Updated: Sep 10
Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT has won the GT World Challenge Europe round at Imola. After 3 hours their #31 car driven by Kelvin van der Linde, Matthieu Vaxivière and former Lamborghini driver Mirko Bortolotti crossed the line first. Three manufacturers shared the podium as the #12 GPX Porsche and the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes came in 2nd and 3rd. In both the Silver Cup and the Pro-Am Cup the lead roles were played by British teams: Barwell Motorsport claimed the win in the Silver Cup, while Garage 59 took the honors in the Pro-Am Cup.
On Saturday, Matteo Drudi, Kim Luis Schramm and Frederic Vervisch managed to put their #66 Attempto Audi on Pole for the race. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari with WEC drivers James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Nicklas Nielsen completed the first row, followed by the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes and #12 GPX Porsche. Aurelien Panis, Timothe Buret and Thomas Neubauer managed to put their Silver Cup #15 Tech 1 Lexus as far up as 7th on the grid. An amazing performance as the next competitor from the Silver Cup was back in 17th.
At the start, Vervisch in the #66 Attempto Audi took the lead from pole and immediately managed to open up a gap to British and AF Corse Ferrari ace James Calado. Marciello in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes was right on his tail ahead of the #12 GPX Porsche with Matt Campbell and the #31 WRT Audi with Matthieu Vaxivière at the wheel. Christian Engelhart in the #54 Dinamic Porsche follows in 6th coming from 10th on the grid, while the Silver Cup leader, the Tech 1 Lexus RC F with Timothe Buret consolidated his 7th grid position. Maro Engel, starting from 6th in the HRT Mercedes, was forced on the gravel at Tosa and dropped to 12th. Best of the British GT contenders was Joe Osborne in the Optimum Motorsport McLaren in 20th position.
With only five minutes at the clock, the #3 K-Pax Bentley was pushed back in the garage. 2 laps later, the mechanics already got the car back on track.
After ten minutes we saw the first Full Course Yellow (FCY) of the race when Chris Hook in the #44 SPS Mercedes spun into the wall at the exit of Rivazza-corner. A couple of laps later the Safety Car came on track to allow the cars to warm up after 10 minutes of FCY.
Back to racing Marciello immediately puts the pressure on Calado, and with success: with a better exit out of the Variante Alte chicane he manages to get on the inside of the AF Corse Ferrari and get past him at Rivazza to take 2nd .
The next FCY was only a couple of minutes later as the #87 Mercedes of Jean-Luc Beaubelique was taken out by his brand colleague Alex Fontana in the #89 Mercedes. At almost the same time Remon Vos in the #74 RAM Racing Mercedes came in contact with the #107 CMR Bentley with Umbrarescu at the wheel, forcing both cars to retire.
With 45 minutes done, the race got underway again, but only for, literally, a minute. Somewhere in the middle of the queue behind the Safety Car, a couple of cars made contact which ultimately left the #23 Imperiale Lamborghini dead on the track with only three wheels.
The FCY that followed sparked the first chaotic pit stop window, as 30+ cars entered the pit lane simultaneously. Big victim of this first series of pit stops was race leader Fred Vervisch in the #66 Attempto Audi. He failed to park the car in the proper stop-spot, which lost the mechanics valuable seconds putting the car in the proper place. Team-mate Kim Luis Schramm only rejoined 17th. On the other hand, the AF Corse team did great as the #51 Ferrari with now Nicklas Nielsen at the wheel took the lead after the pit stops. In second was the #72 SMP Ferrari with Sergey Sirotkin taking over from Miguel Molina. Boguslavskiy in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes was in third.
The other big winner of the first series of stops was the #40 GPX Porsche with now Louis Deletraz driving. They decided to stop one lap later during FCY, bringing the car to 4th position when racing resumed, coming from place 16 on the grid. Kelvin van de Linde in the first of the WRT Audis was 5th while the other GPX Porsche with now Patrick Pilet in the driver’ seat was 6th.
Aurelien Panis managed to maintain the lead in the Silver Cup in the Tech 1 Lexus, while Jonathan Hui in the #93 Tempesta Ferrari, who took over from Chris Froggat stayed in the lead of the Pro-Am cup. Hui couldn’t enjoy the lead very long, as Nick Yelloly in the #10 Boutsen Ginion BMW M6 within 10 minutes worked himself up from 5th to the lead in that class.
In the meantime, at the head of the field, van der Linde charged hard on Deletraz. Getting right under the wing of the Porsche for nearly a lap, the South African managed to put his Audi past the Porsche on the inside of the last corner. Deletraz then quickly let teammate Pilet get past as well in order to try to create some space for him at the back. He now had to fend off Boccolacci in the #25 Sainteloc Audi and Soucek in the #9 K-Pax Bentley to hold on to 6th.
