Staged as the sun set on the Italian venue, the 60-minute contest saw a trio of AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG entries present serious challenges for the win, but it was the rival Audi that ultimately emerged on top.
With German ace Mies at the wheel, the #1 R8 LMS was able to cross the line just over half a second clear of the #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG of Michael Meadows and Raffaele Marciello. The Italian driver handled the second half of the race and closed to within striking distance of the leader, but Mies held firm to secure another Sprint Cup victory for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT.
It could all have been very different, however, after the #87 AKKA-Mercedes of Nicolas Jamin led away from pole and built up an advantage during the first stint.
However, the Mercedes-AMG ground to a halt on the pit straight before the French driver could hand over to crewmate Denis Bulatov, ending what had been a highly impressive display from series newcomer Jamin.
That handed the lead to Riberas in the #1 Audi, as well as bringing out a full-course yellow period to retrieve the stricken AKKA-Mercedes. When the race went green again, the Audi was quickly passed by another AKKA-Mercedes – this time the #90 of Nico Bastian – who showed impressive pace to build an advantage at the head of the field.
It remained this way throughout the first stint, with Bastian edging away from Riberas as the pit stop phase approached.
Riberas stopped shortly after the 10-minute window opened, handing over to Mies, who quickly began a series of rapid laps. While the other front-runners also pitted the #90 AKKA-Mercedes continued to circulate, with Bastian looking to build an advantage.
The German driver finally headed for the pits with 25 minutes remaining, but when crewmate Jack Manchester emerged back on to the track Mies swept past and into the lead, followed by the #88 AKKA-Mercedes that Marciello had taken over from Meadows.
This set up a battle between representatives of Audi and Mercedes-AMG at the front of the field, with the Italian driver displaying his car’s prowess at Misano by reeling in Mies.
But, while Marciello was able to apply pressure, Mies made no mistakes and was able to cross the line for the #1 Audi crew’s first Sprint Cup win of 2018.
Behind them the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart ended a long drought by scoring its first podium finish since the season-opening event at Zolder.
Engelhart had made good progress from ninth on the grid during the opening stint, with Bortolotti running fourth when the pit window closed. The Italian ace then made quick work of Manchester in the #90 AKKA-Mercedes to secure Lamborghini a top-three finish on home turf.
Manchester eventually took sixth overall, which also secured Silver Cup honours for the #90 AKKA-Mercedes in what was an especially competitive class battle. He had to work extremely hard for it, with the #54 Emil Frey G3 Jaguar of Mikael Grenier chasing him down right to the chequered flag, but the young Brit maintained his cool to secure the class win.
The Pro-Am category went to the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS of Nyls Stievenart and Markus Winkelhock, who repeated their maiden Sprint Cup win from last time out at Brands Hatch.
Teen racer Stievenart took the start and made a crucial pass on the #39 TP 12-Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Piti Bhirombhakdi early in the stint to assume the lead. Audi driver Winkelhock handled the second phase of the race, keeping the Ferrari at arm’s length with Carlo van Dam at the wheel, at arm's length.
Saturday’s evening outing will be followed by an afternoon contest on Sunday, with the weekend’s concluding race set to get underway at 14.00. The #88 AKKA-Mercedes of Marciello and Meadows will take the start from pole for what promises to be another exciting Sprint Cup battle.
Christopher Mies, #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: “I had a lot of pressure from Raffaele. It might have looked easy to control the race, but it is hard to keep your concentration when someone is pushing so hard behind you. If I had made a slight mistake, he would have passed. While it’s good to have taken the lead in the Sprint Cup and increased our advantage in the overall championship, there is still a very long way to go, especially as the Total Spa 24 Hours is coming up. We need to stay focused and keep improving everything, including our driver change as this was not perfect today.”
Raffaele Marciello, #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I was able to catch Chris but he was quick. To be honest, we had about the same pace today. I tried to put some pressure on him but it’s difficult to overtake. Anyway, second place is good for the championship; it’s a long season and points are important. Tomorrow we start from pole, so we have to win. We know there is no room for any mistakes.”
Mirko Bortolotti, #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3: “It’s good to be back on the podium after some tough races. We had a very difficult day yesterday as we only managed a few laps in practice before a technical issue. I started qualifying without having done a single metre in the dry this weekend, which was not easy. Following that problem and starting from ninth on the grid, I would have signed up for a podium finish! Honestly, we didn’t have the pace to fight for the win so we’ll try to improve a few things on the car. Tomorrow, starting from P4, I hope we can do even better.”
Nico Bastian, #90 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I had a good start and held P3. Then Nico (Jamin) retired and, after the full-course yellow, I was able to pass Alex (Riberas) to take the lead in the overall classification. In the second stint Jack managed to maintain our Silver Cup lead despite pressure from the Jaguar, so this was a great race.”
Nyls Stievenart, #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS: “This was really a good race for us. We had a good battle with Piti (Bhirombhakdi) in the Ferrari and I was able to pass him to take the Pro-Am lead. After that Markus did a very good job in the second stint. I’m very happy to have taken our second consecutive win!”