Updated: Sep 26, 2021
Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
In the two races on Sunday at the world famous track of Brands Hatch in Kent, Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor managed to claim the European Sprint Cup title for the second time in a row. In a weekend characterized by big drama and crashes, the Belgian duo won the first race and finished second in race 2. With a 42.5 points lead over Stolz and Engel in 2nd, the gap has become unbridgeable. With 4 wins, a second place, a third place and two pole positions, there's little doubt about whether their title is well deserved.
Pole position for race 1 was initially a prey for Ben Barnicoat in the #38 JOTA McLaren. In front of his as well as the team's home crowd, the young Brit drove a lap 0.064 seconds faster than Timur Boguslavskiy in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes. After the session, he was penalized for impeding other drivers and dealt a two-place grid penalty. And so Boguslavskiy scored his first GT World Challenge Pole Position, with Charles Weerts alongside him. Barnicoat was dropped to third and accompanied by Luca Stolz in the TokSport Mercedes on row 2. Raffaele Marciello completed the qualifying clean sweep for the #88 by claiming pole for race 2.
Despite being dropped to p3 on the grid, Barnicoat left no doubt about his intentions in the opening stages of the race. First time through Paddock Hill Bend he'd already passed the WRT Audi of Weerts in Paddock Hill Bend. Two turns later, he overtook the lead from Boguslavskiy and tore up a 4.5 second gap within 2 laps. In the next 25 minutes, he extended the lead of the #38 up to 16 seconds, before handing the wheel over to teammate Ollie Wilkinson.
But as Barnicoat had been the fastest car on track in the first part of the race, Raffaele Marciello was fastest in part two. Within 20 minutes the Italian had closed the gap to the McLaren and was under his rear wing with 13 minutes still left on the clock.
Wilkinson was able to defend his lead pretty comfortably. But as more and more traffic loomed ahead, his task became more and more difficult. At the same time, Marciello had to start looking in his rear view mirror as well, as Dries Vanthoor, who took Pole Position in the GT Pro class at Le Mans a week earlier, started to look bigger and bigger, making it a three-way battle for the lead.
The battle was decided with only 5 minutes left on the clock: Wilkinson tried to lap the #93 Sky-Tempesta Ferrari of Giorgio Roda on the inside. Marciello, getting a better exit out of the corner, tried to squeeze his Mercedes in between the Ferrari and the McLaren but the gap proved too narrow. He hit the McLaren on the left rear, sending him off to the left into a horrific crash, launching the car over the barrier onto the bank behind.
The race was immediately neutralized and took the checkered flag, but he was soon dealt a time penalty for causing the incident dropping him outside of the points. This handed the victory to Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, p2 to Stolz and Engel and the final podium spot to Silver Cup winners Frank Bird and Ryuichiro Tomita in the #31 WRT Audi.
The second race of the weekend was a lot less exciting than the first. Marciello on Pole lead the field through turn 1, the top-5 remained unchanged. By the end of lap 1, the RAM Racing Mercedes of Christodoulou stranded in the gravel of the last turn, which brought out the Safety Car to recover the car.
When racing resumed, Marciello managed to quickly pull away and create a gap of about a second or 7 towards Maro Engel and Dries Vanthoor. Engel pitted immediately when the window opened, followed a lap later by Vanthoor, but the WRT crew this time couldn't manage to bring the car out ahead of the Mercedes. Marciello pitted as late as possible and gave over the wheel to Boguslavskiy with 25 minutes on the clock.
It took Stolz and Weerts about ten minutes to close the 8 second gap to Boguslavskiy, but the young Russian seemed very well capable to defend his leading position. Drama hit yet again right before the finish, as a problem, probably a right front puncture, suddenly slowed Boguslavskiy down. This gave both Stolz and Weerts the opportunity to pass the Mercedes. Stolz took the win, Weerts the championship. Umbrarescu and Gounon completed the podium in the #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes.
Next week already the GT World Challenge Europe continues with a round of the Endurance Cup at the Nürburgring. No less than 44 GT3 machines will take the start of a three-hour race at the GP-layout of "The Green Hell".