Text: Rick Kiewiet
The first ever race of the GT World Challenge Europe at Hockenheim has been won by Chris Mies, Patric Niederhauser and Lucas Legeret in the #25 Sainteloc Audi R8. In a close battle with the Attempto Racing #66 Audi of Winckelhock, Schramm and Marschall, the blue R8 prevailed over the black. The title in the Endurance cup could have been decided today, but both the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari and Spa winning and championship leading #88 AKKODIS ASP Mercedes were forced to retire from the race. The final in Barcelona will commence with the same difference between the two contenders: the #88 is still 11 points ahead.
The #32 WRT Audi of Weerts, Vanthoor and van der Linde produced a clean sweep, being fastest in all three sessions and hence starting from pole. Right behind was the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Rigon, Fuoco and Rovera (who replaced Daniel Serra). With the #88 Akkodis Mercedes down in 14th, things looked bright for the #71 at the beginning of the race. 2nd row was taken up by the #63 Emil Frey Lamborghini of Aitkin/Bortolotti/Costa and the #12 Tresor Audi of Haase/Drudi/Ghiotto.
In p5 was the first McLaren, the #111 JP Motorsport car of Klien/Abril/Lind, 0.025s ahead of the #25 Audi of Mies, Niederhauser and Legeret. Suprisingly, the first Mercedes was found as far back as p9, where the #2 GetSpeed AMG qualified just behind the Silver Cup pole sitter: the #30 WRT Audi of Simmenauer, Goethe and Neubauer. The #2 then received a 3 place grid penalty, dropping it to p12.
Disappointing qualifying as well for BMW as the #50 of Hesse/Verhagen/Harper qualified p22, and the #98 of Farfus, Yelloly and Catsburg was even 29th.
The first half of the first lap after the start went by relatively easy. Weerts fended off Rovera to dive into the first corner as the leader. Further down the field the #2 and #88 Mercedes' had a great start and found themselves in 7th and 9th respectively after the hairpin. Valentino Rossi experienced the opposite and dropped 10 places after going to wide and through the grass after the first corner section. Just after the field went through the hairpin, disaster struck for Rob Bell in the #38 JOTA McLaren, as he was catapulted into the barrier leading to a lengthy safety car phase. Gladly, he walked away from the accident, seemingly unscathed.
The SC-phase then got even lengthier, when the safety car suddenly went straight off at the hairpin in what looked like some technical issue. The replacement SC unleashed the field just over half an hour into the race.
The restart saw even more drama than the first start. Weerts led the field through the first corners yet again, but Rovera was set aside by Drudi in turn 2 and 3. In the run up to the hairpin, he then also got passed by Klien and Aitken. Half a lap later he got a better run towards the stadium section, but while he tried to overtake Aitken, behind him Calado in the #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari turned up on the inside of Maro Engel. Almost 4-wide they went into the corner, but only two came out. Calado on the dirt couldn't avoid hitting Rovera who turned in the quick right hander and both end up in the gravel.
After all the dust settled, Weerts was still in the lead ahead of the #12 Audi who was now right under the #32's rear wing. Third was Klien in the JP Motorsport McLaren with Aitken in the Lamborghini right on his tail. Engel and Marciello followed about 2 seconds further back, just ahead of Legeret in the Sainteloc Audi and Kim-Louis Schramm in the #66 Attempto Audi.
The first sequence of stops meant the end of the #32 WRT Audi of Weerts. Gearbox issues forced the car to retire and Ghiotto, now in the #12 Tresor Audi inherited the lead in front of Steijn Schothorst in the #2 GetSpeed Mercedes and Mies who took over the #25 Sainteloc Audi. The #88, now in with Juncadella behind the wheel, had worked itself up to p4 while Winkelhock in the #66 Audi was fifth.
The second hour saw multiple overtakes and position changes within the top 6, but after the second round of stops, Haase in the #12 emerged out of the pits just behind the #25 of Niederhauser. Marschall, now in the #66 completed the Audi 1-2-3 at this moment when he snuck up to p3 just after the stop.
The last SC of the day was called to recover the #11 Tresor Audi of Hugo Valente and brought the field back together for a final sprint to the finish.
Racing resumed with little over 30 minutes to go. Niederhauser managed to quickly open up a gap of about 3 to 4 seconds to Haase, who was under huge pressure from Marschall. Picariello in the #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche had driven to p4 largely unnoted and now had to fend off Luca Stolz in the #2 Mercedes. The race was 20 minutes too long for the #88 AKKODIS ASP Mercedes, as Gounon had to stop the car on the long straight towards the hairpin.
With 13 minutes to go, Dennis Marschall finally found a way past the Audi of Christopher Haase. Round the outside at the hairpin he made his move stick and took p2. Half a lap later, just too late to enter pit lane, the left rear tire of Haase suffered a puncture and took him out of the battle for points.
In the remaining 10 minutes, Nico Müller in the #46 WRT Audi he shared with Vervisch and Valentino Rossi, ferociously tried to get past Luca Stolz to get an even better season result, but could not find the gap. Niederhauser in front took the checkered flag 2.6s ahead of Marschall. Picariello took the last podium spot ahead of Stolz and Müller. Mirko Bortolotti took p6, just ahead the Silver Cup winner: the #14 Emil Frey Lamborghini of Lappalainen, Wishofer and White. With a p10 finish (3rd in class), Simmenauer, Goethe and Neubauer clinched the Silver Cup title in the #30 WRT Audi.
Next Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe event are the Sprint Cup races at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, 17 and 18 September.