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May 23, 2019

Five things we learned from the Nürburgring Blancpain Sprint

Five things we learned from the Nürburgring Blancpain Sprint
Photo Credit To Gary Parravani/www.Xynamic.com

After poleman Enzo Ide was caught napping at the lights, Rob Bell and Alvaro Parente survived pressure from pressure from Rene Rast and a stewards inquiry to take victory in the Blancpain Sprint Cup at the Nürburgring. Here’s what we learned from a potentially significant weekend in the championship battle.

1. McLaren announce title credentials

It’s been a rather successful week for Garage 59. After becoming the first double winners of the Blancpain GT Series season at Paul Ricard in the Endurance Cup, they followed it up in style at the Nürburgring with their first Sprint Cup victory. The result sees Bell and Parente take the lead in the Sprint Cup championship and also extends Bell’s lead in the overall standings.

The No. 58 650S GT3 was the quickest car all weekend and despite narrowly losing out to Ide and Christopher Mies in the Qualifying Race, courtesy of some lightning-fast WRT pitwork, never looked like being beaten after Bell’s “cracker” of a start. It was so good in fact that the result hung in the balance while Race Control investigated the start procedure, although no further action was taken.

“Our pitstop guys practiced a lot overnight because we were a little bit slower than the WRT boys yesterday and that really paid off because we were in the lead after the first stint and we just about held on to the end,” Bell said afterwards.

For the first time this season, both McLarens showed showed strong pace, with Come Ledogar and Martin Plowman qualifying second in the sister No. 59 car, just 0.096 adrift of Parente’s benchmark.

However, the weekend soon went sour when Ledogar’s Q3 times were deleted for overboosting and they were shunted back down to 20th. Benefitting from a first corner accident instigated by Filip Salaquarda which claimed Mirko Bortolotti and Laurens Vanthoor, Ledogar had climbed up to ninth until a “comedy of errors” during the pitstop and finally a loss of oil pressure put them out of the running.

Plowman then suffered a repeat of the issue on Sunday after rising from P34 to P21 in nine laps – their luck can only improve at the next round in Hungary.

2. Stevens enjoying himself in GTs

As Ide’s challenge faded, McLaren’s primary challenge in the Main Race came from Will Stevens and Rene Rast, their most competitive showing of the season so far for WRT.

Having made the switch from the heady world of Formula One to GT3, Stevens could be forgiven for taking some time to acclimatise – particularly as he is simultaneously having to learn his way around an LMP2 Oreca 05 in the WEC – but the 25-year-old has quietly impressed with his willingness to learn from Rast and their burgeoning partnership is beginning to bear fruit.

Stevens was very disappointed with a sloppy driver change which cast them adrift of the lead battle in the Qualifying Race, but did everything required of him when it really counted in Sunday’s Main Race. After passing Ide on lap four, Stevens kept the gap to Bell around the 3.6 second mark until the pitstops and duly collected his second piece of silverware from a tidy weekend.

“My aim for this year was just to be really busy and to enjoy my racing; I can honestly say this is the most enjoyable racing I’ve done for a long time,” he told Racing.GT after the qualifying race. “What I’ve learned over the years is you don’t know what’s around the corner, but I’m enjoying it a lot and feeling confident in what we’ve got here.

“I’ve got a good relationship with Rene, he’s extremely well-respected in this world and he’s always been very open with me. WRT have made me feel very welcome as well and it’s nice to see everything is moving in the right direction. The level in Blancpain in GTs is really high, you’ve got to get used to the car, the system and all the different rules, but now I just need to keep getting good results and prove that I can do a good job in this discipline.”

3. Schneider needs his own parking space

The HTP Mercedes of Jules Szymkowiak and Bernd Schneider ensured that three different marques were represented on the podium in the Main Race as Schneider successfully fended off Mies. It was a strong note to end a weekend which began in inauspicious circumstances when entering the circuit on Friday morning.

Drivers, team personnel, media and fans alike all have to scan their passes to gain access to the Nürburgring, but as Racing.GT watched on, the automated machine refused to allow Schneider through. What followed as an officious-looking marshal gave a once over to the five-time DTM champion, inaugural FIA GT champion, former Grand Prix racer and winner of the Nürburgring 24 Hours only a few weeks ago, was nothing short of farcical.

In a week which saw the organisers of the Australian Grand Prix name a grandstand after local hero Daniel Ricciardo, surely this legend of German motorsport could at least have his own parking space inside the circuit?

4. Rinaldi would be frightening if they tested

Norbert Siedler cut a frustrated figure on Saturday morning after qualifying a middling 15th. Although VLN regular Siedler and team-mate Marco Seefried know every nook and cranny of the Nürburgring short circuit, they were decidedly up against it having not driven the Ferrari 488 GT3 since the last Sprint Cup round at Brands Hatch in early May.

The Rinaldi Racing duo were dealt a further setback in the Qualifying Race when contact with Szymkowiak sent Siedler tumbling down the order from 8th to 12th, although a 30-second penalty for an unsafe release by Vincent Abril’s Bentley No. 7 promoted them one position.

After gaining two places from the first corner contact between the other Bentley of Andy Soucek and Marlon Stockinger’s ISR Audi, a fired-up Siedler was one of the stars of the Main Race as he worked his way up to fourth past Stef Dusseldorp, Dominik Baumann, Alexander Sims, Nico Muller and Ide.

A slightly tardy pitstop meant Seefried emerged behind Mies and had to soak up pressure from Maxi Buhk, but afterwards, Siedler was delighted to see the new car’s promise.

“It felt pretty good, we improved the car in the warmup and just at the end we had a bit too much understeer, but I think now we are getting there,” he said. “It would be nice to get one or two test days but we’re happy to get P5, which is our best result so far this year. Now we can work from that.”

5. Vanthoor feeling the strain

Laurens Vanthoor will be beginning to wonder whether he walked under any ladders during pre-season as a solid haul of points once again went begging.

An innocent bystander in the Qualifying Race fracas at Turn One when Salaquarda missed his braking point, Vanthoor made solid progress through the field before handing over to Frederic Vervisch, who continued to pick up positions and had made it into the top ten when he suffered a puncture following contact with Soucek.

A seventh place finish behind Buhk and Baumann in the Main Race after starting from 24th was a good recovery, but not the result anybody had in mind going into the weekend.

Vervisch and Vanthoor are now 18 points behind Bell and Parente in the Sprint Cup with two rounds remaining and 64 behind in the overall standings, albeit with Spa still to come.

“This season has been so unbelievably shit until now, we could have been on the podium at every weekend except Monza but we’ve had punctures or been hit off, there’s always something happening,” said the 2014 Blancpain GT Series champion. “Without problems we would be easily top of the championship or fighting for championships, but now it starts to get more complicated. It’s not all over, but you start to rely on bad luck for the others and you have to win.”

About The Author

James Newbold

James Newbold is Racing.GT's Editor. He graduated from a politics degree at the University of East Anglia in 2015, which should help him navigate through the political minefield that is GT racing. He likes Marmite on toast and Oreo cookies. Speaks Spanish, but only when no one is looking.