It wasn’t Lamborghini that could defend its 2017 win and it wasn’t Ferrari that stayed out in front long enough to take the chequered flag first. The party in Monza for the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup was an exclusively German one, as the WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Dries Vanthoor, Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas stormed to the front in the 3-hour race to take the win, followed onto the podium by Mercedes-AMG teams Strakka Racing and Black Falcon.
Qualification has been a close call between the pole-sitting SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, Emil Frey Racing Jaguar XK GT3 and number 1 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3. Separated by less than a tenth, the difference between the three fastest cars was marginal on the 5.8-kilometre Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
A quick attack by Alex Fontana to take the lead when the lights go green almost sends the Jaguar into the lead, but going around the outside into the first chicane is always a tough task to pull off and the young Swiss eventually backs off.
Maro Engel in the Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 has more success at the start. The razor sharp German immediately squeezes his way through into third from sixth on the grid. Seeing if he can get even more out of it, he has a look on the inside when braking for the first turn before slotting in nicely behind Fontana and Miguel Molina in the leading SMP Racing Ferrari.
Today could’ve been Black Falcon’s day. The Nürburgring-based team seems on its way to take the lead early in the second hour, lapping the Parco di Monza race course at a higher pace than anyone else. Engel’s co-driver Luca Stolz is stalking SMP Racing’s Mikhail Aleshin when the number 4 AMG is handed a drive-through penalty for an earlier Full Course Yellow infringement during the first stint.
Determined, Stolz pushes forward after the penalty to hand the car over to Yelmer Buurman for the final attack. The Dutchman, too, is not taking any prisoners either: having finally caught back up to the top 3 cars, he just needs to get by Christian Engelhart in the Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to reach the podium. But the reigning champion is tough to get by, successfully countering all of Buurman’s moves.
As time ticks away, Buurman suddenly sees the Lambo struggling through the back section of the Monza race track. A first attempt is thwarted by yellow flags up ahead, but immediately he follows up with a second attack. Side-by-side from Curva Parabolica over start-finish and into Variante del Rettifilo, Buurman outbrakes Engelhart to claim third place.
Strakka Racing ups it one place for AMG by finishing second. The British crew, new with the German brand after an unsuccessful year flying the flag for McLaren GT, emerges as a contender in the second hour.
Adrian Zaugg, the Jaguar’s pilot after Fontana handed over the car, has been holding off AMG works driver Maximilian Buhk for a long time, but radio problems leave the Singaporean racer hanging out to dry at the lifting of a Full Course Yellow. As Zaugg loses heaps of places as cars pass by him on the front stretch, Buhk is long gone into second place and starts to reel in Mikhail Aleshin in the SMP Racing Ferrari.
Early race contenders Emil Frey Racing can’t stay the podium course. The team’s trio of youngsters Alex Fontana, Adrian Zaugg and Mikael Grenier breath new life into the aging but not yet obsolete Jaguar by racing to fifth place just behind the Grasser Lamborghini, and just as importantly, the win in the Silver Cup.
Shortly before the final round of pitstops begin, Aleshin has to concede first position to the unleashed Buhk after the German in one sweeping move around the outside at Parabolica takes the lead.
It’s the beginning of the end for Ferrari’s dream of home victory: after the final pitstop the AF Corse-run SMP Ferrari starts to develop throttle problems, eventually becoming too severe for Davide Rigon to continue the race.
The number 1 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 hasn’t been seen for much of the afternoon. Now with Dries Vanthoor behind the wheel, that is soon about to change. After a short middle stint, the young Vanthoor is tasked with bringing it home for the Blancpain GT stalwarts.
Armed with new tyres and a car that works perfectly despite the tremendous heat, Vanthoor first chases down the Grasser Lamborghini to pass Engelhart and continues on his way to the leading Strakka AMG of Maximilian Götz.
In traffic, Götz finds himself mingled between slower cars going through the Parabolica. Vanthoor seizes the opportunity and accelerates out of Parabolica to put himself on the old front stretch leading to the oval—a no-go area for overtakes, forcing the Audi driver to yield the position back to Götz.
The initial overtake for the lead with half an hour to go is void, but Vanthoor continues the hunt unmoved: a lap later he tries again. Under braking for the first chicane, the Audi moves back onto the racing line for a better entry into the turn when Götz unexpectedly cuts back onto the racing line as well and muscles Vanthoor into the dirt. It’s an unintentional but illegal move and now it’s Götz turn to move over and yield the lead.
Götz is no competition for the Audi in the final 30 minutes. With a clear track ahead, Vanthoor races off. Under a setting Lombardian sun, the Audi drives off to the finish flag for the first German victory in Monza since Marc VDS Racing took the win for BMW six years ago.
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