AKKA ASP Team has won the opening Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe race at Brands Hatch with its #89 Mercedes-AMG, securing a phenomenal result for the leading Silver Cup entrant.
The crew of Nico Bastian and Thomas Neubauer beat the pole-sitting #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG, with the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini completing the podium at the British venue.
It was a remarkable result for the AKKA ASP duo, particularly 19-year-old Neubauer. The Frenchman was making his first appearance at this level of racing after graduating from Formula Renault Eurocup and beat two of the most successful crews on the international GT scene to take the win.
The #4 Black Falcon machine started on pole courtesy of Stolz and led the first stint, with Mirko Bortolotti retaining P2 in his Grasser Lamborghini.
When Stolz handed over to Maro Engel the #4 Mercedes-AMG looked set for victory, particularly as it had emerged ahead of the #63 Lamborghini. Bortolotti gave the contriols to Christian Engelhart, with the German ace only able to hold station behind the Black Falcon car.
But they had not counted on a sensational showing by the #89 AKKA crew. Bastian ran long and delivered rapid laps to conclude his stint, after which the AKKA mechanics delivered a lighting-fast pit stop.
This allowed Nuebauer to emerge in P1, though with the vastly experienced Engel chasing him down the 19-year-old looked to have a major threat in his mirrors.
But that did not prove too be the case. Instead, Neubauer delivered an assured drive to not only hold on to the lead but also edge away at the front. He never really looked to be in serious danger and came home to win by a little over two seconds.
Engelhart completed the podium after a lonely stint that saw the #63 Lamborghini running adrift of P2 and well clear of fourth. Behind him, the battle for P4 was the highlight of the second stint, with the hard-charing Raffaele Marciello (#88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG) eventually passing Clemens Schmid (#66 Attempto Racing Audi) to take the position.
The #89 AKKA ASP crew's stunning overall win should not overshadow a number of other strong runs by Silver Cup challengers. Notably, the #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car of Shae Davies and Tom Gamble was an impressive sixth at the flag, while the #1 WRT Audi and the #56 Attempto Audi were also among the overall top-10.
Rinat Salikhov and David Perel took Pro-Am honours in their #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, with the Russian driver having assumed the class lead after rival Louis Machiels slid into the gravel during the opening stint. Salikhov had been pressuring the #52 AF Corse Ferrari at the time and Perel duly completed the job.
The AKKA ASP squad have no time to celebrate their victory just yet, with the weekend's second race set too take place this afternoon at 16.35. The sister #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG will start from pole, placing another Silver Cup car at the head of the order – and setting up the possibility of another surprise winner.
Nico Bastian, #89 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG: "This is crazy, isn’t it? The start was good, I defended my position but there was no way to pass the cars in front of me. With Luca and Mirko I was able to pull away and I tried to save my tyres, because I knew that I would try to stay out as long as possible. Then I had two or three push laps where I could get the time that we need to overtake in the pit lane and it paid off. The team also did a mega stop, the guys are training so much during the winter time and they are a big part of this win. And then my teammate, in his first ever GT3 race, running in front of Maro... he did a mega job."
Maro Engel, #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG: "First of all congratulations to the winners. It is quite incredible and they should be very happy because they did a great job. I hung back a little at first, and then pushed to close the gap down. But, as soon as you're close enough, you lose so much aero on this track, so it wasn’t really possible to get near enough to make a move. The team gently reminded me that this track has so many curbs and it would maybe better to take P2 today. We have to be really happy, in the end we lost a bit in the pit stop, but we are satisfied with this result."
Mirko Bortolotti, #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan: "I managed to defend my position and stay behind Luca. The maximum was to get alongside him for the first two corners, but it's so difficult to overtake at this track. After the first lap we focussed on our strategy and tried to keep pace with Luca. We thought the undercut would be the best option, the same as Luca and Maro and it was a good stop from our side. The team did a great job and we can be pleased with P3. We'll take the points. The ultimate goal was to finish P2 or even P1, but credit to these guys and we will look forward to the next race.