After almost two months off for a summer break, the Blancpain Sprint Series resumed with Round 4 held at the 3.68 mile Slovakia Ring built in 2009 by Hans Roth only 20 miles or so from the capital city of Bratislava.
The Free Practice sessions were an Audi showcase: with Markus Winkelhock first under two minutes behind the wheel of the #6 Phoenix Racing Audi; FP1’s fastest time of 1:58.744 was clocked by Stéphane Ortelli who became a Belgian Audi Club Team WRT driver for the meeting, after his usual steed the #3 G-Drive Racing Audi was not entered, partnering Fabian Hamprecht in the #9 Audi instead; and in FP2 René Rast was the only driver to break the two-minute barrier with the increased track temperatures slowing things down. Rast’s 1:59.993 in the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi came at the end of the session, followed shortly thereafter by new team-mate Ortelli’s 2:00.116 for an Audi 1-2. The Best of the Rests being provided by Jeroen Bleekemolen, #28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, +0.372 seconds in FP1 and Matheus Stumpf, #30 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil BMW, +0.237 in FP2.
In the Qualifying sessions it was more of the same as a third car from the Team WRT stable got in on the act, Laurens Vanthoor taking pole in the #1 Audi. The Belgian posted a 1:58.187, sufficient to extend his BSS qualifying record to a second consecutive pole and to finding the front row for the fourth time in four rounds. Bleekemolen’s #28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini was only +0.142s behind the Dutchman having regathered himself after a brief sojurn through a gravel trap. Vanthoor and Bleekemolen are clearly the one-lap wonders of the series, both having shared the front row thus far this year with 2 pole positions each. Silver Cup pole went to David Fumanelli’s #34 ROAL Motorsport BMW, P6 overall, but only by the slimmest of margins. Fumanelli was just +0.044s quicker than Series debutant Luca Stolz in the #86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes SLS. No Pro-Am drivers made it through to the third qualifying session and a countback all the way to Q1 found Marc Basseng’s time in the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi good enough for pole in the Pro-Am Trophy.
The Qualifying Race provided another win for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT with Cesar Ramos and Laurens Vanthoor winning from pole but not before two separate red flag stoppages. The first was due to an opening lap second corner incident where Thomas Enge’s #88 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini, having clipped Stef Dusseldorp’s #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-Benz SLS, bounced off the armco and after cartwheeling ended up coming to rest with its rear wheels atop the barrier some distance down the track. Fortunately Enge was able to walk away from the scene as the marshalls carried out the necessary barrier repairs required for the re-start and the rain began to fall.
The delay saw the cars change to wet tyres and re-start with 54m left on the clock with Jeroen Bleekemolen leading the field into turn one having got ahead at the initial start. In the deteriorating conditions the Audi drivers pressed their advantage, on lap seven René Rast passed Bleekemolen to take the lead with Winkelhock and Vanthoor close behind. The rain intensified to torrential and Stéphane Ortelli took to the gravel as did Giorgio Pantano, and Andrea Montermini, whilst Dominik Baumann aquaplaned and stopped on track at Turn 1 as the pit window opened. With visibility reduced to nearly nothing, the safety car was deployed for the second time and all cars with the exception of Winkelhock pitted before the race was red flagged again with 28 minutes left to run. The second safety-car restart had the #2 WRT Audi of Enzo Ide leading, Ide having taken over from Rene Rast, with Hari Proczyk’s #28 Lamborghini, started by Bleekemolen, second and Cesar Ramos third in the #1 Vanthoor Audi. Nico Verdonck was fourth in the #84 HTP Mercedes, that had been started by Max Gotz, and Matheus Stumpf was fifth in the #30 Team Brasil BMW. Winkelhock pitted on the first lap restarted ans rejoined dead last as a result!
