Orange1 FFF Racing captured a brace of Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup crowns today when its #563 Lamborghini took a sensational victory in the season-deciding race at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
This means that Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli have become the first drivers to hold three championships at once, having wrapped up Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe honours earlier this month in Hungary. The Chinese outfit also ends a phenomenal 2019 campaign – its first in European competition – with both the Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup teams' titles, while ensuring that 12 different squads have triumphed from the past 12 races.
The Italian duo were joined at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya by local ace Albert Costa, who substituted for the unwell Dennis Lind at the wheel of the #563 Lamborghini. Costa made an instant impression, taking to the grass on the initial run to turn one as he dived past both the pole-sitting #98 ROWE Porsche and the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG.
The race was neutralised on the first lap following a number of incidents, including the Dinamic Motorsport Porsche making heavy contact with the barriers. The Porsche would end the race on its roof, though driver Zaid Ashkanani was able to emerge from his 911 GT3 R unharmed.
Costa was instructed to hand back the positions he gained at the start, having run with all four wheels off the circuit to complete the move. FFF's hopes had nevertheless been given a major boost in its pursuit of the Endurance Cup title as the rival #72 SMP Racing Ferrari limped into the pits with a puncture. The Russian-backed squad led the drivers' standings comfortably ahead of the finale, but as they slipped to the rear of the field their chances began to fade.
The #563 FFF Lamborghini still needed to win the race, however, with the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG now in the lead and perfectly placed to capture both the Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup crowns. Maro Engel looked comfortable out front once the action resumed and, when Luca Stolz took the wheel during the first round of pits stops, the #4 Mercedes-AMG retained its advantage.
But there had been a crucial change during the pit window, with the #563 Lamborghini emerging in second spot ahead of the #98 ROWE Porsche. This placed Mapelli a few seconds behind Stolz, which became a few tenths when another safety car was deployed. The battle for the race lead was now the deciding factor in both championships.
At the restart Mapelli got an excellent run on Stolz and went to the outside as they headed for turn one. Stolz defended robustly and the pair went side by side through the opening sequence of corners. With everything on the line, both sets of garages held their breath. It was close, but Mapelli made it stick.
Once in clean air the Italian immediately showed better pace than Stolz and was able to build a gap at the front. The German was soon under pressure from Raffaele Marciello (#88 AKKA ASP), who closed on to the rear of his fellow Mercedes-AMG driver but did not make a serious attempt to pass.
The final round of stops saw Mapelli hand over to Caldarelli for what was potentially a one-hour run to glory. Another safety car meant that the #4 Mercedes-AMG, now being driven by Yelmer Buurman, was right on the Italian's tail at the beginning of the last stint and the experienced Dutchman made a serious charge into turn one, only to be repelled by Caldarelli.
The Italian ace built a gap of more than five seconds over the closing laps. A final safety car period put him under pressure from Buurman once again with just four minutes on the clock, but the Italian judged the restart perfectly. He was unchallenged over the final few kilometres, completing an incredible season for FFF Racing that puts the Lamborghini brand on top for the second time in three seasons
A frenetic closing phase saw the order behind Caldarelli change rapidly. Buurman was eliminated from contention by a collision with Dries Vanthoor (#2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT), which also cost the youngster his place at the front. This allowed Jake Dennis to take second in the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin he shares with Alex Lynn and Marvin Kirchhoefer, completing an impressive weekend by the Swiss team. Third place went to the #107 Bentley Team M-Sport crew of Jules Gounon, Jordan Pepper and Steven Kane, who finished the season with a flourish after rising from 12th on the grid.
The Silver Cup titles had been decided before the race, but the battle for class honours was still action-packed. The title-winning #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG started from pole with Nico Bastian at the wheel but slipped back during the middle stages of the race as Timur Boguslavskiy hit problems, allowing the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini to take control at the head of the field.
A late charge by Felipe Fraga at the wheel of the #90 Mercedes-AMG set up the prospect of a thrilling late battle with Sandy Mitchell in the leading Lamborghini. It did not come to that, however, as the pit infringement penalty demoted the Barwell machine to the rear of the field. Fraga was able to bring the AKKA ASP machine home to complete the win, ensuring a third victory from five Endurance Cup races for the season's standout Silver team and crew. The #90 Mercedes-AMG was ultimately classified fifth overall, while Bastian also scoops the Blancpain GT Series title for his class. The #6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG and #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari rounded out the podium.
The Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup Pro-Am drivers' championships were on the line at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with both ultimately going to the crews that led ahead of the weekend. The race was won by the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi, which featured a revised line-up of Pierre Alexandre Jean and Edouard Cauhaupe alongside regular driver Pierre-Yves Paque. This represented a superb debut for Jean and Cauhaupe, as well as the ideal way for the French squad to close the 2019 campaign.
Second on the road was more than enough to secure the class Endurance Cup crown for Oman Racing by TF Sport, whose #97 Aston Martin finished the job it had begun at the Total 24 Hours of Spa. A dominant class win in the Ardennes ensured a 16-point advantage heading into the finale and the crew of Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood drove a measured race that was ultimately rewarded with the drivers’ and teams’ titles.
