The AKKA ASP pairing of Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy took their first Sprint Cup victory of 2021 after a dramatic conclusion to Sunday's opening race at Brands Hatch.
The #88 Mercedes-AMG won from pole, but that does not begin to tell the story of this race. Boguslavskiy was at the controls for the start and maintained his advantage into Paddock Hill Bend, while the #38 JOTA McLaren of Ben Barnicoat got the jump on Charles Weerts (#32 Team WRT Audi).
The British driver was in electrifying form and flew around the outside of Boguslavskiy later on the opening lap. From there Barnicoat produced one of the most impressive stints of the Sprint Cup season, lapping a second faster than the rest for the field and building an enormous advantage over the #88 Mercedes-AMG. By the time the pit window opened on the 25-minute mark, the JOTA McLaren was 16 seconds clear.
Behind him Boguslavskiy was able to hold off Luca Stolz (#6 Mercedes-AMG Toksport WRT) to maintain second place, while Weerts kept the #32 Team WRT Audi within sight of the podium places.
With Barnicoat disappearing into the distance the trio of chasing cars elected to stop as soon as the pit window opened. Team WRT made the biggest gain, sending Dries Vanthoor out between the two Mercedes-AMG runners in a net third position.
Barnicoat pitted on the half-hour having encountered traffic. Oliver Wilkinson was slightly delayed in pulling away, but the JOTA squad's bigger concern was the pace of Marciello in the #88 Mercedes-AMG. The Italian was able to take almost a second a lap out of Wilkinson's advantage and with 10 minutes left on the clock he was on the rear of the McLaren.
Wilkinson defended superbly, making no mistakes and preventing Marciello from pulling alongside him. But the McLaren driver's task was made more difficult when he came upon lapped traffic. Marciello had problems, too, with Vanthoor arriving on the scene and forming a three-way battle for the lead.
The decisive moment came when Wilkinson and Marciello both attempted to lap the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing Ferrari of Giorgio Roda with just five minutes left on the clock. The Mercedes-AMG was sandwiched between the Ferrari and the McLaren, making contact with both. This sent the McLaren off-track at high-speed, while the Ferrari spun and was fortunate not to be hit by an oncoming car.
Marciello continued and assumed the lead ahead of Vanthoor, while the race was quickly neutralised due to Wilkinson's accident. The McLaren had cleared the barrier and come to a rest on a bank, but fortunately the British driver was able to climb from the car. With no possibility to go green again Marciello took victory from title rival Vanthoor, while Maro Engel was third in the #6 Mercedes-AMG.
The next three positions were occupied by the Silver Cup podium finishers. The #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini scored its fourth win of the campaign from class pole, though Ricardo Feller had slipped behind Pierre-Alexandre Jean (#107 CMR Bentley) at the start.
The Swiss retook the lead into Paddock Hill Bend before handing over to Alex Fontana, who competed the job with a fine fourth overall and is now on the brink of wrapping up the class title. The #31 Team WRT Audi of Ryuichiro Tomita and Frank Bird finished second, followed by the #90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG of Ezequiel Perez Companc and Rik Breukers.
Pro-Am honours went to the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini of Miguel Ramos and Henrique Chaves. They beat the #52 AF Corse Ferrari, which had led the opening phase thanks to a fine opening stint from Louis Machiels. The victory ensures that the Barwell duo now lead the Pro-Am standings.
This afternoon's second race will begin at 15:45 with Marciello taking the start from pole. Live coverage will be broadcast live on the official Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS website and Facebook pages, as well as the GTWorld and GTWorld Français YouTube channels.