Cesar Ramos passed Proczyk for second with just under a quarter of an hour left for a WRT 1-2 and set off after his team-mate Enzo Ide who later spun and allowed Ramos to take the lead as well as letting Proczyk, Verdonck, and Vincent Abril go by as well. Abril attempted a last lap overtaking manoeuver on Verdonck but couldn’t make it stick, running wide and losing the Silver Cup lead to the #30 ROAL Motorsport BMW in so doing. Another win for the #1 Ramos/Vanthoor WRT Audi ahead of the Bleekemolen/Proczyk #28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini and the #84 HTP Mercedes SLS of Max Götz and Nico Verdonck.
The Main Race at each of the three preceeding rounds had seen three different teams taking the winners’ honours. The white clouds and sunshine weather made a welcome change from the aquatic conditions of Saturday as Round 4’s main race continued this theme. BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert provided the fourth different winning team in as many rounds after a thrilling fight with BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil that went almost to the wire when Dominik Baumann in the #76 Team Schubert BMW passed Sergio Jimenez in the #0 Team Brazil Z4 for the lead on the penultimate lap. The fight for 3rd went similarly close as René Rast took third in the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi on the final lap from HTP whose three Mercedes SLS’ finished fourth, fifth, and sixth. Silver Cup honours went to Series debutants Lucas Wolf and Luca Stolz in the #86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes and the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi of Marc Basseng and Alessandro Latif took the Pro-Am Trophy win.
Polesitter Ramos got away slowly in the #1 Audi and the 20 metre wide track allowed the cars behind to go six or seven cars wide into the first corner. Contact with Enzo Ide’s #2 Audi put a big hole in the offside door of the #1 car and Ide put two wheels onto the grass, got turned around, rejoined backwards, and helped half a dozen cars into the gravel trap. The #28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, second in the Championship, was left stranded as were Hamprecht’s #9 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and Matheus Stumpf in the #30 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brazil car. Other opening laps action saw Niki Mayr-Melnhof hit the barrier to retire the #6 Phoenix Racing Audi and Alex Zanardi retired the #33 BMW having picked-up a puncture after contact with Marc Basseng’s Audi. Having avoided and profited from the first lap fracas Miguel Toril driving the #63 Fortec Mercedes was up to 3rd place, despite starting 11th on the grid, following Nico Verdonck, leading in the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes, and Cacà Bueno, second in the #0 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil car. Toril made a game fight of retaining third place but it wasn’t to be as he was passed by first Wolff, then Basseng and Jaeger, with Ramos and Abril in close contention as the pit window opened.
Verdonck pitted from the lead, a lap before the Team Brasil BMW whose excellent pitwork brought Bueno’s co-driver, Sergio Jimenez, re-join immediately behind Championship leader Max Gotz. A mistake from Laurens Vanthoor, who ran wide at turn two having taken over from Cesar Ramos, meant a second pit-stop for the #1 Audi and an uncharacteristic slow stop by HTP Mercedes allowed the Basseng/Latif #5 Audi to emerge ahead of Wolff’s co-driver Luca Stoltz’s in the #86 car. Further woe for HTP came when Gotz lost the lead of the race to Jimenez after running wide. Yet it was Baumann whom impressed himself upon the final part of the race; having inherited the #76 Team Schubert BMW from Thomas Jäger in fourth place, Baumann caught and passed Gotz at the hairpin with 20 minutes to go and had Jimenez as the next target who looked to be able to hold on to score a maiden Blancpain Sprint Series victory, but for Baumann who took a chance around the outside at Turn 6 on the penultimate lap to take the win. Max Gotz’s day got worse when he was caught by Rene Rast who managed a fine podium finish by passing Latif earlier and subsequently Gotz on the final lap.
Max Buhk’s rap on the knuckles by the German authorities meant that he did not drive this weekend and this means that Max Gotz leads the championship standings alone with 85 points, team-mate Buhk remaining on 69, with Proczyk and Bleekemolen second for Grasser Lamborghini albeit that Proczyk’s first-corner retirment in the main race leaves them trailing Gotz by 18 points ahead of Round 5 at Portimao, Portugal, 5th – 7th September.