As expected, a thrilling finale at the Nürburgring put an end to the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup. In a weekend full of drama, the Belgian Audi Cup Team WRT conquered the overall Teams’ title for the sixth year in a row, being unbeaten in the competition since its inception in 2013. This is also the 22nd title for the Belgian squad in the Blancpain, if we take into account the Sprint and Endurance Cups and the overall Blancpain competition. The title was secured after Race 1 on Saturday, with a 1-2 of Álex Ribers-Christopher Mies and Will Stevens-Dries Vanthoor after the disqualification of the Lambo #63 for an infringement to safety rules.
In the fight for the Drivers’ title, Álex Riberas and Christopher Mies fought until the very end, but narrowly missed it after giving it all. Their task had been made more difficult by the accident suffered in Qualifying 2 which resulted in heavy damage and P14 on the grid of the decisive race. Still, another exceptional ‘tour de force’ by the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT crews allowed car #1 to be perfectly repaired for Saturday’s race. The Pirelli Pit Stop Challenge title rewarded again their great work.
Team Principal Vincent was at peace at the end of the decisive battle: “It has been a great finale to the Sprint Cup and an exciting show for all those watching at the track and on TV. It’s because of finales like this one that we like motorsports. To clinch our sixth consecutive Teams’ title is a great achievement and tells something about the strength of the entire team, which was also proven by how we dealt with the set-back occurred in Q2. We did not win the Drivers’ title, but we gave it all and did everything we had to do. Maybe we lost it more at the Hungaroring rather than here, but I want to congratulate all the drivers for their excellent work. Of course, we would have liked to win that title too, but I really don’t have any problem with losing a battle having fought until the end the way we did and against great rivals that I congratulate. It’s the sports!”
Free practice at the Ring gave as an indication that the Audis had a good pace, with car #2 even topping the rankings in FP. In Qualifying 1, Álex Riberas secured second row, with third-fastest lap time, while Will Stevens qualified 6th, Leonard 14th and DeLeener 18th.
Unfortunately, in Q2 (determining the grid for Race 2), which took place immediately after Q1, car #1, with Christopher Mies at the wheel, suffered a severe accident, following a brake pipe failure, hitting the barriers on its left side. The car sustained heavy damage, with only little more than two hours for repairs. The complete team including the mechanics from the other WRT cars achieved an incredible work, rebuilding the car on time for Race 1.
At the start and in the initial phases, Riberas kept P3, with Stevens losing one position at first corner, while Leonard climbed up to P12 and De Leener to P16. Positions remained stable with gaps extremely close until a full-yellow course that reduced even more the gaps. At the restart, Riberas had to defend the position from Costa, and in lap 13, he was the first to pit, followed shortly after by Leonard. Stevens and De Leener did it one lap later. Again, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT crews performed a perfect job. After all driver changes, Riberas had gained one position, lying a solid 2nd behind the Lambo, while Vanthoor was 4th and would pass Caldarelli for 3rd in lap 22, taking him by surprise at Turn 1. Frijns was 12th and Feller, once again very quick in the middle of the field, 16th, with positions basically not changing up to the flag. Riberas and Mies were both very happy after the race and full of praise for their mechanics, who were able to give them a car in perfect state of efficiency. “We are extremely grateful to the guys and had full trust in them. We knew that Team WRT is the only one capable of such a “tour de force’ “, they said in sync.
Surprises were to come after the post-race verifications, as the winning Lambo was inflicted a 30-second penalty, for infringements related to seat belts handling during the pit stop. This promoted Riberas-Mies to first ahead of Stevens-Vanthoor, while another 30-second penalty to a Mercedes turned De Leener-Feller into winners in the Silver Cup. The 1-2 also allowed the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT to secure the Teams’ title before the final race.
Riberas-Mies went into Race 2 with a 9-point advantage in the Drivers’ standings over Meadows-Marciello, the only rivals left, but with the challenging task of having to start from P14, as a consequence of the accident in Q2, with Vanthoor (P3) and Frijns (P7) ahead of it.
Start and first lap of Race 2 saw Mies gaining positions up to 9th, with Frijns in P7 and Feller in P14, while Vanthoor suffered contact in turn 2 and had to pit with a punctured tire, rejoining at the back of the group. The car would retire shortly after pit stop. In lap 10, Mies gained two positions, passing Christodoulou and Frijns, leveling the situation in the standings at 93.5 with respect to the Mercedes of Marciello, then second. At mid race, Feller had to stop on the track because engine over-heating resulting from collecting an advertising banner that obstructed the air intakes in the car’s front.
Pit stops went smooth for all the key players, with Riberas being among the first ones to stop. After all changes, Riberas was fifth behind the Audi R8 LMS from Attempto Racing, but with the Mecedes of Meadows taking P1 in the pits, the title was provisionally in the hands of the rivals by 1.5 point. The Spaniard fought hard to take P4, which would have meant the title, and his decisive attack three laps from the end was almost successful, but the two Audis got slightly in contact and Riberas suffered a puncture, which put an end to his race and hopes.
The Blancpain GT Series season will finish at Barcelona on 6-7 October with the last round of the Endurance Cup, where the Belgian Audi Club will be again in contention for titles.
Blancpain Sprint Cup – Round 5
Nürburgring, Germany, 14-16 September 2018
Race 1 Results:
1. Riberas-Mies (Audi R8 LMS) 29 laps
2. Stevens-Vanthoor (Audi R8 LMS) + 1s615
3. Pérez Companc-Caldarelli (Lambo Huracán) + 3s635
4. Meadows-Marciello (Mercedes AMG) +12s784
5. Costa-Klien (Lexus RC F) +17s191
11. Leonard-Frijns (Audi R8 LMS) +23s561
14. DeLeener-Feller (Audi R8 LMS) +30s697 (1st Silver Cup)
Race 2 results:
1. Meadows-Marciello (Mercedes AMG) 31 laps
2. Stolz-Haupt (Mercedes AMG) + 0s547
3. Gachet-Haase (Audi R8 LMS) + 5s327
4. S.Schothorst-K.vander Linde (Audi R8 LMS) +10s659
5. Caldarelli-Pérez Companc (Lambo Huracán) +11s833
9. Frijns-Leonard (Audi R8 LMS) +30s597
16. Riberas-Mies (Audi R8 LMS) +2 laps
DNF Vanthoor-Stevens (Audi R8 LMS) 25 laps (mechanical)
DNF Feller-DeLeener (Audi R8 LMS) 20 laps (mechanical)
Final Blancpain Sprint Cup Drivers’ standings after Round 5 of 5:
1. Marciello-Meadows 98 points
2. Riberas-Mies 90.5
3. K. Van der Linde-S. Schothorst 65
4. Vanthoor-Stevens 63.5
5. Bortolotti-Engelhart 57.5
7. Leonard 44.5
Final Blancpain Sprint Cup Teams’ standings after Round 5 of 5:
1. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT 123 points
2. Akka ASP 119
3. GRT Grasser 95