Van der Linde clearly was on fire in this stage of the race as he quickly closed the gap in front to the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes. It only cost him two laps to get in its gearbox and another to pass Boguslavskiy in an identical way he also passed Deletraz.
Charging on, Sirotkin was now waiting to become van der Linde’s next victim. Two laps later the job was done and the Audi was on its way to the lead. Nielsen managed to hold on to it for nearly two laps, but the second time through Tamburello with the Audi in his gearbox proved too much. By first peaking on the outside, van der Linde forced Nielsen to defend, creating room for him on the inside for a pass out of the text-book. Quickly he managed to get away from the Ferrari’s to open up a gap.
A bit further back, Deletraz still managed to keep the rest behind him in p6. He now led a train of cars, led in the meantime by Soucek in the Bentley all the way down to p12 in the hands of the Silver Cup leader Aurelien Panis in the Tech 1 Lexus. The train became longer and longer, and a couple of laps later, it reached all the way down to p20 to Alex MacDowall in the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini.
At the 1:30h mark, halfway through the race, the top-10 was as follows: Kelvin van der Linde was still moving away from the rest at the head of the field in the #31 WRT Audi. Nicklas Nielsen in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari was in 2nd, already looking at a gap in front of him of about 8 seconds. Merely a second behind him was the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari with Sergey Sirotkin, followed at 5 seconds by Boguslavskiy in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes and Patrick Pilet in the #12 GPX Porsche. They had quite a gap of about 10 seconds towards Deletraz in the second of the GPX Porsches. He still had Andy Soucek in the #9 K-Pax Bentley and Dorian Boccolacci in the #25 Sainteloc Audi on its tail. In 9th was the first of the Emil Frey Lamborghinis, the #163 driven at that moment by Giacomo Altoe. Chris Weerts in the #32 WRT Audi was in 10th.
In the Silver Cup, Aurelien Panis was still in the lead, a second or two ahead of Andrew Watson in the #159 Garage 59 Aston. They were only separated by the #99 Rowe Racing Porsche of Julian Andlauer in between them.
The Pro-Am cup was still led by Nick Yelloly in the only BMW in the field, chased at considerable distance by the second of the Garage 59 Aston’s driven at that time by Chris Goodwin.
Just after the halfway mark, disaster struck for the #52 Ferrari in 2nd, and the Pro-Am leader Nick Yelloly in the #10 BMW, as they were both penalized with a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. This dropped the Ferrari to 20th and out of contention for the win, while the BMW dropped down to 4th in class and gave the lead to the #188 Garage 59 Aston of Goodwin. This opened up good opportunities for the Aston as works-driver Jonny Adam was to drive the last stint in the car.
With little over 75 minutes to go, the #12 GPX Porsche managed to take 3rd from the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes. Boguslavskiy had a bad exit out of the last turn while in traffic allowing Pilet to overtake at the following long straight.
Finally, after more than half an hour peeking and trying behind Deletraz, Soucek found a way past the #40 GPX Porsche. With just over an hour to go, the Spaniard lined up his #9 K-Pax Bentley on the straight after Tosa and passed Deletraz round the outside of Acque Minerali in what was definitely the move of the race. Soucek immediately pulled away from the Porsche by almost two seconds a lap.
With just over an hour to go, the second round of pit stops began, as WRT pitted the #31 to switch van der Linde for Bortolotti. Patrick Pilet in the #12 GPX Porsche came in with him. Next lap, the #72 SMP Ferrari came in for fuel and tires. They suffered the same fate as Fred Vervisch in the Attempto Audi earlier: mechanics had to push the car in position in pit lane as it was in the way of the car that was stopping behind.
After the second round of pit stops, the #31 WRT Audi with now Mirko Bortolotti at the wheel was back in the lead. At 25 seconds, now second thanks to the pit stop drama at SMP was the #12 GPX Porsche with Mathieu Jaminet. Felipe Fraga was third in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes. WRT truly did a fabulous job during the pit window, as they managed to move up the #32 Audi, now in the hands of Dries Vanthoor, up to 4th. The #99 Rowe Porsche with Klaus Bachler was in 5th, followed by the #100 GetSpeed Mercedes driven by Fabian Schiller which also slowly but surely fought his way forward. Alvaro Parente, who was now in the #9 Bentley was in 7th, followed by the first Sainteloc Audi, the #25 now with Christopher Haase. AF Corse managed to bring back the #51 Ferrari in the top-10 in 9th.
In the Silver Cup, the lead was now in the hands of Valentin Hasse Clot in the #159 Garage 59 Aston, 10th overall. He inherited the lead after Thomas Neubauer, who took the wheel of the #15 Tech 1 Lexus had a contact with the #56 Dinamic Porsche and lost a fair amount of time. Patrick Kujala in the #78 Barwell Lamborghini was in second while Neubauer was still in third.
The Pro-Am cup was indeed now led by Jonny Adam in the #188 Garage 59 Aston with over a lap advantage over the #10 BMW with Karim Ojjeh now at the wheel.
