Round Two of the 2019 Blancpain GT Series Endurance was won by the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari F488 GT3 driven by Miguel Molina, Mikhail Aleshin and, taking the chequered flag, Davide Rigon who finished 2.631 seconds ahead of Giovanni Venturini in the #519 Orange 1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 he shared with Franck Perera and Phil Keen.
Finishing third overall was the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 piloted by Ezequiel Perez Companc, Alex Riberas and Dries Vanthoor.
The win in the Silver Cup category went to the #19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini driven by Arno Santamato, Lucas Mauron and Gerhard Tweraser with Mattia Drudi, Steijns Schothorst and Pieter Schothorst in the #55 Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 finishing second in class.
Pro-Am honours went to the #74 RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Tom Onslow-Cole and Remon Vos with the #52 AF Corse Ferrari coming home second in class, driven by Niek Hommerson, Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini.
The Am class was won by the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini crewed by Adrian Amstutz, Leo Matchitski and Miguel Ramos.
As the grid formed, it was announced that Maxime Martin was to drive two cars – his own ##62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 and the sister car, the #76 entry, where Marvin Kirchöfer had fallen ill after qualifying.
Drama struck on the opening lap when Nyls Stevenart, driving the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 entered the Hanger Straight with a puncture after avoiding contact and chaos broke out behind, resulting in significant damage for the #88 Mercedes-AMG team Akka ASP Mercedes-AMG driven by Michael Meadows, the #59 Garage 59 Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 piloted by Côme Ledogar and the #488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari F488 GT3 driven by Pierre Ehret.
The grid ran behind the Safety Car for nearly 20 minutes before racing resumed.
Alex Buncombe, driving the #108 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3, had contact with Shae Davies in the #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT at Abbey and both cars made their way back to the pits, Buncombe with a puncture.
Shortly after, Davies was awarded a drive-through penalty for causing the collision with the Bentley driver.
On the 19th lap, Dennis Lind, who was running in third in the #563 Orange 1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 2019 found a way past teammate Franck Perera in the #519 Lamborghini for second. Lind then started to pull a gap to Perera as he set about chasing down the #63 Lamborghini driven by Christian Engelhart.
Nick Foster was forced to return the #66 Attempto Racing Audi after 15 laps with damage to the steering.
Disaster struck Christian Engelhart when, under pressure from Denis Lind in the #563 entry for the lead, the German driver picked up a puncture as he passed the pits. Lind immediately passed for the lead and Engelhart was forced to limp round an entire lap before he could pit for repairs.
As the race approached the end of the first hour, Denis Lind led in the 563 Orange 1 FFF Racing Lamborghini with the #519 Lamborghini with Franck Perera at the wheel in second, over 6 seconds behind. Alex Riberas held third in the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi.
As driver changes were in full swing, Jens Liebhauser went into the gravel in the #444 HB Racing Ferrari F488 GT3, forcing the race director to declare a Full Course Yellow.
One of the main beneficiaries of the race neutralisation was the #4 BLACK FALCON Mercedes who emerged from the driver change with Yelmer Buurman at the wheel in seventh position, having started from 37th on the grid.
Racing resumed with 1 hour 44 mins remaining with Phil Keen in the #519 Lamborghini leading the field ahead of the #2 Belgian Audi Cub Team WRT driven by Ezequiel Perez Companc in second. Miguel Molina in the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari began to put Companc under pressure, which allowed Keen to start to pull away at the front.
Molina passed Companc for second and the Argentinian driver then started to fall down the field. Andrea Calderelli was on a charge in the #563 Lamborghini, moving up to fourth.
As the race approached half distance, Taylor Proto had a big accident coming out of Copse on leaving the pits after serving a drive-through penalty. The #555 Lamborghini speared to drivers right and had a huge impact with the barriers. Proto was unhurt but the race was neutralised again under a Full Course Yellow and Safety Car.
As the Safety Car circulated, the #33 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, with Christian Hook at the wheel, stopped to the side of the circuit.
Racing resumed with 70 minutes remaining and, again, Keen in the #519 Lamborghini led the field with Miguel Molina in the #72 Ferrari hard on his heels and Andrea Calderelli in the #563 Lamborghini starting to put pressure on the Ferrari driver for second. Calderelli found a way past Molina, leaving the two Orange 1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghinis in first and second.
Orange 1 FFF Racing Team made the interesting decision bring both the #519 and #563 Lamborghini in for their respective driver changes at the same time, causing some shuffling of the two cars in the pit boxes. The #563 inexplicably lost seven seconds in the driver change to from Andrea Calderelli to Marco Mapelli.
After the second set of driver changes had cycled through it was Giovanni Venturini in the #519 Lamborghini who held the lead, some 2.3 seconds ahead of Davide Rigon in the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari. The #563 Lamborghini, which had been delayed at the driver change, found itself back in fifth with Marco Mapelli at the wheel.
Rigon in the #72 Ferrari was the quickest car on the circuit and was catching Venturini in the #519 entry and it looked inevitable that Italian driver would pass the Lamborghini and would pull out a lead. Venturini defended for all he was worth and held the lead, even pulling out a slightly bigger gap with less then 38 minutes remaining.
The #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes, driven by Jack Hawksworth, held on to third place but was coming under increasing pressure from Dries Vanthoor in the #2 Audi. However Marco Mapelli in the delayed #563 passed Vanthoor for fourth with 30 minutes remaining.
As the three-hour race entered the final 30 minutes, Rigon remained behind Venturini and appeared to have settled into second place. Hawksworth in the #43 remained in third with Marco Mapelli just under three seconds behind but lapping .4 seconds a lap quicker than the leading group. With 20 minutes remaining, Rigon appeared to regroup and started to push Venturini again. Rigon finally found a way past the Venturini in the #519 Lamborghini at Luffield and started to pull out a gap.
As the chequered flag loomed, the main on-track battle was for third place with Marco Mapelli, at the wheel of the #563 Lamborghini, harrying Jack Hawksworth in the #43 Strakka racing entry. Rigon, meanwhile, was struggling to pull out a lead of more than three seconds.
There was disaster for Jack Hawksworth when Marco Mapelli made an aggressive pass the #43 car, resulting in contact between the two and a spin for Hawksworth. Damage to Mapelli’s Lamborghini meant that the #563 could not continue at full race pace, allowing Hawksworth to recover from his spin and pull up to the back of the #563 car.
At the chequered flag, Rigon held on for the win, crossing the line over 2.5 seconds ahead of Venturini in the #519 Lamborghini.
The Italian driver was pleased that SMP Racing’s hard work had paid off.
“Actually we did a very good race from this morning in qualifying where we were a bit unlucky in the second qualifying,” said Rigon. ‘So we started from P10 but we did a fantastic strategy, thanks to our engineers and all the team at SMP Racing and they gave us a really good car. We deserved the victory. We have put a lot of effort in, like everybody of course. I’m very happy. Mikhail started and did a good job and kept us out of trouble. Miguel also did a very good job. In the end, I had the new tyres so I was able to push and catch the Lamborghini. It was a very fair fight with Venturini.”
Pro-Am winner Tom Onslow-Cole was delighted at the win.
“We had a pretty up-and-down race with all the action at the start and with the unfortunate incident we dropped right to the back but we were unscathed so it was all about recovery from there,” said Onslow-Cole. “Remon did an amazing job to avoid it and to regroup and move forward and gave me the easy task in the end and we managed to climb the last place from second. The car was really good today.”
The 2019 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup grid next assembles at Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet on May 31 – June 1.
Championship standings to follow.