Six point awarding sessions, six maximum scores. It seems like there is no stopping of WRT Audi’s Laurens Vanthoor and Robin Frijns. Once again the duo took all the spoils from the Zolder round of the Blancpain Sprint Series.
Saturday morning started with qualifying, where one point was awarded for pole position, won by the number 1 car as Laurens Vanthoor took pole position. While still maintaining it was hard work, claiming he nearly crashed twice in his flying lap, his lap was two tenths faster than the competition on the four kilometre long track.
A couple of hours later, the local hero took off from pole position under a bright sunny sky as he unchallenged dived into the first corner. Behind him team mates Frank Stippler and Stéphane Richelmi crashed into each other before they even reached turn one, when they accidentally sandwiched the Attempto McLaren 650S GT3 of works driver Rob Bell. For Stippler and co-driver James Nash the gravel trap was where their weekend ended as the car was unrepairable in the garages of Circuit Zolder.
As the battle for second place between the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and Bentley Team HTP’s Continental GT3 heated up, Vanthoor built up an advantage that saw the Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3 retain the lead after handing over the wheel to Frijns and drive to victory without a care in the world.
Marco Seefried and Norbert Siedler in the Ferrari and Vincent Abril and Maximilian Buhk in the Bentley kept fighting, but it wasn’t until Rinaldi Racing brought the Ferrari into the pits for service and a driver change, that they managed to overtake the Bentley for a hard fought second place.
At the back end of the field a black and white Lamborghini had all eyes on it during the weekend. It was Reiter Engineering’s number 88 Gallardo LP 560-4 R-EX with Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Peter Kox behind the wheel. This weekend marked the Dutchman’s return to Reiter, although he only left his former employee two months ago. With Nick Catsburg hired by Lada to race the Russian WTCC round, the accomplished GT racer jumped in to help out his old friend.
“I’ve raced for Hans [Reiter] for a very long time and we’re very good friends,” said Kox. “He asked me to help him out for this weekend, which I gladly do.”
However, problems with the brakes made for a poor result in the qualifying and a dangerous situation, and a spin in the opening lap of the race added insult to injury.
“We had a serious problem with the brakes this morning. It was a shame, because I think our car is good enough to race up front, we’ve proven that in the past years.
“We had high hopes coming into the weekend, and then it all went wrong this morning with the brakes,” the 2013 race winner said. “It wasn’t really safe to go out, but we still did it. And then you’re on P12, and you know that it’ll be a challenge at the start.”
Although making up some places at the start initially, Kox lost those positions again as he had to avoid an accident. A couple of turns later, rookie driver Tom Dillmann pushed the Lambo into a spin at the hospital corner. Forced to start all over again, the German team made the best out of a poor situation and managed to race to eleventh place.
“We have one real problem and that’s with the brakes, and if we can maybe fix that for the main race, I’m sure we can manage a points finish. We have a good team, we’re good at the pitstops.”
The next morning things had changed dramatically for the Reiter team, and for the better. Placing fifth in the morning warm-up, hopes were back up to achieve that points scoring finish.
At the front of the grid the mood was still the same. Rinaldi Racing was happy to be on the front row and racing for podium positions all season long in the combined Blancpain GT Series, and WRT felt bullish to make it another win with their two star drivers.
Just as moods can change overnight for Reiter, Rinaldi’s mood changed in a heartbeat when Seefried made a good start and saw an opportunity to attack Frijns. Unbeknownst to him, Vincent Abril had the same idea but just as the German, the Frenchman also couldn’t make it stick into turn one. As both cars got together, it ended the Ferrari’s race.
“I had a really good start, so I had a run on Frijns, but then he blocked me very late,” explained Abril. “I did not like that too much, because it put me in the dust and the only way to avoid him meant having contact with the Ferrari. I am very sorry for them, this is not the way I race, but for me it was a racing incident.
“Afterwards, the team made a very good pitstop, which helped us a lot to claim second position in this race.”
From there on out no one could really threaten Frijns and Vanthoor for the remainder of the race through the Limburg woods. WRT Audi racer Christopher Mies did put down some fast laps after finally getting past the solid driving Atila Abreu in the Team Brasil BMW Z4 GT3, but couldn’t do more than shave off a couple of seconds of Frijns’ lead. That attack came to a premature halt anyway, as the German had made a jump start and received a penalty for it. Even a good finish went out of the window after the drivers’ change saw Enzo Ide jump into the car, only to make a personal mistake not much later as he parked the car in the gravel trap, ending their race.
Meanwhile, Kox and Von Thurn und Taxis were climbing up through the field, passing a couple of cars but mainly staying out of trouble score two points. Finishing ninth is probably not what the team expected when they hired Kox, but after the disastrous Saturday it’s a recovery to be proud of.
It’s easy to forget that behind two successful drivers there’s still a group of people working on the car and to facilitate a work environment that brings success. Frijns and Vanthoor may be the faces of the team, in the end winning depends on everyone doing a perfect job.
“This win is the result of a combination of good people in the team,” Vanthoor reflected after the race. “Robin [Frijns] and I know each other very well, and he is doing an incredible job. We managed to have a faultless weekend, and that is probably our strongest point at the moment.”
So Sunday afternoon ended just like it did in Brands Hatch: With total domination and a winning streak by Vanthoor and Frijns. Is there any stopping them?