Right after the pit stops, the championship defending #63 Orange 1 Lamborghini of Caldarelli, Mapelli and Lind was forced to retire with suspension problems.
Most eye-catching battle at this moment, with some 50 minutes remaining, was between Fabian Schiller in the Mercedes and Alvaro Parente in the Bentley. At their rear Haase was also closing in. The fight ended in tears as Parente, in an over-enthusiastic move, pushed out Schiller at Rivazza. A FCY was the result to remove the Mercedes from the gravel.
A couple of minutes later the Safety Car came on track again to allow the cars to warm up to resume racing. This of course brought the field back together, although the leaders were still separated by some lapped cars. Most important, leader Bortolotti had two Pro-Am cars, the #10 BMW and the #108 CMR Bentley, as a buffer to the #12 GPX Porsche of Jaminet in 2nd. He in turn, only had one car in between him and Felipe Fraga in the #88 Mercedes.
With just over 35 minutes to go, racing resumed. The Pro-Am cars in between the leaders proved a big advantage for Bortolotti. It almost looked like they were unaware that the number two in the race was behind them, as it cost Jaminet over half a lap to get past one car, and another to get by the next. By then, Bortolotti was already 4,5 seconds away.
Two laps later there was drama for Hasse Clot in the Garage 59 Aston, leading the Silver Cup at that time. In front, Karim Ojjeh in the #10 BMW spun at the Variante Alta chicane, and the chaos behind caused Sandy Mitchell in the #77 Barwell Lamborghini to tap the Aston also into a spin. This accidentally put Patrick Kujala in the other Barwell Lamborghini in the lead of the Silver Cup with now Neubauer back in second. However, just as he took over 2nd, Neubauer was handed a drive-through penalty for his contact with the Dinamic Porsche earlier. Unfortunately, Mitchell suffered considerable damage and was forced to come in a couple of minutes later.
With 25 minutes to go, another FCY was called when the 59 Racing McLaren stopped beside the track on the straight towards the Variante Alta. This promised for a tense finish of the race, as the leaders had just cleared most of the backmarkers, would now be brought back together by the Safety Car, and had a 12-minute sprint towards the finish with almost no lapped cars in between.
Bortolotti, Jaminet and Fraga had the #108 CMR Bentley as a buffer to Dries Vanthoor. Haase in 5th had only two Pro-Am cars between him and Vanthoor: the #555 Orange 1 Lamborghini and the #67 Dinamic Porsche.
In the Silver Cup, the fight for the lead would be just as tense, as Andrea Rizzoli in the #56 Dinamic Porsche was right behind Patrick Kujala in the #78 Barwell Lamborghini.
In the final stint of the race, Jonny Adam had little to fear from the back, as he was 15th overall and had almost a lap buffer to 2nd in class Eddie Cheever in the #93 Tempesta Ferrari.
The first lap after the restart didn’t change the top-3. Bortolotti managed to pull a small gap to Jaminet. It looked as if Jaminet was missing a bit of temperature in his tyres, as he was weaving left and right on the longer straights. Felipe Fraga was right under his rear wing but couldn’t make a move just yet. Behind, Dries Vanthoor quickly got past the Pro-Am Bentley and closed the small gap to Fraga in front. Haase managed to quickly get past the Pro-Am Porsche but now still had the Lamborghini and Bentley separating him from Vanthoor.
With only seven minutes to go, Bortolotti had managed to pull a 2,5 second gap to Jaminet. The Porsche in 2nd, Fraga in 3rd and Vanthoor in 4th were only 4 tenths of a second apart. Nearly 4 seconds behind, Haase was still struggling to get past the Bentley. He had a three car buffer to Bachler in 6th, who was 2,5 seconds away.
In the last laps of the race the order did not change. Bortolotti, Vaxivière and star of the race Kelvin van der Linde won by a 3,4 second gap to Jaminet. Fraga came close to second, but in the end was more occupied with defending third from Vanthoor than placing a move on Jaminet. Haase came in fifth, ahead of Bachler in the #99 ROWE Racing Porsche, and Alessandro Pier Guidi, who managed to bring back the #51 AF Corse Ferrari to 7th after their earlier drive-through penalty. Rob Bell sneaked up into the top-10, scoring a nice 8th place in the Optimum Motorsport McLaren 720.
Both the Silver Cup and the Pro-Am cup were won by British teams. Barwell Motorsport claimed the honours in the Silver Cup as Kujala brought home the victory in the #78, while Jonny Adam brought home the win for Garage 59 in the #188 Aston. Valentin Hasse Clot in the other Garage 59 Aston in the Silver Cup, brought the car back on the podium in 2nd place, after his spin late in the race.
The netx GTWC Europe meeting is in two weeks, as part of the field moves to Misano for the Sprint Cup.
Find the full results here.
Watch the full race here: