's #32 WRT Audi and the #89 AKKODIS ASP Mercedes of Boguslavskiy and Marciello. The latter squad was finally rewarded for their pretty dominating display Saturday with a commanding win in race 2. Again, Weerts and Vanthoor came in second, but only just as Gounon in the AKKODIS ASP sister car, the #88, finished right under the rear wing of the #32 Audi.


Race 1

Ahead of all the Pro cup big guns, Ulysse de Pauw in the Silver cup #53 AF Corse Ferrari grabbed pole by the margin of 0.034s. It was his first pole in the series and the first Sprint Cup pole for a Ferrari since 2015. De Pauw and teammate Pierre Alexandre Jean had at least a decent shot for top honors in the Silver Cup, as the next competitors, Gilles Magnus and Nicolas Baert in the #26 Sainteloc Audi, started a bit further down: 7th. Next to de Pauw on the first row was Jim Pla in the #88 AKKODIS ASP Mercedes. The two AKKODIS cars were split, Boguslavskiy and Marciello in the #89 started 4th, by the #12 Tresor Audi of Mattia Drudi and Luca Ghiotto. Reigning champions Weerts and Vanthoor in the #32 WRT Audi started 5th. Before home crowd, Rob Bell and Ollie Wilkinson started from a disappointing 18th place on the grid, just behind Valentino Rossi in the #46 WRT Audi.



Just before the lights turned green to unleash the field toward Paddock Hill Bend, Gounon put his nose a yard or two ahead of de Pauw's Ferrari, giving de Pauw the opportunity to take the green light with a bit more speed and secure the lead towards Druids. Chaos emerged behind as several cars made contact and crashed out. Igor Waliko in the #86 Akkodis ASP Mercedes pushed the #33 WRT Audi of Simmenauer into the #30 sister car of Goethe, while de Leener got and the gravel and spun trying to pass The #38 JOTA McLaren of Ollie Wilkinson. All except Waliko stranded in the gravel and were out of the race, causing a safety car phase that lasted 10 minutes.


Right after the restart, Weerts managed to take over 4th from Boguslavskiy. Towards the first stops, de Pauw had built a small lead of some 3 seconds over Gounon in the #88 Mercedes and Drudi in the #12 Tresor Audi. 3 seconds further back were Weerts and Boguslavskiy. Drudi, Weerts and Boguslavskiy came into the pits to hand their cars over to their respective teammates at first opportunity. Two laps later, de Pauw brought in the AF Corse Ferrari to hand it over to Jean. In the meantime, Marciello, who'd emerged from the pits in the #89 Mercedes right behind Ghiotto in the #12 Audi, managed to get by the Audi round the outside of the right hander Hawthorns.

Gounon waited as long as he possibly could to hand over the wheel of the #88 Mercedes to teammate Jim Pla. Not the strategy, but an unwilling left rear wheel effectively cost him not only the win, but also p2 and p3. Pla came out the pits behind Vanthoor in the #32 Audi and right ahead of Marciello, but the latter, with warmer tires managed to overtake Pla at Graham Hill Bend.


In the remainder of the race, traffic gave Vanthoor the opportunity to close up to Jean, but the Frenchman defended his lead with verve. Marciello finished mere tenths behind Vanthoor to take the last podium spot.


Race 2

After topping free practice and pre-qualifying, top-favorite Raffaele Marciello secured pole for race 2. The margins were about as close as they were in Q1, as Patric Niederhauser in the #25 Audi came only 0.073s short. Another strong performance by the young Swiss Niederhauser, who'd also topped Q2 at the Endurance Cup opener in Imola 4 weeks ago. The second row was claimed by Audi entirely, with the #32 WRT of Weerts and Vanthoor 3rd and the #11 Sainteloc of Gachet and Haase 4th. Ben Barker did a great job in Q2, qualifying the Pro-Am #78 Barwell Lamborghini in p6. Unfortunately he couldn't start the race due to his teammate Malykhin getting ill. Wilkinson and Bell in the #38 Jota McLaren started the race again from p18.


The start of race 2 was a lot more civilized compared to race 1. Marciello from pole had a great start and was already 3 to 4 car lengths free of the field at Paddock. Niederhauser managed to defend p2 from his fellow Audi colleagues Vanthoor and Haase. Half a lap later, Pla managed to squeeze his #88 Mercedes in between Haase and Vanthoor in p4. Winner of race 1 Jean in the #53 Ferrari was in p6.



Marciello started to really stretch his legs and pulled a gap of over ten seconds by the time the pit window opened. At times, Niederhauser in the #25 Sainteloc Audi came under immense pressure form Vanthoor in the #32, but he managed to hand over the car to teammate Panis in p2. A slow stop however dropped the car to p6 after the stops. Weerts took over p2 but couldn't bring the fight to Boguslavskiy, now in the #89 Mercedes. The Russian managed to counter Vanthoor's efforts to close the gap early on, after which the latter shifted focus to defend p2 from Gounon in the other Akkodis Mercedes, the #88. And so it went on to the finish, with Gachet and Haase securing p4 in the #11 Tresor Audi. With a fifth place at the finish, de Pauw and Jean secured another win in the Silver cup in the #53 AF Corse Ferrari.


With an 8th place at the finish, 7 times Moto GP world champion Valentino Rossi, who received lots of support from the stands, secured his first points in the GT World Challenge. He was given the wheel of the #46 WRT Audi by Vervisch in p8 and withstood the pressure from Thomas Drouet for minutes to bring the car home and bag the points.

The GTWC Sprint cup continues in two weeks in the French countryside: Magny Cours hosts the second round 13 to 15 May.

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