Two new teams took the two top spots on the podium at the Blancpain GT season premier at Autodromo Nazionale Monza, but it was the old familiar Black Falcon team that grabbed third place. With it, Yelmer Buurman and team-mates Maro Engel and Luca Stolz began their title-defending season in a carbon copy of 2018 when the German team took third place in Monza as well.

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“It was a very tough race, for several reasons,” Yelmer Buurman says.

“Qualifying already didn’t go very well for several reasons, but luckily none of them were due to myself! We had some problems with the tyres and the set-up, making it a tough start of the day.”

Lining up on the grid for the wet race in 14th place, the Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Luca Stolz behind the wheel moved up to ninth place before dropping back shortly before its first pitstop.

“Luca did the start and ran very well, until he got hit in the first turn and we dropped back to 27th place. During that spin, the car got hit by another car some places back. Luca was just standing there and neither one could do anything to avoid it.

“The splitter sustained some damage, the front wheel as well; pretty much the whole front of the car was damaged. The balance of the car wasn’t what it used to be: We were missing a lot of aero performance, meaning we had more drag, lower top-speed and in the fast corners we were missing front downforce. It was really tough and when you then also have to manage your tyres because the track is drying and it starts raining again, you’re more managing the race than really driving as fast as you can – it isn’t always about driving as fast as you can.

“It was a real challenge. We never expected to be standing on the podium, we’re very happy to have made it! We told ourselves the most important task is to score points. We started from 14th and with so much happening during the race you need to make sure you complete the distance and grab points, which we did!”

Like the other top finishers today, Buurman points to tyre management and strategy as the main key to success in the 3-hour endurance race.

“I think the key was to stay on rain tyres. Many cars went to slicks and this definitely was the best and easiest choice during some periods. On the one hand, of course it’s very tricky on slicks because you can easily make a mistake and speer off, but on the other hand managing rain tyres is very hard as well because when you’re pushing too hard you won’t have any tread on the tyre left.

“After the neutralisation when it began to rain again and the cars on slicks had a hard time getting heat into their tyres, that’s when I made my move. I have no idea how many cars I overtook. That was a lot of fun, when you move up through the field to fifth place like a hot knife through butter!

“With a quick in-lap and a combination of factors Maro exited the pits in P4 in a car that was hard to handle due to the damage. Regardless, he did a superb job and brought the car home in third place.”

And so, 2019 begins in the same fashion Black Falcon’s unaltered crew began its championship-winning 2018 campaign: With third place in Monza.

I’d like this to be a repeat of last year! We had a very good year last year. Silverstone wasn’t easy: We finished ninth so didn’t score many points, and we even retired in Paul Ricard. But then in Spa we scored a lot of points and we won in Barcelona, which is why we won the championship.

“The key is to continue to score points and when you do that you’ll get far.”