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November 21, 2017

Blancpain Sprint Series – Round 7 Baku Sunday

Blancpain Sprint Series – Round 7 Baku Sunday

WRT Audi drivers Cesar Ramos and Laurens Vanthoor claimed a fourth Qualifying Race victory of the season after a good start by Vanthoor saw him hold second place behind Stefan Ortelli. A runaway wheel made for a slower pit stop for Ortelli and allowed Proczyk and Ramos through to inherit the leading places. Damage to the front of the #28 Lamborghini forced Hari Proczyk to pit for repairs, dropping him down to the order and handing the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series Drivers’ title to Max Götz despite Götz and Buhk finishing ninth and scoring no points. Götz’s points advantage going in was sufficient that the Grasser drivers had to score Qualifying Race points to keep their chance of the title alive.

After the rolling start, somewhat surprisingly, the entire field made it through the first three corners unscathed. As early as Turn 3 Ortelli and Vanthoor had edged a small gap over Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #28 Grasser Lamborghini, who had the rest of the pack gathered behind him. This lead was soon immaterial when normal service resumed at Turn 4: Joe Osborne in the #888 BMW made contact under braking with the #13 Zakspeed Mercedes that had turned in a little early; the Zakspeed SLS in turn nudged the #85 HTP Mercedes of Stef Dusseldorp into the path of the speeding #76 Team Schubert BMW that, having made up 14 places after starting dead last, was flying up the inside and had to cut the chicane to avoid trouble; the Baumann BMW’s collision with the sliding Dusseldorp sent it hard into the wall and the double yellow flags waved for the four-laps under safety car that followed. Matheus Stumpf’s #30 Team Brasil BMW was given an assist by the #13 Zakspeed Mercedes at the narrow Turn 8, that left it facing the wrong way, to complete the opening lap action.

With 15 minutes of race time having elapsed during the clean-up, the race restarted cleanly with the two Audis of Ortelli and Vanthoor leading from Bleekemolen’s Lamborghini that had Andy Soucek and Frederic Vervisch behind in the Beechdean Aston Martin and the Boutsen Ginion McLaren respectively.

After the restart Ricardo Sperafico put the #30 Team Brasil BMW into the barrier braking far too late at Turn 8, thankfully local yellows only, and Max Buhk in the #84 HTP Mercedes passed Vervisch to enter the top five, lost the place by getting sideways out of Turn 7, clipping the barrier and removing the offside third of his rear wing just as the pit window was about to open. Christopher Mies mysteriously slowed on track and Alvaro Parente did the opposite, rear-ending Alex Zanardi to end the Italian’s race.

Race leader Ortelli pitted late after catching traffic only to be delayed further by a dropped wheel, a very rare mistake indeed from the WRT Team. Bleekemolen caught up with Ortelli prior to pitting but had no issues and Hari Proczyk brought the Lamborghini out ahead of both Stephane Richelmi, who had taken over from Ortelli, and Cesar Ramos in clear air behind the wheel of the #1 Audi. One lap later Cesar Ramos took the lead, passing Proczyk on the long pit straight as Jonny Adam brought the Beechdean Aston out in third behind the two lead cars. Proczyk was able to keep the fast Aston Martin at bay, until damage to the front of the Lamborghini forced the Austrian to pit for repairs. The extra pit stop meant the Lamborghini dropped down the order and eventually finished 15th, enough for Götz to secure the Blancpain Sprint Series title despite not scoring points himself.

The main pit stop winner was Rene Rast in the #2 WRT Audi who, after Enzo Ide pitted early with Max Buhk, inherited the car in 15th and in clear air. Rast made hay in the pit window taking advantage of whatever traffic or pit-stop woes to be fifth and eleven seconds behind Richelmi in 4th place with 23mins of the race remaining. Remarkable, given they started the race in 19th position.

The final 20mins were relatively settled affair and it looked like the Ramos, Proczyk, Adam, Richelmi, Rast order would remain unchanged until the chequered flag. But with 10mins to go the #28 Lamborghini began to fall to bits, literally, the front splitter assembly collapsed and body work came loose bringing out a black and orange flag. Proczyk had no choice but to come in for some kind of repair and extinguish any chance of the 2014 drivers’ title in the process.

