Updated: Sep 26, 2021
Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
After their win in the Endurance Cup opener in Imola two weeks ago, WRT has also taken the win in the first race of the Sprint Cup triple-header in Misano. In the tight finale caused by a late Safety Car, the #32 of Vanthoor and Weerts took the chequered flag ahead of the #31 of Tomita and Kelvin van der Linde. The last step of the podium was taken by the #107 CMR Bentley of Panciatici and Gounon, who for a large share of the race seemed on pole to take the victory.
Somewhat of a surprise in qualifying as Frenchman Thomas Neubauer in the Silver Cup #15 Tech 1 Lexus took pole, ahead of the #107 Bentley of Jules Gounon. Third on the grid was another Silver Cup competitor as Jim Pla put his #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes ahead of the #32 and #31 WRT Audis of Weerts and Tomita.
At the rolling start, Neubauer managed to stay ahead of Gounon, be it barely. The Bentley managed to get beside the Lexus in the right hand turn 1, as the cars went door handle to door handle. Neubauer however managed to do the same through the left hand turn 2 and as the next turn were right hand again, he came out in front in the end.
Behind the two leaders, Japanese debutant Ryuichiro Tomita had a good start as well. First, he got in front of teammate Weerts. Tomita showed he clearly knows his way around in the R8 as for the remainder of the race to the pit stop window he crawled under the rear wing of Jim Pla's Mercedes. Luca Stolz gained the most places in lap 1 as he catapulted himself from 9th to 6th.
Neubauer defended his lead successfully up until the pit stop window. Tech 1 decided to pull the car in as soon as the window opened after 25 minutes. This gave way to Gounon to try to gain some time, relieved of the Lexus in front. But CMR had Gounon bring the car in a lap later already. Despite being stuck behind a back marker in that lap, the CMR crew managed to get Panciatici, out ahead of the Lexus.
Unfortunately, Panis, who took over from Neubauer, had to bring the car in a lap later with a technical failure. Race over.
Panciatici was now in the lead, ahead of Vanthoor who took over the #32 WRT Audi from Weerts. They managed to get ahead of the #31 WRT, now in the hands of Kelvin van der Linde. Maro Engel, now in the #4 HRT Mercedes was in 4th, newcomer Benjamin Hites, in the #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes 5th, ahead of both Attempto Audis, the #66 with Fred Vervisch now at the wheel and the #55 with Mattia Drudi. Christopher Haase in the #25 Sainteloc Audi was 7th. When Hites vigorously defended his position from Vervisch, forcing him wide in the last turn, Haase managed to get past both and take over 5th position.
In the following minutes, the stack of cars behind Hites grew and grew. Eventually, he succumbed to the pressure and got into a spin in the left hand hairpin mid-track, perhaps slightly tapped on the rear bumper by Vervisch. The whole train behind managed to avoid hitting the AMG, except last in line Hamza Owega in the #33 WRT Audi. He hit the Mercedes mid-ship, breaking its rear suspension and axle leaving him cripled in the middle of the track. This of course called out the Safety Car to give marshals the opportunity to clear the track of debris.
With the field completely back together, racing resumed with only 9 minutes to go. Panciatici in the #107 Bentley, who seemed safe to win the race if he stayed out of trouble, was now under pressure by the two WRT Audis. He managed to retain his lead at the restart, but only half a lap later, Vanthoor forced his way through to take the lead. In doing so, he also gave the opportunity to his teammate van der Linde who got a better exit up to the back straight and also found his way past the Bentley.
In the remainder of the race, Panciatici succeeded in fighting of attempts from Maro Engel in the HRT Mercedes while both WRT Audis sped away in front. Vanthoor never really came under pressure from van der Linde and took the chequered flag. Behind Panciatici and Engel, Haase finished 5th, ahead of another two Audis: Drudi in 6th and Vervisch in 7th. Simon Gachet and Steven palette inherited the Silver Cup win after Hites' late elimination, while Chris Froggat and Eddie Cheever took the win in the Pro-Am class in their Sky-Tempesta Ferrari.
Tomorrow's two races start at 9:20 and 13:00 GMT. For race 2 Raffaele Marciello is on Pole in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes, qualification for race 3 is at 7:00 GMT.
You can (re-)watch all races with English commentary here.