With just the Main Race of the final round of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup to go, ten drivers can still become sprint champion. At the Nürburgring, the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup leaders Maxi Buhk and Franck Perera took the win in the Qualifying Race, at the wheel of the #84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport car. After an exciting second half of the race the #19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Andrea Caldarelli and Ezequiel Perez-Companc was classified in second, after being awarded a one-second post-race penalty for cutting the chicane.
After a relatively quiet first half, the Qualifying Race at the Nürburgring totally came alive after the pitstops. Marcel Fässler, in the #5 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 LMS, had lost the lead after a less-than-perfect driver change with Dries Vanthoor. The Swiss driver was chasing new leader Ezequiel Perez-Companc, who had taken over from Andrea Caldarelli in the #19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini.
It was the first time the Argentine driver was in the lead of a Blancpain GT Series sprint race, but Perez-Companc did a great job in holding on to first position. The leading duo quickly became a quartet, when first Franck Perera (#84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport) and then Maxime Soulet (#8 Bentley Team M-Sport) joined the scrap.
Soulet fought his way up to second, but in the fight with Perez-Companc both had to cut the chicane. The Lamborghini driver held on to the lead, while Soulet dropped back to fourth a couple of hundred metres down the road. Even though during the last few laps all four drivers were at it hammer and tongs, positions did not change. Perez-Companc crossed the line in first, only to receive a one second penalty for cutting the chicane.
That meant that Maxi Buhk and Franck Perera received the eight points for the win in the Qualifying Race, extending their lead in the drivers’ standings to seven points, as Marcel Fässler crossed the line in third.
Other title contenders lost more ground: starting from 18th Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart (#63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini) crossed the line in 19th, which means they are now 11 points behind the leaders in the standings. Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard (#17 Team WRT Audi, sixth) have the same 11-point deficit, Markus Winkelhock and Will Stevens (#2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 LMS) are one point further down. With 25 points up for grabs in tomorrow’s Main Race anything is still possible.
In the Pro-Am Cup Daniel Keilwitz took an excellent start at the wheel of the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, passing the first corner in second position overall. He held on to a top-3 position for all of his stint, but a speed infraction in pitlane meant that co-driver Alexander Mattschull was penalised with a drive-through. The duo eventually finished in 18th overall, but still won the Pro-Am Cup category, considerably increasing their title chances in the process.
In the Silver Cup the newly crowned champions Jules Szymkowiak and Fabian Schiller (HTP Motorsport) produced an impressive comeback, starting from 31st overall and finishing in 9th, claiming an emphatic win in the Silver Cup. The Am Cup went to the #888 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Am Cup Sprint champions Stephen Earle and David Perel.
Sunday’s Sprint Cup decider starts at 15.30 CEST, and will be streamed live on www.blancpain-gt-series.com, the GT World YouTube-page and the Blancpain GT Series Facebook-page.
Franck Perera (#84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport; 1st): “It was quite nice to be able to race like this. When I had closed the gap to the leading duo, I tried to gain some more positions, but considering our top speed is not that high, it was not easy. When the Bentley closed the gap, I first tried to block him. Then I noticed he was really fast, so I let him past, to try and follow him in passing the others. After the contact in the chicane between the Lamborghini and the Bentley I moved up to second and I was quite happy with that result. But I’ll take first as well.”
Ezequiel Perez-Companc (#19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, 2nd): “We had an excellent pitstop and driver change, so I came out in the lead. When the Bentley launched an attack I was quite surprised. We were both on the left hand side of the track, so there was no other choice than to go straight. I was completely sideways through the gravel, which was not fun. I do not understand why we get a penalty for that, to lose a win like this hurts a lot.”
Marcel Fässler (#5 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8, 3rd): “It was pretty tough out there. The Lamborghini was changing its line a bit too much in my opinion. So I was not surprised when I saw what happened with the Bentley. There was too much blocking going on. In such a situation it’s very difficult to race, because you can damage your car and then your championship is over. But I have to say that we lost the race in the pitlane this time. The seat belts were blocked behind my back, so we were not ready when the car was. Tomorrow we will have to take back seven points, but there will be plenty of people trying to win the final race of the season. I am sure it will be a great race for the spectators.”
Jules Szymkowiak (#85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG, 1st Silver Cup): “Our goal is to be at the front of the overall rankings, but on the grid we were not, due to the incidents in qualifying. Before the race we said to each other we would try to have fun, and that is what we did. We avoided the incidents, passed some cars, had an amazing pitstop and driver change and ended up in ninth overall. I am sure that tomorrow we can do something nice as well.”
Alexander Mattschull (#333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, 1st Pro-Am Cup): “I made a small mistake when leaving the pitbox, but that’s over and done with now. We had a drive-through because of that, but we still won Pro-Am, so I am happy with the points. I am also pretty satisfied that we had the pace to drive inside the top-10.”
David Perel (#888 Kessel Racing Ferrari, 1st Am Cup): “This was my first race here, so I watched some YouTube videos to see what other drivers do around here. I had a pretty good start, committed to a line and that worked out. I think we were P16 at a certain point, so that was fun.”
Results Qualifying Race