Blancpain Sprint Series competitors awoke to clear blue skies and bright Kentish sunshine this morning at Brands Hatch.
Feeling particularly ebullient was Laurens Vanthoor, after recording the fastest time in qualifying he was happy enough but the Belgian appeared a little touchy when asked regarding the nature of the session and whether a more formal track limits rule is needed?
The rule is clear and rules are rules. Here it’s OK, especially when compared to Hockenheim for instance, I was surprised to be called for it [exceeding track limits] because I didn’t think I was over the line. But my lap time stood, so its OK!
The drivers nominated as #2 on the entry list are usually the more qualified driver within teams and it is they that lead off the Blancpain Sprint Series Qualifying Race. ‘Qualifying’ because it sets the grid order for the ‘Main’ Race later in the day. The Qualification Race also has a lesser points haul; only first through sixth score eight points down to one, whereas first through tenth score twenty five points down to one in the Main Race.
With Laurens Vanthoor taking the rolling start past the green flag, the first corner was pretty congested as was the run up to Druids. First lap action saw contact and spins for Estonian Sten Penthus in the #61 Bhaitech McLaren and for an incident between Sergei Afanasiev in the #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes SLS and Stefan Ortelli in the #3 G-Drive Racing Audi R8, which ended in a puncture for Afanasiev and irreparable suspension damage for Ortelli that will keep the #3 car from the Main Race later today.
Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #28 Grasser Racing Lamborghini got past Maximilian Gotz’s #84 HTP Mercedes shortly after Gotz made contact with the leading #1 Audi (investigated but no action taken). Gotz then lost a further place, down to 4th, to Marcus Winklehock in the #6 Phoenix Racing Audi R8.
Alex Zanardi in the #33 BMW, starting 7th, lost two places early on and found himself behind a nose-to-tail Andrea Montermini, Caca Bueno, Valdeno Filho, and Rene Rast on lap five; Bueno the loser and Rast the winner, as when free of this group Rast’s #2 Audi posted the fastest lap of the race, 1:25.698 (Lap 6) and pulled clear. However; in passing, some contact between Rast and the #30 BMW meant that the #2 Audi collected a puncture and pitted for a replacement only for the mechanics to initially go to replace the wrong tyre!
Pro-Am pole-sitter, Marc Basseng in the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi started well gaining two places to sit a strong 10th but was being harried by Thomas Enge in the #88 Reiter Lamborghini. At 3rd distance, on lap 13, the race order was #1, #28, #6, #84, #30, #90, #0, #33, #5 (Pro-Am leader now 9th), #88, #4 (Silver Cup leader 11th)
The race order remained unchanged as the pit window opened on Lap 17. With the faster drivers due to change over to the slower, the leaders elected to stay out and keep the Pros in the cars as long as possible. Apart from HTP’s Max Gotz in the #84 SLS who was the first of the field in, followed by #60 McLaren. A lap later the Pro-Am leader Basseng, in the #5 Audi, handed over to the 18yo Briton and Brands Hatch debutant Alessandro Latif.
Contact between the #4 Belgian Audi Club R8 of Vincent Abril and Alex Zanardi’s #33 Roal BMW saw the Italian facing the wrong way at Clarke Curve and then beached in the gravel-trap as a power slide recovery went a bit wrong! With Zanardi’s BMW stuck half on and half off the track, the Safety car was deployed just as race-leader Laurens Vanthoor pitted, right at the very end of the pit-stop window.
The Lap 28 post-pitstop/safety car top-ten race order with 17 minutes of racing left was: #28, #6, #84, #1, #30, #0, #90, #88, #34 (silver cup), #4. Pro-Am leader #5 was 11th.
With Alex Zanardi helped out of the gravel and limping back to the pits, the #85 Mercedes retired. Zanardi rejoined in last place after a check-over and ahead of three more returns to the pits as his day met with a premature end.
Move of the morning went to Maximilian Melnhof’s #6 Phoenix Racing Audi at Paddock Hill bend to take 2nd place. Least Gentlemanly move of the morning went to the pairing of Sergio Jiminez in the #0 BMW and Stumpf in the #30 Team Brasil BMW who mugged Cesar Ramos in the #1 Audi, barging down the inside at Druids. The Stewards took a look but decided that was just racing. Melnhoff had a slight off at Graham Hill bend in the #6 Audi, ceding 3rd place immediately and ending up in 5th with 5 minutes to run. Drive of the morning goes to Thomas Enge in the #88 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini who began at the back of the grid, not having posted a valid qualification time, and finished in an honourable 9th place.
At the finish on Lap 40 the all Pro top-ten cars crossed the line #28, #84, #0, #30, #6, #1, #90, #60, #88, #61. Stefano Colombo placed 11th overall in the #34 Roal BMW, taking the Silver Cup honours ahead of Abril’s #4 Team WRT Audi. The Pro-Am class win went to the driver pairing of Latif and Basseng in the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi, which led the class start to finish.
Obviously happy with the class win but we were running in the top-ten for much of the time, so we’ll push a bit harder this time and try to get some points.
All-in-all a great morning’s racing where positions 5th to 15th were covered by just 7.056 seconds at the finish. A notable performance from young British driver Daniel Lloyd in his stint in the #61 Bhaitech McLaren: the Lap 1 spin had the car re-join in last place and Pentus managed 17th before handing over to Lloyd at the pit-stop, Lloyd then went off to drive up to finish in 10th.
I got the car in 17th but I know the circuit well so I was able to improve. I’m starting the Main Race and we’ll get stuck in and see what we can do, we’ve got the race pace and a plan that will work; some fresh tires for the second stint, we should score some good points if I can get in the right place at the start.
The ‘Main’ race of the Blancpain Sprint Series gets under way at 14:45GMT this afternoon