Reigning Blancpain GT Series champion Laurens Vanthoor and Robin Frijns dominated both qualifying and main races of the Brands Hatch round of the 2015 Blancpain Sprint Series, despite almost destroying the car during Saturday’s free practice and Vanthoor feeling unwell throughout race day. In the main race, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT duo beat the #77 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brazil Z4 of Valdeno Brito and Atila Abreu, with the #55 Attempto Racing McLaren of Kevin Estre and Rob Bell taking third. In Silver Cup the win went to #83 Bentley Team HTP Continental of Szymkowiak and Lombard. The Frenchman produced a stunning comeback, after a spin in the opening lap. In Pro-Am nobody came near the #70 GT Russian Team Mercedes of Bernd Schneider and Alexey Karachev.
Glorious spring sunshine greeted the drivers on the grid for the Brands Hatch main race. At the wheel of the #1 Audi Robin Frijns had no problem in converting his very first pole position in GT racing into a commanding lead, even though Atila Abreu – another Blancpain GT Series rookie – put his yellow #77 BMW swiftly in the Audi’s slipstream. Behind the leading duo Kevin Estre did his utmost best to gain places in the #55 Attempto Racing McLaren and at the end of the first half of the race, the Frenchman even managed to take second away from Abreu.
A slowish pitstop for the McLaren meant that Rob Bell rejoined the track in third, with a fifteen second deficit on the leading car, now with Laurens Vanthoor at the wheel. The Belgian had been feeling unwell all through the day, but when the adrenaline kicked in, there was no stopping him. Eventually he crossed the line with a 14-second advantage over Valdeno Brito in the #77 BMW, with Rob Bell giving the McLaren its first podium finish.
Behind Sergio Jimenez in fourth, the scrap for places five to seven was as entertaining as the fight for the higher places had been earlier in the race. Nick Catsburg in the #88 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini took his white and black machine to fifth with some inspired overtaking moves in the dying moments of the race, relegating Craig Dolby in the #73 MRS GT Racing Nissan to sixth and Markus Winkelhock in the #6 Phoenix Racing Audi to seventh. The German even dropped one more place after getting a five second penalty for not respecting track limits.
In the Silver Cup Olivier Lombard had a disastrous start to the race when his #83 Bentley Team HTP Continental was spun round in the second corner of the opening lap. The Frenchman managed to get his car back on track and stormed back to the front with Jules Szymkowiak taking the car to the class win, ahead of the #74 Audi of the Fjordbach twins.
In Pro-Am Alexey Karachev and Bernd Schneider dominated the race from start to finish, despite having suffered fuel pump problems at the end of the qualifying race. The German ace – on his first visit to the Brands Hatch Grand Prix track – even took 10th overall just before the end of the race. Second place in Pro-Am went to the other GT Russian Team Mercedes of Alexey Vasilyev and Marko Asmer.
In the overall Blancpain GT Series driver standings Frijns and Vanthoor now take the lead, ahead of Stéphane Ortelli, with Norbert Siedler third.
The next round of the Blancpain GT Series is the second of the Endurance races, in Silverstone in two weeks’ time.
Robin Frijns (#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 LMS): “A good start was crucial to get a good result. This GT racing is still new to me, I have to learn everything from scratch, but I think we did a good job today.”
Laurens Vanthoor (#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 LMS): “I would like to dedicate this win to JG Mal-Voy, the president of the Belgian Audi Club who passed away recently. He was a very important person, not only for me but for everybody in the club. This one is for him.”
Atila Abreu (#77 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil Z4): “At the start I had to keep the Nissan behind, that is why I slotted in behind the Audi immediately. During the race the car felt much better than during qualifying. When the McLaren closed the gap, I decided not to resist it too much, because Kevin was a lot quicker than I. I knew that our team is very good at the pitstops, so it was better to take second position back that way.”
Kevin Estre (#55 Attempto Racing McLaren): “I had to fight very hard to get past the #0 BMW and maybe I used the tyres too much in doing so. That is what caused the car to slide at the end of the stint. Unfortunately we lost some time in the pitstop, but the team is still new to this and we have already improved a lot on those tyre changes. I think there is much more to come from the McLaren.”
Alexey Karachev (#70 GT Russian Team Mercedes, 1st Pro-Am): “The team did an excellent job in repairing the car after the problems at the end of the qualifying race. I managed to gain some five places in the first stint and Bernd did a great job in finishing the race. His move to tenth overall proved we are ready to take our place at the front.”
Jules Szymkowiak (#83 Bentley Team HTP Continental, 1st Silver Cup): “Both in Nogaro and here the Bentley proved to have a lot of potential. If we can have some trouble-free races and focus on keeping our nose clean, I think we should be able to finish in the top-5 overall.”
Silverstone 23-24 May (Endurance)
Zolder 05-07 June (Sprint)
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