HTP Motorsport beat WRT to the punch in a Blancpain Endurance Cup thriller at Silverstone, while Black Falcon made it a double Mercedes success in Pro-Am following a late charge from Maro Engel. Here’s what we learned.
1. Jaafar looking every inch the GT racer
Everybody knows what a potent combination Maxi Buhk and Dominik Baumann are, but it hasn’t taken newcomer Jazeman Jaafar long to pick up the tools of the trade after switching from single-seaters. The Malaysian’s stint at Monza was compromised when the Mercedes cut out exiting the pitstops, which allowed Come Ledogar to escape in front, but there no excuses this time around as Jaafar chased the battling Lamborghini of Rolf Ineichen and Dries Vanthoor in the WRT Audi.
Vanthoor eventually made his move on Ineichen at the Loop, but the Mercedes driver followed him through on exit and piled the pressure on Vanthoor before outfoxing him in traffic on the exit of Club. With the younger Vanthoor having to save fuel, Jaafar set about building his advantage for Buhk to take the car to a first victory of the year over Laurens Vanthoor.
— Jazeman Jaafar (@jazemanjaafar) May 15, 2016
“It’s only been my fifth GT race since the Spa 24 Hours in 2014, so being the first Asian driver to win in this series and also leading the championship is an incredible feeling,” he said. “I’m going step by step and I have good team-mates that I can get good advice from, it’s been a good journey so far. After the slow winter we had, we’re finally getting there.”
If he can continue to provide these kinds of performances, it surely won’t be long before Jaafar is held in the same esteem as his team-mates.
2. New pitlane rules a double-edged sword for WRT
In Monza, Frank Stippler became the first man to be penalised for exceeding the new 65-minute maximum driver time, but it was the other new-for-2016 ruling that dictates cars must spend less than 70 seconds or more than 90 seconds in the pits (from entry to exit) which dominated conversation at Silverstone.
Recognising that servicing their cars in under 70 seconds could gain them significant track position over rivals stationery for 90 seconds (if the drivers could manage their fuel usage to compensate for the shorter stop), WRT sent the no. 1 car on its way in 69.3 seconds, raising it from seventh to the thick of the lead battle. However, it was not a strategy without risk, as both the no. 2 and no. 3 cars were hit with drive-through penalties for stops that were just the wrong side of 70 seconds.
“It is really tight and it doesn’t take much, it only takes a wheel not going on first time for it all to go wrong, because the fuel is done so quickly,” said Michael Meadows, who was one of the cars affected when Robin Frijns struggled to get the car re-fired and crossed the pit exit after 71 seconds. “The plan was always to split the strategy between the cars, half go for the standard and half go for the risk, and since we were starting a bit further down we thought ‘why not?’ It was our opportunity to try and get a result and without that I think we would have been in the top five or maybe on the podium.
“The drivers did a good job but we just got a bit unlucky, so hopefully we’re saving all our luck for Spa. If we don’t finish any races this year and win Spa, then that will be a success for me!”
3. Lamborghini back on track
It’s been a difficult start to the season for Grasser Racing in their first year back as a Lamborghini customer team, having been chosen as the Huracan’s official development partners in 2015. Mirko Bortolotti and Jeroen Bleekemolen cut frustrated figures at Brands Hatch with their cars mired in the midfield, both men certain that there was no more time in them. At Silverstone, that all changed as a 20 kilo weight break and a precious clear lap in traffic helped Bortolotti to take pole, two tenths faster than anybody else in the field had managed.
Gottfried Grasser told Racing.GT after Saturday pre-qualifying that it would be a “dream” to finish on the podium, and that’s precisely what he got, with Bortolotti leading throughout the first stint and Ineichen handing over to Bleekemolen in a safe third which the Dutchman maintained to the finish, despite some hairy moments with backmarkers.
“I was actually fighting with some backmarkers who made contact with me and stuff like that, so I had an exciting race but in the end it was fine, we had a good race and achieved the maximum result. I’m just really happy we got onto the podium, we’ve had a really tough start to the year with all Lamborghinis, now it seems we are on the right way and hopefully we will be more often on the podium from now on.”
Attempto Racing made it two Lamborghinis in the top ten, just holding off Adam Christodoulou for the final point-scoring position. It went some way to making up for a bizarre accident for their Nicolas Armindo-driven Porsche in pre-qualifying, which was subsequently ruled out of the weekend.
4. We shouldn’t be surprised by Franck Perera anymore
After popping up seemingly from nowhere to qualify his ISR Audi on pole last weekend at Brands Hatch, Franck Perera once again showed why he is one of the most underrated drivers around by qualifying on his Pro-Am R8 on the front row at Silverstone, second only to Mirko Bortolotti, and proceeding to follow the Lamborghini for the duration of the first hour.
The Frenchman, who won the ELMS GTC class title last year in a TDS-entered BMW Z4 with Eric Dermont and Dino Lunardi, also took pole at the British GP venue in 2014 in a Porsche, showing he’s certainly no one-trick pony. After all, it’s not everybody who can say they finished second to Lewis Hamilton at Monaco in GP2…
Having starred in the championship’s UK double-header, it will be intriguing to see if ISR can keep pace with the front runners to allow Perera further chances to shine over the course of the year.
5. It pays to have your Pro in last
On another day, Perera’s heroics would have won the Pro-Am class for ISR – his fastest lap, set on lap five, was the fourth quickest time of the day – but a late race Safety Car for the stranded Ferrari of Nyls Stievenart threw a rather large spanner in the works, bringing the Motorbase Aston Martin of Jonny Adam right into the mix.
— Maro Engel (@MaroEngel) May 15, 2016
20 seconds back from the leader, third-placed Maro Engel in the Black Falcon Mercedes was due to benefit too after good early work from Miguel Toril and Oliver Morley, but found himself trapped behind the outright race leaders and effectively a full lap behind. After two aborted starts, Engel was given permission to overtake the Safety Car and catch up to the back of the train, but the race went green while he was still circulating.
What followed was a fascinating three-car scrap between ISR’s Bronze driver Philippe Giauque, the reigning British GT champion Adam and a gaining Engel, who caught and passed Adam around the outside into Club before being baulked by a backmarker and losing the position again. Their battling looked to have given Giauque the break he needed, but with two laps to go, Engel got back ahead of the Aston Martin into Brooklands and set upon Giauque. The Frenchman defended to the inside at Stowe on the final lap, but Engel braked as late as he dared around the outside to take a remarkable victory, with Adam also managing to scramble past for second.
“Maro’s wife to be is here this weekend, obviously he knew that so the pressure was on!” said Morley afterwards. “When he pulls it out he really is absolutely electric, which is why I chased him down and convinced him to come and drive with me, and I’m very pleased that he did. He’s one hell of a driver, you always need a superstar like Maro.”