Text: Rick Kiewiet
Last weekend, Valentino Rossi fans in the UK did not flock to the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, where the 1000th MotoGP race in history took place and where the checkered flag was waved by Giacomo Agostini, but they invaded the circuit of Brands Hatch, where their hero, now on four wheels instead of two, contested the two races in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Sprint cup. They were treated: The Doctor scored his first podium in the GT World Challenge with a second place finish in race 2. The duo Marciello/Boguslavskiy launched their 2023 title bid with a victory in race 1, while Ricardo Feller and Mattia Drudi took the checkered flag in race 2. That, and their second place finish in race 1, makes them the Sprint Cup championship leaders after the first round.
First race of the day that started late morning Sunday, was a classic Start/Finish win by Boguslavskiy and Marciello in the #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes. Marciello started the race from pole, built a comfortable lead, stopped at the last possible lap of the pit stop window to hand over the car to Boguslavskiy and gave him a 15 second gap to defend from Feller in the #40 Tresor Orange1 Audi. The Russian managed, be it only just, as he held a 0.6s margin at the finish. The #40 was brought in by Drudi from p3, behind the #69 Emil Frey Ferrari, but the latter was taken out of contention for the lead by a slow pit stop. Dries Vanthoor brought in the #32 WRT BMW third after leapfrogging a three cars with an early stop.
For Adrien De Leener in the #54 Dinamic GT Huber Porsche the race was a couple of yards too long. Within sight of the finish, the Belgian lost pace giving Haase (#11 Audi), Vermeulen (#69 Ferrari), Altoe (#14 Ferrari) and Perera (#60 Lamborghini) the opportunity to pass. Eventuelly, De Leener took the flag in p8.
The start of race 2 took place late afternoon. The front row was locked out by Audi, with Mies in the #27 taking pole for Sainteloc while Haase in the #11 ComToYou Audi was beside him. Maxime Martin qualified the #46 WRT BMW third, while Feller in the #40 Audi started only 7th. A couple of disappointing qualifying results were for the #32 WRT BMW of Vanthoor and Weerts (13th), the #88 Mercedes of Marciello and Boguslavskiy (19th) and the #54 Porsche of Engelhart and De Leener (24th).
No position changes at the top of the field at the start, as Mies dove into Paddock Hill Bend just ahead of Haase and Martin. The gaps between Mies, Haase and Martin started to stretch a bit during the first stint, up to 2.5 seconds between Mies and Haase and the same gap between Haase and Martin, when the safety car came on track just under 20 minutes into the race to recover the #9 Audi of Di Folco. This nullified all gaps with only 5 minutes to go until the opening of the pit window when racing resumed.
Feller in the #40 Audi was among those, together with Vanthoor in the #32 BMW, that entered the pits at the first opportunity. A quick stop from the pit crew got Drudi who took over the #40 out just ahead of Weerts who was now in the #32. In clean air, Drudi was able to put in some quick laps that gave him the lead after all cars made their stop. The Audi that lead the race during the first stint, dropped gradually down the order. Valentino Rossi in the #46 BMW rejoined the track in 2nd, just ahead of Weerts in the #32 sister car. The remainder of the race didn't see any noteworthy position changes. Rossi was not able to bringe the fight to Drudi in front, while Weerts did not risk the 2-3 finish for WRT with an attempt to pass Rossi on the tight track in Kent. And so, Drudi won, while Rossi got his first podium in the GT World Challenge in front of a big number of British fans.
The next race in the GT World Challenge is in the weekend of 3-4 June, with the 1000km of Paul Ricard in the south of France.