The Blancpain GT Series crown went to AF Corse duo Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini after what proved to be a challenging race for their #52 Ferrari. Endurance co-driver Niek Hommerson was in the gravel on lap one, but was able to return to the track during the safety car period. With the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG hitting problems during the thee-hour race the Ferrari was able to capture the title with a sixth-in-class finish, concluding a season that brought victories in the Endurance Cup and Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe. The AF Corse crew had sewn up the teams’ championship ahead of the finale.
The titles were settled in the Am Cup class, with today's race honours also looking set to go to Endurance Cup champions Barwell Motorsport. The #77 Lamborghini led for much of the event, only to hit problems during the latter stages. This was to the benefit of the #29 Raton Racing by Target Lamborghini, which had been pushing the Barwell car hard for class honours. The crew of Christoph Lenz, Stefano Constantini and Antonio Forne Tomas ultimately took the win ahead of the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin, which sealed the Am Cup runner-up spot for the Endurance championship. The podium was completed by the #33 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari.
Looking back on 2019, Orange1 FFF Racing will be able to reflect on a truly remarkable season. By winning all three titles in a single year the Lamborghini squad has set a new standard in the Blancpain GT Series and now represents the benchmark that their rivals must look to match. With five overall titles from a possible six this term, it will be a difficult act to follow.
Andrea Caldarelli, #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini: "It would take a very long sentence to sum up the emotions of everything we have achieved this season. It is quite unreal. Thinking back to 12 months ago, we had none of the 48 people who currently work for us now. It’s a big achievement and I am extremely proud of all of them. We are here, celebrating three championships, and all of this goes down to the fantastic job that we did during the winter. These titles are really difficult to win, not just on-track but also away from the track. I would also like to thank Dennis Lind, who was not with us in Barcelona but, together with us, had a fantastic season. Thanks also to Albert Costa, who came in for us at the last minute. I am very excited to share all of this with our team members."
Marco Mapelli, #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini: "This was quite unexpected, especially the Endurance Cup title. I think we did a good job this season and I’m proud of the team because, without them, we wouldn’t be here as champions today. Thank you to Andrea for trusting me. Of course, it was a stressful season, because when you drive for a big team and for a big prize the pressure is high, but we managed the pressure. For the move on Luca Stolz, I saw that he didn’t have a good restart after the safety car so I thought it was the right time to try because it’s not easy to pass at Barcelona."
Timur Boguslavisky, #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG: "It was a crazy race, because I had a small contact with an Audi and spun. But the team did an amazing recovery job to get back to P1 and we eventually took the win. Overall, I’ve had a good season with the best teammates."
Felipe Fraga, #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG: "This has been a really good day. We had a spin after the clash with the Audi, but our car was really strong. It’s been a great year for us in the Silver Cup, since we won three out of five races and took podiums in the other two. It’s the first time I’ve done a full season as a Silvers driver, so hopefully we have more to come next year. Thanks to Nico and Timur, who also did a really good job all year for AKKA ASP."
Nico Bastian, #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG: "It’s mega, but it’s only been possible with good teammates and a good team. I’m very proud to be a triple champion in 2019; it’s been a pretty amazing season for me personally with a lot of wins and podiums. I now hope for something more next season, maybe a drive in a Pro car, but for now I just want to enjoy the achievement of winning the title this season."
Ahmad Al Harthy, #97 Oman Racing by TF Sport Aston Martin: "Honestly, this was an unbelievable season. It means a lot to be able to actually win the Total 24 Hours of Spa in our class and also get the championship. They have been two amazing celebrations for us. We couldn’t have done it without an amazing team. It’s just the drivers that you see, but the team behind the scenes is unbelievable, so a huge ‘thank you’ to them. It’s amazing to see people from Oman flying in for the final round to support me, and I was very nervous to make sure that the job was done. Fortunately, we did it in style."
Salih Yoluc, #97 Oman Racing by TF Sport Aston Martin: "I waited as things happened in front of me until I found myself leading. Our car was not the strongest here, to be honest, and we struggled a bit with pace all weekend. But we were fortunate enough to get the job done, which was because of the good work from my teammates and the team behind us."
Charlie Eastwood, #97 Oman Racing by TF Sport Aston Martin: "There’s obviously a little bit of added pressure on the Pro driver, doing the final qualifying and the last stint. But from doing Silver Cup last year, I have enjoyed taking a bit more of a lead in the car as the Pro. To think at the start of the year that we’d win the Total 24 Hours of Spa and come away with the Pro-Am championship... it's unbelievable. Credit to the guys at TF Sport: every championship they’ve done in SRO, they’ve won. Credit to them for giving us the tools to do the job."
Louis Machiels, #52 AF Corse Ferrari: "The start of the season was quite amazing, shall we say. We had a lot of problems in Monza and Brands Hatch, but we came here this weekend with a chance to win. After our car’s early incident, Andrea and myself were really hoping that it could get back on the track, so we felt lucky when it eventually did. This is now our third title so I am a very happy man."
Andrea Bertolini, #52 AF Corse Ferrari: "It’s always nice to win, but especially to do so with Louis, and also with Niek. We have raced together since 2011 and since then we've won a couple of championships, and now another this year. It was a tough race and season because the level is increasing in every single category. We started with a retirement in Monza but did well to recover and win the championship here."