After an hour, or 34 laps, Cesar Ramos finished 1.726s ahead of Jonny Adam’s Aston Martin that was 16.535s ahead of Richelmi’s #9 WRT Audi in third place. Proczyk’s pit stop promoted Rene Rast to a very creditable fourth ahead of the Martin Ragginger in the #36 Schütz Motorsport Porsche who themselves had inherited fifth due to a late mechanical retirement for Rob Bell in the #16 Boutsen Ginion McLaren that started had 18th on the grid.

Maximilian Götz managed to bring his damaged HTP Mercedes home in 9th and claim the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series Drivers’ title. “First of all thanks to my team. They did a great job the whole year. Also to Maxi Buhk and to Nico Verdonck. Without them I couldn’t win. It is also their victory and title, not only mine.” said Götz after the race.

The retirement of the #34 ROAL Motorsport BMW of David Fumaneli and Stefano Colombo on lap 10 paved the way for a maiden Silver Cup win for the #63 Fortec Mercedes SLS of Miguel Toril and Benji Hetherington who crossed the line 12 seconds ahead of Joe Osborne and Ryan Ratcliffe in the #888 Triple Eight Bmw, both were two laps ahead of Wolf and Stolz’s #86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes that stopped on track at Turn 9 with 3mins to go. In Pro-Am Alexey Vasilyev and Marko Asmer drove steadily for the win after the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi of Basseng and Latif was unable to make the start after suffering damage in qualifying.

In departure from the nomal chain of events at a Sprint Series weekend, Baku’s Main Race began four hours after the Qualifying Race finish rather than the following day and a corker it was.

Despite having won four Qualifying Races this season Cesar Ramos and Laurens Vanthoor had never made it across the line first when the big points score was available. That changed in the final race on the calendar and the 25 points gained gave Laurens Vanthoor the first ‘Blancpain GT Series champion’ title to add to his CV.

There was some pressure on my shoulders, especially after the unfortunate accident between Rast and Götz. I still had to get a good result and we wanted to win to claim the cheque.

Laurens Vanthoor - #1 WRT Audi

The Belgian beat Maximilian Buhk to the crown by ten points, the German having retired after being assisted into the wall by Vanthoor’s team mate Rene Rast. Buhk and Rast were battling for seventh place when Rast dived up the inside of the Mercedes at the final hairpin. On exiting the corner Rast hit the side of the SLS damaging both cars and both retired from the damage.

Not a great weekend for us. I tried to get by him the lap before, and when I tried on that lap, I had a lot of oversteer on the exit and touched Maxi, it wasn’t on purpose. Racing incident.

Rene Rast - #2 WRT Audi

With, yet another, title on the line for his team mate Cesar Ramos managed the rolling start well to get off the line swiftly, holding off Jonny Adam’s Beechdean AMR Vantage into the first chicane and holding him behind until he pitted on half distance. This despite a sterling effort on the part of Adam. Quite possibly, the Baku Main Race represented Adam’s best stint of the year, certainly in Blancpain, as he kept pace with the Blancpain GT Series winning car throughout, not letting Ramos rest for the entire stint. Unfortunately, the end of the stint wasn’t as polished. A communications misunderstanding resulted in Adam pitting earlier than expected.

There was a bit of a mix-up, we were not really ready and we lost some six, seven seconds. Still, I am very happy with the way our Aston Martin performed, both in Zolder and Baku.

Andy Soucek - #107 Beechdean AMR

Laurens Vanthoor held a healthy seven second lead ahead of a hard-charging Soucek who clawed back four of the lost seconds over his stint. Seeing the Spaniard closing in, Vanthoor stepped up his pace. The two drivers traded best sector times and fastest laps, at times carving masterfully through the traffic on the tight circuit, but Soucek wasn’t able to get the gap down to challenge for the lead and finished 2.225s behind at the chequered flag. The #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi took the chequered flag for its first Main Race win of the season and the team boss pocketed €100,000 Baku World Challenge winners’ purse. A small consolation cheque of €50,000 for Soucek and Adam, both all smiles despite coming up just short in the fight with the all-conquering Audi.

