The AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 duo of Nico Bastian and Thomas Neubauer drove a faultless race to take victory in the first Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe race of the weekend at Brands Hatch.
Starting in third, the pair fought off the attentions of their rivals behind on both the race start, and on the restart after a ten-minute safety car after a two-car crash at Paddock Hill Bend on the first lap.
Those two cars were Phoenix Racing’s Luis Kim Schramm and Attempto Racing’s Steijn Schothorst – the latter shoved into a spin by a later penalised Andrea Caldarelli.
When the safety car finally came back in, Bastian could do nothing to challenge GRT Grasser Racing Team’s Mirko Bortolotti, in second, or polesitter Luca Stolz in the Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3.
The trio settled into a steady rhythm around a dry Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit – after yesterday’s tricky weather conditions – with the action really heating up when the pit window opened.
Bortolotti and Stolz were the first to pit, handing over to Christian Engelhart and Maro Engel respectively. The latter found himself with a handy gap to Engelhart thanks to Black Falcon’s slick stop and set about doing the best he could to move into the lead once the pitstops had been completed.
However, he didn’t consider just how quick AKKA ASP managed to service Bastian. Handing over to Neubauer at the halfway point, the team released its Mercedes-AMG GT3 back into the race with the quickest stop in the top ten to get back out on track just ahead of Engel.
The German set about cutting down Neubauer’s lead and with just 16 minutes of the 60-minute race remaining, it appeared Engel was preparing to strike as he closed to within 0.730s of the Frenchman.
However, the Mercedes factory driver couldn’t find an opportunity to get past and Neubauer took his chance to pull away, taking the chequered flag with 2.003s in hand.
Third went to Engelhart, the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo driver unable to replicate Bortolotti’s speed in the opening stint. He was fortunate not to lose his podium to Raffaele Marciello in the second AKKA ASP Mercedes.
The Italian-Swiss driver had a close battle with Clemens Schmid in the second of the Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMSs and finally got past with just seconds remaining on the clock, squeezing past Schmid coming through the fast left-hander of Clearways.
That released Marciello into fourth, but he couldn’t do anything about the ten-second gap he had to Engelhart ahead.
Behind Schmidt was Tom Gamble. The 17-year-old making his GT racing debut – having competed in British F3 last year – claimed a Silver Cup podium and sixth overall for Team WRT.
Winning the Pro-Am category was David Perel in the Rinaldi Racing Ferarri 488 GT3, who had to fight as hard as he could to hold off a hard-charging Phil Keen in the FFF Racing Team Lamborghini. The latter, who is very familiar with the Brands Hatch circuit after years in British GT, couldn’t make his experience count and had to settle for second in class.
The second race gets underway at 16:35 BST (17:35 CET).