Photo: Blancpain GT Series.
Raffaele Marciello, at the wheel of the #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3 he shared with Vincent Abril, took a lights-to-flag overall win in Race One of the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe double-header at Circuit Zandvoort.
Marciello took the chequered flag 8.647 seconds ahead of the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 piloted by Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart. The podium positions were completed by the Marco Mapelli / Andrea Caldarelli-crewed #563 Orange 1 FFF Racing Lamborghini in which Mapelli crossed the line .414 seconds behind the #63 entry.
Under over-cast skies but with a dry-ish track, the #88 AKKA ASP team Mercedes-AMG with Vincent Abril led the field away from the grid followed by Mirko Bortolotti inn the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3.
There was drama at Turn 10 after contact between the #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi driven by Tom Gamble, the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi with Markus Winkelhock at the wheel and the #19 GRT Grasser Racing team Lamborghini piloted by Rolf Ineichen resulted in debris on the circuit and the #26 car stranded on the circuit.
The Safety Car was called on to neutralise the race and green-flag running resumed with 50 minutes remaining, Gamble being served with a drive-through penalty for causing the collision.
After six laps, Abril in the #88 Mercedes had pulled out a gap of just over a second to Mirko Bortolotti in the #63 Lamborghini with Andrea Caldarelli .626 seconds back in third.
After 20 minutes of racing, the battle from fourth to eighth was close with Felipe Fraga, running in fifth place in the #90 Silver Cup AKKA ASP Team Mercedes, never more .6 of a second behind Ricky Collard in the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3.
Caldarelli, running in third, held the gap to Bortolotti but, although having the visibly quicker car, struggled to find an opportunity to challenge for second.
When the driver change window opened, the majority of the field chose to pit at the earliest opportunity. After the changes had cycled through, the #88 Mercedes, now driven by Raffaele Marciello, held on to an increased lead with a gap of over two seconds to Christian Engelhart in the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. The driver changes had done nothing to improve the track position of the #563 Orange 1 FFF Racing Lamborghini with Marco Mapelli 1.762 seconds behind the #63 entry.
With Mapelli in the #563 Lamborghini pushing Engelhart in the #63 car for second, Raffaele Marciello was able to stretch his lead in the #88 Mercedes and, by the 27th lap, was over three seconds ahead of the german driver.
Engelhart continued to put up a spirited defense and Mapelli in third and Engel in fourth had to be content to be backed up behind the #63 Lamborghini. Engel, however, could clearly sense an opportunity and was harrying Mapelli for third.
At the chequered it was the #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes that took the win, Raffaele Marciello crossing the line nearly nine seconds ahead of Christian Engelhart in the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. Marco Mapelli in the #563 Lamborghini finished third, .414 seconds behind Engelhart in the #63 car.
“It’s about time!” said Vincent Abril, commenting on the win, “I think, with this track, it’s a love story. I love this place! Thank you so much to the whole team. We all know it’s been very tough since the beginning of the year. We all had a lot of expectations and high hopes but, for some reason, the racing is not always going to plan. The team believe in us and gave us good tools today to fight for the victory and for me it’s a good feeling to be back there (on the podium).”
Mirko Bortolotti, who drove the opening stint in the second-placed #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team entry was happy to have finished on the podium but believed that the team were unlucky in qualifying.
“We are in Blancpain! You have to attack and defend at the same time!” said the Italian driver, commenting on the pressure he faced from Marco Mapelli. “It’s busy all around you. It’s been a good race. A great performance and it’s great to be back on the podium. We had a really unlucky Misano weekend and it could have been a pole this morning in the wet. It’s a shame because I think if we had started on pole we would have had a shot at the win but at the end of the day P2 is really good. I’m really happy.”
There was huge disappointment for Timur Bogulavskiy who went off in the closing seconds after comfortable leading the Silver Cup class in the #90 AKKA ASP team Mercedes. The win in the class was inherited by the #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 driven by Aaro Vainio and, taking the chequered flag, Hugo de Sadeleer.
Class honours in the Pro-Am class went to the #519 Orange 1 FFF Racing Lamborghini driven by Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Phil Keen.
Race Two of the Blancpain GT World Challenge weekend gets underway at 14:15 local time on Sunday July 14.