SMP Racing stormed to its maiden Blancpain GT Series victory after a thrilling final hour battle with FFF Racing in the second Endurance Cup race of the year at Silverstone.
Moving up the order at the hands of Miguel Molina in the middle stint of the three-hour race, the Ferrari 488 GT3 team was immediately on the back of the #519 FFF Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo for the final hour of the race as factory driver Davide Rigon filled the mirrors of Giovanni Venturini.
Lap after lap, the Italians were nose-to-tail and with just 17 minutes left on the clock, Rigon made his decisive move. Diving up the inside of Venturini at Luffield, he used the Ferrari’s grunt – and fresher tyres – to pull clear of Venturini, who was struggling with tyre wear in the closing stages.
Victory at Silverstone is Rigon’s first Blancpain GT Series win in six years after he took victory at Monza with Kessel Racing in 2013 and it was the first win in the Blancpain GT Series for both Mikhail Aleshin and Molina.
The start of the race was affected by a four-car crash on the first run onto the Hangar Straight. The #26 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Nyls Stievenart spun coming out of Chapel and clipped the #488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, which hit the barriers on driver’s left.
The Audi then spun back across the track and into the path of Côme Ledogar in the Garage 59 Aston Martin, the Frenchman couldn’t avoid hitting Stievenart. Also involved in the crash was the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of AKKA ASP, Raffaele Marciello unable to avoid the chaos having started from the latter half of the field.
After more than 20 minutes under the safety car, the race went green again and then fell into a comfortable rhythm at the front, with the three Lamborghinis – the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team, and the #519 and #563 FFF Racing machines – pulling clear. The only real action was Jordan Pepper in the #107 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental squeezing his way up to fourth.
That was how the order remained until the end of the opening hour as Christian Engelhart lost the lead going into turn one when his rear-left tyre spectacularly delaminated. He made it back to the pits but slipped down to 40th after he dragged the Huracán all the way around the 5.9 kilometre circuit back to the pits.
Engelhart’s drama was Dennis Lind’s joy. The Dane had impressively squeezed his way up to second at Stowe, past team-mate Franck Perera in the sister #519 just ten minutes earlier and was released into the lead and clear air.
However, he didn’t stay in the lead for long. Pitting just on the 60-minute mark he lost out massively when the Full Course Yellow was needed to recover the #444 HB Racing Ferrari of Jens Liebhauser who beached the 488 in the gravel at Luffield.
Andrea Caldarelli came out of the pits in 11th, having taken over from Lind, while Perera – who pitted to hand over to Phil Keen a lap later – came out with the lead.
The Italian couldn’t be restrained, though. With the field bunched under a safety car for the restart, he powered up through the field and in the space of seven minutes, he was up to third having dispossessed Lucas Mauron in the #19 GRT Grasser Racing Team car just before the second Full Course Yellow.
That was called for after Taylor Proto in the #555 FFF Racing Lamborghini was shoved off-track coming out of the pits by an Aston Martin. The Huracán hit the end of the tyre barriers but thankfully Proto got out of the car unaided.
FFF lost the chance of a one-two at the final stops, as a quicker service sent Venturini out of the pits almost six seconds ahead of Mapelli – who took over from Caldarelli – after the #563 lost time being pushed back so the team could properly tend to the car.
That slow stop allowed the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari to regain its position ahead of the second of the FFF cars, with the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 also gaining a place after a cracking middle stint from Lewis Williamson.
The final hour of the race was centred around the thrilling battle between Rigon and Venturini, but behind an equally exciting battle was unfolding for the final spot on the podium.
Taking over the #43 from Williamson, Jack Hawksworth was doing a great job holding off Mapelli in the #563 until the penultimate lap of the race. Going into Vale, the Italian lunged up the inside of the Mercedes and punted the Brit into a spin.
Moving up to third for a time, the Lamborghini driver quickly fell back down the order with a broken rear-left tow link. He held on for the final lap to take sixth, but his clumsy lunge promoted Dries Vanthoor to an unexpected third in the #2 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3, with Matthieu Jaminet claiming fourth for Rowe Racing in a remarkable turnaround for the Porsche team after struggling in qualifying.
Hawksworth took the chequered flag in fifth after sustaining no lasting damage to his Mercedes, but aggrieved at the loss of a potential podium and reprimanded by the stewards for his part in the collision.
The #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 made a remarkable recovery from the back of the field to finish seventh, with Luca Stolz having passed the Silver Cup winning #19 Grasser Lamborghini on the final lap following two stints from Maro Engel and Yelmer Buurman which pushed the car quickly up the order.
The #55 Attempto Racing Audi was unlucky to finish ninth, second in Silver Cup, crossing the line just 0.013s behind Gerhard Tweraser in the #19 Lambo.
Pro-Am class honours seemed to go to Ram Racing, with the two-driver line-up of Ramon Vos and Tom Onslow-Cole doing an amazing job to finish 22nd overall. However, a collision with the #52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 just before the two-hour mark was deemed Vos’ fault with a 30-second time-penalty added after the race as a result. This promoted the #52 Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels to the win — bouncing back from Bertolini’s heavy crash at Brands Hatch last weekend .
Barwell Motorsport won the Am class, as the pole-sitting #77 of Miguel Ramos, Adrian Amstutz and Leo Machitski fended off the Tech 1 Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Bernard Delhez and former Manchester United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez – the Frenchman leading the class in the first half of the race.