With €25,000 at stake the battle for third place was equally, if not better contested, than that for the win; Stephane Ortelli in the #9 WRT Audi and Markus Winkelhock’s #6 Phoenix Racing Audi were nose-to-tail for the greater part of their stint before Winkelhock finally found his way past after a tiny misjudgement by the Monegasque. The third place meant a first podium finish of the season for Winkelhock and teammate Niki Mayr-Melnhof. Better late than never.

The #28 Grasser Racing Lamborghini of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Hari Proczyk that had pushed Götz for the title over the entire season was one of the retirements of the race, the Lamborghini once again shook itself to bits riding the curbs.

Marco Hölzer and Martin Ragginger drove their Schütz Motorsport Porsche to fifth place, whilst the unfortunate Trackspeed Porsche of Richard Westbrook and Norbert Siedler retired after damaging its radiator in contact with another car just as happened last year.

Silver Cup winners Benji Hetherington and Miguel Toril confirmed their Qualifying Race win in the #63 Fortec SLS was no fluke; gaining some British bragging rights after beating Joe Osborne and Ryan Ratcliffe’s Triple Eight BMW into second place. Marko Asmer and Alexey Vasiliev also repeated their Qualifying Race win in Pro-Am, the 25pts awarded brought them up to third overall in the Blancpain Sprint Series Pro- Am Trophy standings.

A note on the Blancpain GT Series titles:

12 titles clearly not being sufficient, the Blancpain GT Series titles for Drivers and Team were added to the prize list for this season. Adding two more to the dozen fought for in previous seasons; six in each of the Endurance (Driver & Team in each of Pro/Pro-Am/Gent) and Sprint (Driver & Team in each of Pro/Pro-Am/Silver Cup). 2014 would be the inaugural season for combining results of both the Endurance and Sprint Series together into an overall title for best team and best driver/driver pairing.

In each case the awarding of the new titles would come down to the final race of the final meeting, as in both the driver and team rankings the two horse race that had emerged between WRT Audi and HTP Mercedes remained close enough for a relatively strong performance to be decisive given a weaker outcome for the rival. Maximilian Buhk led the Drivers’ Championship and the multi-faceted Belgian Audi Club Team WRT led the teams going into the final race of the season.

Both title fights were decided in the early stages of the Main Race after René Rast in the #2 WRT Audi drifted wide out of the hairpin, making contact with the #84 HTP Mercedes of driven by Götz. Both cars hit the wall and both cars were forced into retirement as a result. The team title went to Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and, with Max Buhk’s car out, all Vanthoor had to do was stay on the track for 20 minutes to claim the drivers’ crown as well.

2014 season earnings round-up:

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT most successful team of the season trousering a total of €386,000 (including Silver Cup wins for Abril and Lisowski). HTP Motorsport were the prize money runner-up winning €150.000, Grasser Racing Team won €80,000 on the back of their Qualifying Race successes, Phoenix Racing made €71,000 due in the main to Pro-Am efforts by Latif and Basseng plus the Baku podium €25,000 for Winkelhock and Mayr-Melnhof. Best of the rest included the late entering Beechdean AMR whose PRO earnings were on a par with BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert, and with the ROAL Motorsport Fumanelli/Colombo pair’s efforts in Silver Cup, each earned €50,000. Bringing up the rear were BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil who won €32,000

No doubt all of the prize money received will go toward replenishing the coffers for a 2015 assault on the various titles. The SRO announcement of the 2015 calendar contained a small revision to the Endurance Series dates and venue changes for the Sprint Series, read the report here.

Thus ended the season, the 2015 calendar was announced by SRO after the Main Race. Click here for the details on the changes made for next year.

Have a happy winter break.

MR Podium Baku

 

 

 

About The Author

Nathan Heywood

Nathan Heywood is the Blancpain GT Series correspondent and Racing.GT's tech guru. With his iconic moustache sadly hidden from view, you will be hearing a lot of Nathan's gentle Norfolk tones behind the microphone in Racing.GT's Periscope coverage.