Forget about the first races of the season in Misano and no one can dispute that WRT’s Christopher Mies and Enzo Ide were on the top of their game all year long. Together the Audi R8 LMS GT3 racers amassed top three results in all but one of the eight races after the season opener. Finishing off his Blancpain GT Sprint Cup campaign at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with a win and third place, it’s hard to argue that anyone but Ide deserved the championship title any more. Anyone but Christopher Mies perhaps, who had to forfeit his claim on the title as the German was forced to go to Hockenheim for the ADAC GT Masters season finale instead.
The absence of Mies would’ve been a threat to WRT’s title fight if it wasn’t for Robin Frijns who was brought it as the super-sub when it became clear that the championship leader would not be able to compete in both Hockenheim and Montmeló during the same weekend. With a points lead of 23 over second placed Dominik Baumann and Maximilian Buhk in the HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3, the gap is significant. WRT and Robin Frijns, however, last year experienced first-hand how quickly the tables can turn. Back then it were Frijns and Laurens Vanthoor who saw their huge lead diminish in only a handful of races and the title go HTP’s way in the last race of the season. They won’t let this happen again.
Audi goes fastest in qualifying, but it’s not WRT on pole. Unexpectedly, the ISR Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Marlon Stöckinger and Franck Perera shoot to pole position with the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Nicolas Pohler and Mirko Bortolotti making in to the front row as well. Behind them Ide and Frijns do exactly what they need to do: Qualify in third and stay in front of the other title aspirants to deny them any chance.
At dawn the first race is on. In the dash Frijns drafts to the lead on the long front straight and brakes latest. The Dutchman knows his mission: Create an unbridgeable gap for the rest of the field and drives off into the distance to be never seen again. The distance to second place leaves Ide in the ideal position to bring the Audi to the finish, taking the win and eight points to make life easier for the race later this afternoon.
Ide’s win is strengthened by his contenders’s meagre performances. Both Rob Bell and Álvaro Parente in the Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 and HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 duo Bernd Schneider and Jules Szymkowiak are penalized for shortcutting the first corner at the start. The end result is a zero-score as both cars are unable to recover, plus poor starting positions for the championship race realistically removing both cars from the title hunt.
Laurens Vanthoor and Fred Vervisch, running in another WRT-entered Audi R8 LMS GT3, are victims of their own over-eagerness as well: Coming back from a lowly eighteenth starting position, Vanthoor taps third-placed Marlon Stöckinger into a spin in the closing minutes of the race. The regulatory trespass leaves race control with no other choice than to penalize the Belgians as well.
Finally, Buhk and Baumann are unable to make any kind of attempt at a good points scoring result. Having struggled all weekend, the HTP drivers finish in sixth to pick up just a single point.
With everyone down and almost out, Ide goes into the finale with one hand on the cup. All he needs is two points but with HTP out of shape it might not even have to come to that.
It’s a different story at HTP’s brand compatriots AKKA ASP. The French Mercedes-AMG GT3 racers finished best of the AMGs in July’s 24 Hours of Spa and have established themselves this season as being on equal footing with the German AMG teams in the Blancpain GT Series. Tristan Vautier is on starting duty and sees the door opened at the start, goes past Ide via the outside, and commands the race going forward. After handing the car to teammate Felix Rosenqvist the lead remains firmly in the hands of the AKKA ASP crew, who go on to win their first race in the Blancpain GT Series.
Behind the AKKA ASP AMG the M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet battles with the WRT Audi of Ide and Frijns for second place. At first Ide lets the British car go past, but when it’s Frijns’s turn he wants it back. Frijns’s high pace finally brings him to the back of the Bentley. With the time ticking away he’s urged to make his moves, but Soucek is unmoveable. After some pushing and shoving it’s the Bentley that takes second place behind Rosenqvist and Vautier, while Ide can still celebrate his championship victory on the podium with third place, cementing his place among the champions.
As the sun is setting over the Catalan hills and the teams start packing up after a long day of racing, disappointment at HTP has turned to joy. The realisation has now set in that although they’ve lost the Sprint Cup, having never stood a chance all weekend long, Buhk and Baumann do go home with the overall Blancpain GT drivers title as well as first prize in the teams championship. A deserving reward for their strong performances in both Sprint and Endurance races.
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