Blancpain GT rounded out the 2019 season with a chaotic but highly entertaining final race in the heat of the Spanish autumn. It was down to a battle between the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, the #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG for the overall title. However, a lack lustre qualifying had left the SMP Ferrari starting down the field in P14 whilst the AMG and Lamborghini went from second and third respectively.
Debuting in the Lamborghini as replacement for Dennis Lind who was unable to drive due to health issues, was Barcelona resident Albert Costa. It was the local hero who got the race underway for the FFF Racing Lamborghini. Benefitting from superb grip on cold tyres which would be key to the teams success, Costa found himself looking for a gap that didn’t exist at the start.
As the lights turned green he attempted to squeeze between the Porsche and Mercedes ahead of him but Maro Engel closed the gap, forcing the Lamborghini to the right and into the pit lane exit and grass. Showing remarkable bravery and confidence, Costa was able to squeeze into turn 1 ahead of his challengers to grab the lead. Disappointingly, his effort was in vain as with all four wheels briefly off the track the stewards judged his move illegal and forced him to drop to third.
This put Maro Engel into the lead despite him cutting turn 2, but with no penalty applied the German was able to keep the pole sitting Rowe Racing Porsche 991.2 GT3R between himself and championship rival Costa.
For the championship leader, the #72 SMP Ferrari, starting from fourteenth things only got worse as at turn 4 the #43 Straka Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 took a bite out of the Ferrari leaving it having to limp back to the pits with a puncture. This put the title leaders back to P43 with all to do to get up to eighth which was their minimum finishing place to guarantee the championship.
To compound the Ferrari squad’s problems, a safety car was called before the end of the first lap as contact at turn 9 resulted in a huge off for the Dinamic Motorsport Porsche 991.2 GT3R of Zaid Ashkanani. After being tagged from the side by the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 on the run down the straight to turn 10, Ashkanani ended up uninjured but upside down in the gravel and the repairs to the tyre barrier taking 46 minutes.
At the eventual restart the top 3 held station to the first round of pit stops 5 minutes after the hour mark. All three entered the pit lane together and whilst the #4 Black Falcon with Luca Stolz now behind the wheel kept the lead, the Lamborhini and Porsche duelled in the pitlane. Marco Mapelli inched ahead of the Porsche at the speed limiter line leaving Romain Dumas to drop behind the FFF Lamborghini at pitlane exit. The result for the Rowe Porsche was a drive through penalty for not exiting the pitlane via the fast lane leaving it to finish the race in P6.
A second safety car following a full course yellow to recover yet another stranded car gave Mapelli the opportunity to attack Stolz at the restart. Utilising the Lamborghini’s grip advantage to blast after Stolz, Mapelli attacked the German into turn 1 going around the outside. Mapelli held his line and despite some rubbing between the pair, both stayed on track with the Italian emerging first out of turn 2. With just one racing lap under their belt a second Full Course Yellow and safety car was called following more contact in the pack.
This would give Stolz the opportunity to return the favour at the restart to Mapelli, however the Lamborghini showed at every restart how strong it was on cold tyres and with clear air ahead of him, Mapelli easily left Stolz behind. Instead of challenging for the lead Stolz, with minor damage to his car’s exhaust, found himself defending from the #98 Rowe Porsche and a feisty Raffaele Marciello in the AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 which had pulled up to fourth and was already worrying the Rowe Porsche before the safety car was called out.
Following the final pit stops, again taken under Full Course Yellow, the Lamborghini with team boss Andrea Calderelli behind the wheel continued to pull away despite a strong early effort from Yelmer Buurman in the Black Falcon AMG. Unfortunately for Buurman he also had to fend off Michael Meadows who had taken over from Marciello, but the smallest contact for the AKKA ASP driver would spell the end of his challenge.
With Dries Vanthoor in the #2 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 close behind Meadows in third, the Belgian nudged the Englishman going into turn 11 which was enough to leave body work rubbing against the left rear tyre of the Mercedes-AMG. The resultant puncture dropped Meadows to P36 and promoted Vanthour to third and Jake Dennis in the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 to fourth. However, worn tyres on the Aston left him open to challenge from Jules Gounon in the #107 Bentley Continental GT3.
A final Full Course Yellow with 11 minutes remaining caused by the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 getting beached in the gravel at the exit of the final turn would close everything up. The safety car allowed Buurman to make up the 11 second deficit to Caldarelli, meaning the championship would go down to a 5-minute sprint race to the line. The advantage was always with Caldarelli as the Lamborghini continued to show itself to be super quick at the restart.
Instead, Buurman found himself defending against Vanthoor who challenged on the outside into turn 1. Buurman held him off but the Belgian cut back on the inside to take second place around the outside of turn 2. Unfortunately it all went wrong in turn 3 as the Mercedes and Audi collided and both spun into the gravel. The Dutchman got his car going but had dropped to P14. Following behind, Jake Dennis held off the challenge from the Bentley to claim second and the Bentley grabbed the final podium place.
Further down the field the SMP Racing Ferrari with Miguel Molina behind the wheel was charging through the field following its earlier drama. With FFF Racing storming to victory, eighth was required to take the championship and at the halfway mark they were up to P23. With 45 minutes remaining Molina had got up to P13 just five places back from where he needed to be and genuinely looked to be back in the fight for the championship. But as the clock ticked down Molina’s luck ran out following an optimistic move on the #108 Bentley at turn 14 which turned the Bentley around and left damage on the front right of the Ferrari.
Molina was able to continue but his drive through the traffic seemed to be halted with the damage to the car being enough to take away whatever edge the Spaniard had. Half an hour remained when the championship fight was confirmed as over for the Russian squad following a drive through penalty for Molina for his contact with the Bentley. All the hard work undone, the Ferrari dropped to P25. Their final position was P15, ironically one place behind the other championship contender, the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3.
The race win and championship went to the Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Andrea Calderelli, Marco Mapelli and supersub Albert Costa joining in the spoils for race victory.
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