Belgian Audi Club Team WRT completed a dominant Blancpain GT Series weekend at Misano with a one-two finish in this afternoon’s 60-minute Sprint Cup race. The podium was completed by the #25 Audi R8 LMS of Sainteloc Racing, with last year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa winners returning to form ahead of this year’s 70th edition of the endurance classic.
As was the case in Saturday evening’s opening contest, the #1 Audi R8 LMS of Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas secured the top step of the podium at the Italian venue. With the #2 car of Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens following them home, it was a perfect showing for the WRT squad.
For the second race in succession, the Belgian squad’s win came despite an AKKA ASP Team car leading much of the opening stint around the 4.2km Misano circuit.
The #88 Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello started from pole and held his advantage into turn 1, while Mies made up ground early on by passing Franck Perera’s Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for second spot.
Marciello quickly built up a gap of 1.5 seconds over Mies and it remained this way for several laps. But, as the stint progressed, Mies began to slowly erode the Italian’s advantage.
Whether or not it was the pressure telling, Marciello then made an uncharacteristic mistake when he ran too deep into a corner and damaged the front of his Mercedes-AMG GT3. While it was not enough to end his race, it would evidently harm his chances.
Mies quickly pounced on the wounded Mercedes, scything past Marciello and into the lead. The German driver then began to pull away before ducking into the pits to hand over to crewmate Riberas.
Marciello remained on track for several laps longer, but the damage to his car left the #88 AKKA machine unable to compete for the top positions even after he had handed over to Michael Meadows.
Riberas pulled out of the pits with a very healthy lead, with the #2 machine now his nearest challenger some eight seconds behind. Vanthoor had been involved in a closely-fought multi-car battle during his stint, before handing over to Stevens for the second half of the race.
The British driver emerged into a much calmer situation than his crewmate, with Riberas well up the road and the #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS not close enough to pose a serious threat.
Christopher Haase had been aboard the #25 car during the opening stint and was part of the same competitive all-Audi fight as Vanthoor. After the German driver handed over to Simon Gachet, the Sainteloc car emerged in an excellent third position. While the Frenchman was unable to challenge Stevens for P2, he was equally untroubled by Steijn Schothorst’s fourth-placed Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS.
Out front Riberas completed a calm, cool and collected stint to win by a shade over 10 seconds from Stevens, capping a memorable weekend for the WRT squad. Having travelled to Misano searching for a first Sprint Cup win of 2018, the #1 crew leave the circuit with a pair of first-place trophies.
The podium was completed by the 25 Sainteloc-Audi, with Haase taking a top-three for the first time since winning last season’s Total 24 Hours of Spa and Gachet claiming his maiden Blancpain GT Series podium.
The Audi dominance continued in fourth place, with Schothorst next across the line in the #66 Attempto machine he shares with Kelvin van der Linde.
But fifth spot – as well as a hard-fought Silver Cup victory – belonged to an AKKA ASP Mercedes. Having performed brilliantly on Saturday before a technical problem ended their race, the #87 machine of Nicolas Jamin and Denis Bulatov made amends on Sunday with an impressive run.
Bulatov made good progress from 12th on the grid before Jamin assumed the controls in sixth spot. The Frenchman quickly homed in on Silver Cup rival Stuart Leonard in the #17 WRT-Audi and decisively passed the British driver to secure class victory.
Audi was once again on top in the Pro-Am category, as Markus Winkelhock and Nyls Stievenart completed a clean sweep of the weekend and provided Sainteloc Racing with another trophy.
This was an assured performance from the pair, with Winkelhock joining the Vanthoor-Haase battle during the first stint and teen Stievenart showing maturity beyond his years to bring the car home ninth overall.
A double victory at Misano provides a significant boost for the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT drivers in their pursuit of championship glory. Having already held the lead in the Endurance Cup standings and the overall table, they now occupy top spot in the Sprint Cup classification as well.
But both drivers remained cautious in the aftermath of their success, acknowledging that the upcoming Total 24 Hours of Spa could significantly change the complexion of the title battle. The season’s blue riband race is now just over a month away, while the official test day will take place on 3 July at the iconic Ardennes venue.
Despite their caution, however, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT drivers have certainly ensured crucial winning momentum heading into the most important event of the year.
Alex Riberas, #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: “Sometimes, when you are leading the race with a big margin, it can look easy from the outside but be difficult inside the car. Today, that was not the case! Chris did such a great job; he was on another level this weekend. After the first race, we wanted to focus on our driver change and we practiced it a lot this morning. It paid off as we finally managed a perfect one today. Besides that, the mechanics did another amazingly quick pit stop. We had a fantastic car this weekend, fantastic team spirit, fantastic mechanics and, obviously, I have a fantastic teammate. We have increased our lead in the championship and that’s very good news ahead of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.”
Dries Vanthoor, #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: “During the opening two or three laps I was able to put pressure on Kelvin van der Linde, but then I couldn’t maintain the pace and even lost a position to Christopher (Haase). I managed to overtake Raffaele Marciello just before coming into the pits and we had a great stop. Will was able to come out in P2 and he did a very good job after that. Following the loose wheel nut that cost us yesterday, it was important to score points today. Still, we want to win races and I’m never fully happy with P2. We need to work hard ahead of the next race to be on top next time.”
Christopher Haase, #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS: “I enjoyed the beginning of the race a lot. I started P7 but, as always, it was very tight in the first few corners. We had some slight contact, but it’s always very fair and that’s something I appreciate a lot about the Blancpain GT Series. I felt I had good pace and I managed to overtake Dries. After our pit stop, Simon did a fantastic stint and we took our first podium finish this season, which is a great result.”
Nico Jamin, #87 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3: “We had the pace throughout this weekend. Yesterday I started from overall pole and was leading the race comfortably when we had an electrical problem. Maybe we lost a win there, but we know that’s part of racing. Today we were able to fight back with a great race. We started from P12 – and third in class – and managed to take P5 overall and the Silver Cup win. It’s a great achievement and I’m especially happy for the whole AKKA ASP Team, as everybody kept their head down to prepare for the second race.”
Markus Winkelhock, #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS: “I had a solid start and the car felt good. I was in a battle among several Audi drivers, but I didn’t want to take too many risks as the Pro-Am championship is our main goal. Anyway, I had good fun and I’m very pleased with Nyls’ stint. Three wins in a row is good for the championship!”