The 2016 Blancpain Sprint Cup sparked into life with a bang at Misano, as Laurens Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch took the first feature race victory of the year from third on the grid. Here’s what we learned.
1. Fortune favours the brave
Saturday’s qualifying race under the lights was defined by tyre strategy. Most went for wets, with the track still damp after a mid-afternoon storm, but the no. 8 Bentley and no. 99 ROWE Racing BMW bucked the trend. For Alexander Sims and Philipp Eng, who had qualified down in 30th, there wasn’t much to lose, but the same couldn’t be said for Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet, who would start ninth.
Both cars suffered terribly in the opening stages as they tried to get heat into their slick tyres, but as the track began to come to them and the wets overheated, Soucek and Sims became the quickest cars on track and were already on course for a strong result when a fortuitously-timed Full Course Yellow put them into first and second.
— Bentley Motorsport (@BentleyRacing) April 9, 2016
Sure, they were fortunate, but neither would have been in a position to capitalise had they followed the grain. Unfortunately for the Bentley pair, that was as good as it got, with Soulet turned around on the opening lap of the feature race by Dries Vanthoor. They would ultimately finish 12th.
2. Bad blood never far away
It didn’t take long for the first paddock disagreement to rear its head. Eagle-eyed viewers (a lot of them wearing Audi-branded gear) noted that the no. 8 Bentley had only changed three wheels during its pitstop, due to a sticking left-rear that had first reared its head on the grid. But after a steward’s inquiry, it was adjudged that no sporting advantage had been gained and M-Sport were instead given a €1,000 fine.
But the main gripe from Laurens Vanthoor was the FCY – and the 40-second swing it presented to the Bentley and ROWE BMW – which relegated the no. 1 Audi to third at the finish. Afterwards, he shared his discontent on Twitter.
Just to be clear and regardless of our result : Losing or gaining 30-40 seconds due to FCY is not motorracing, that’s just being lucky. 1/2
— Laurens Vanthoor (@VanthoorLaurens) April 9, 2016
Solution is really simple : Close the pitlane under FCY and extend the pitwindow. Fair for everybody ! I vote for a rule change 2/2
— Laurens Vanthoor (@VanthoorLaurens) April 9, 2016
It would make little bearing on Sunday’s result however. A good start from Frederic Vervisch raised the Audi to second at the end of the first lap, before a robust move from Vervisch on Eng put them into a lead they would never lose, a typically speedy pitstop from WRT ensuring Vanthoor emerged ahead of Maxi Buhk and Domink Baumann’s chasing HTP Mercedes.
The Twitter war of words wasn’t yet over though. Stef Dusseldorp and Nick Catsburg endured a difficult race in the second ROWE BMW, finishing 29th after being turned around by the errant Nicki Mayr-Melnhof (who would later collect a second drive-through penalty for contact with Romain Monti), but despite the result, Dusseldorp showed he had lost none of his sense of humour.
— Stef Dusseldorp (@StefDusseldorp) April 10, 2016
3. Mercedes on form
On this evidence, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 will be more than a match for the dominant Audis before too long. Vanthoor and Vervisch never looked like losing their vice-like grip on the lead once they emerged from the pits ahead of Buhk and Baumann, but even taking into account that Vanthoor was managing the gap, his winning margin of 1.6s wasn’t entirely comfortable.
There will surely be a lot more to come at Brands Hatch, especially if AKKA ASP can sort out their reliability after Felix Rosenqvist and Tristan Vautier were denied a podium with a technical fault just two laps from home. Although John Watson couldn’t pronounce his name for toffee, ‘Rosenqith’ starred on his Blancpain debut, setting fastest lap after fastest lap in his attempts to catch Sims following a tardy pitstop.
— Blancpain GT Series (@BlancpainGT) April 10, 2016
After several laps of sizing up his opponent, Rosenqvist made a robust pass into the Turn Eight hairpin, and was pulling away from the BMW when he was forced to pull off to the side. But as a signal of intent, it was a firm one.
4. There’s no school like the old school
There simply aren’t enough superlatives in the dictionary to sum up Bernd Schneider. The DTM legend, now 51, took over the 86 HTP Mercedes in the lower reaches of the top 20 after a solid stint from reigning Silver Cup champion Jules Szymkowiak, but before long had climbed to 11th and smelled points.
The German made short work of Patric Niederhauser (sharing the 101 Attempto Lamborghini with Daniel Zampieri) for tenth and latched onto the back of the duel for eighth between Ezequiel Perez-Companc’s Ferrari and the Audi of Christopher Mies. Despite battling against drivers 30 years his junior, Schneider methodically worked his way past the pair of them and only lost out on sixth place Norbert Siedler by 0.3 seconds at the flag. Not bad from 37th on the grid!
5. GT racing has never been better
Just 17 cars took the start when the Blancpain Sprint Cup visited Misano in October, but in just five short months that figure had more than doubled, with 39 cars entered for the 2016 season opener. It was an entry befitting of the Endurance Cup and the racing at times resembled the Sprint Cup’s ‘bigger brother’ as the pack jockeyed for position on the opening lap and the front-runners ducked and weaved through traffic. We’re enjoying a golden era for GT racing – the question is, can it be improved still further?