Rene Rast (DEU) and Niki Mayr-Melnhof (AUT) took a well-judged victory in the qualifying race at the Baku World Challenge by Aztexnika today. The Team WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra headed the fellow Audi R8 LMS ultra of Stephane Ortelli (MCO) to take the chequered flag by 1.226 seconds after an eventful race around the streets of the Azerbaijani capital.
The race began with the safety car due to a wet circuit and starting from pole position, Rast charged in to an immediate lead, lapping the track substantially quicker than his adversaries. The German made the most of his Audi R8 LMS ultra’s superb torque and traction to hand over to team mate Niki Mayr-Melnhof (AUT) just before a mid-race safety car period to rescue the crashed #25 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini.
Mayr-Melnhof led the field away when the safety car was withdrawn but then a red flag stopped the race after Cesar Campanico (PRT) crashed his Novadriver Audi R8 LMS ultra at Turn 5. Mayr-Melnhof once again lead the chasing pack away and gradually opened a gap over Ortelli, resisting the pressure to take the first win of the day.
For Ortelli and his team mate, Laurens Vanthoor (BEL), it was a satisfying runners-up position as they extended their Pro class driver’s lead to seven points. Their title rivals, Edward Sandström (SWE) and Frank Stippler (DEU) finished 6th in the Pro class but scored 3rd place points due to the race-by-race entries that finished ahead of them being ineligible to register points. In addition, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT squad was crowned as Pro Cup team champions for the 2013 season.
Completing the podium in the qualifying race was the Hexis Racing McLaren MP4-12C driven by Kevin Estre (FRA) and Rob Bell (GBR). A combative final stint by Bell saw the McLaren catch the 2nd placed Ortelli him but unable to pass the Audi. Earlier, Estre had shown excellent pace and got the McLaren up to third place before the pit stop and safety car period.
A fine 4th place was the Alexander Sims (GBR) and Stef Dusseldorp (NDL) driven Boutsen Ginion McLaren MP4-12c. The Belgian team, which has the support of Thierry Boutsen himself here this weekend, finished just 0.8s from a podium position despite Sims intense pressuring of Rob Bell’s McLaren in the closing stages.
The Sebastien Loeb Racing team were in the heat of the leading group battle for most of the race with Loeb himself showing his street fighting instincts with some exciting manoeuvres in to the first hairpin. Sadly for the multiple World Rally Champion the car was penalised and dropped to 14th position overall after the McLaren was adjudged to have not fitted tyres to the car before the 5-second board was shown at the end of the red flag period.
The Pro Am class saw the HTP Gravity Charouz duo of Andreas Simonsen (SWE) and Sergei Afanasiev (RUS) claim the title in style after a dominant victory. The Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 was never headed and finished clear winners to take an 8th race win of a stellar 2013 season. The delighted pairing added the driver’s title to the Teams crown to take a clean sweep in the Pro Am category.
The GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini of Hari Proczyk (AUT) and Dominik Baumann (AUT) suffered a mid-race accident meaning that Proczyk’s slim chances of taking the Pro Am crown were lost. Finishing 2nd in Pro Am was the Rodrive entry of Matheus Stumpf (BRA) and Patrick Cunha (PRT) after a trouble free race for the Lamborghini LP560-4.
Taking the Gentlemen Trophy class victory was the AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Federico Leo (ITA) and Claudio Sdanewitsch (DEU). Leo raced on the fringe of the top ten overall in the early running before handing over to his team mate who brought the car home 24-seconds clear of the MRS McLaren MP4-12C of Baku-based Mark Thomas (CDN) and Ilya Melnikov (RUS).
The action continues on the thrilling and scenic Baku World Challenge by Aztexnika circuit this afternoon at 15.00 local time with the main race.
The race will be shown live and with streaming and timing here – http://www.fiagtseries.com/pages/live
For the latest Series points standings please click here - http://www.fiagtseries.com/results
Niki Mayr-Melnhof, Team WRT – Audi R8 LMS #12 (Pro Cup)
“This race was very difficult for me because I had a lot of pressure this weekend but I really tried to push it aside. I knew that I had a strong team and a strong teammate behind me but there was the pressure for the team championship as this is why we are here this weekend. So, I did my best to push but I knew that I could easily end up in a wall so I tried to push in a way to avoid any mistake. I tried to not over-race and stay calm.. Everything is still possible for the drivers’ championship, and I will do my best to be at the top for the Main Race but we will see what happens in the end. Yet, we are already winners this weekend and we can be happy with what we have achieved..”
Andreas Simonsen, HTP Gravity Charouz – Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 #2 (Pro Am)
“I was thinking all the time about the points and taking the win in the Pro Am championship. We were trying to stay in front of the GRT Grasser Racing Team but after 4-5 minutes I overtook some cars and I was by myself so I was happy. Then the team did a perfect pit stop and the Safety Car went out and we were in fourth place so we are really lucky that the team did a good pit stop. Overall we did a great race and my teammate Sergei (Afanasiev) managed to finish in the top 10 and in the end we are champions so it is quite nice!”
Federico Leo , AF Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 #50 (Gentlemen Trophy)
“The start was not very good as I did not know that the safety car had entered in this lap because of a little misunderstanding with one of the engineers, so during the first lap two cars overtook me. But then I pushed hard, the car was great, the team did a very good job. Then, Sandström was near to me, and as I knew that he was fighting for the championship, I let him passed. After, when I saw that I was quicker than him, I overtook him again and finished 8th in my stint. The team did a very good pit stop and Claudio did well and we finished first in our class so we are happy.”