Laurens Vanthoor and Robin Frijns took their third Sprint Series win in a row after lights-to-flag victory in the Qualifying Race at Zolder. Hometown-hero Vanthoor took the start and pulled away from the field before handing over to Frijns for a quiet second stint holding station in the #1 WRT Audi to the end.
“It was a great performance by everyone,” said Frijns. “The Rinaldi Ferrari is quicker than us here at the moment, so I ended up asking my engineer to tell me the gap every lap, and it kept gaining on me. I wasn’t cruising, I did control the gap but I was pushing. It’s going to interesting tomorrow.”
The #1 car’s win may have been a straight-forward affair, but the racing behind was frantic throughout.
A collision at the start involving four cars forced three contenders to retire before the end of the first lap. The field were tightly packed as they crossed the line, and contact between the #0 Team Brasil BMW of Segio Jimenez and the #3 WRT Audi of Stéphane Richelmi sent the R8 careering across the track.
The Audi hit the front of the #55 Attempto McLaren of Rob Bell and pushed the sister #4 WRT Audi of Frank Stippler into the pit wall. Both Audis and Bell’s McLaren were unable to continue.
“I went straight to the race director,” a frustrated Bell told DSC after the race. “The problem was that pole car braked a little bit as we got to the line. So people backed off, I backed off, and the lights went green. The middle was bunched up, so there was an Audi on my inside and outside, and the Audi on my outside got hit by a BMW. It speared it across me.
“It was always going to be a fight going into Turn 1 because the start line is so far down the pit straight. It’s never as bad if you start earlier on and the field spreads out, but they like to keep it nice and tight. I don’t agree, it’s only better if you want crashes for tv.”
Later in the first lap, the #83 Bentley spun round the Reiter Engineering Lamborghini which cost the team time and positions they’d struggle to regain during the remainder of the race. Up front meanwhile, the top three held station. Max Buhk’s #84 HTP Bentley was unable to keep tabs with Vanthoor, instead having to hold off the third place Rinaldi Ferrari of Norbert Siedler.
As the pit window approached, the big mover in the pack was the MRS GT Racing Nissan of Craig Dolby. After starting 12th on the grid and avoiding the incident at Turn 1, Dolby emerged seventh before passing the #77 Brasil BMW to take sixth spot a few laps later.
“If I’d have taken a tighter line into Turn 1 I think I would have been able to snag P4 on lap 1 but a recovering BMW forced me wide. I was up to seventh though and had to just wait a couple of laps for the yellow flags to clear before I could attack the BMW ahead,” said Dolby. “It was a great stint, one which puts the team in a good position for tomorrow’s race.
The pit cycle shuffled the pack in the top three, as a great stop by the Rinaldi squad allowed Marco Seefried to leapfrog the #84 HTP Bentley and take second when the two rejoined the action. Vincent Abril took over the Continental from Buhk and settled for third, the young Frenchman was unable to keep up with Seefried to regain the spot.
Seefried pushed increasingly hard over the second half of the race to catch Frijns, reducing the gap from over 10 seconds to just under five by the end of the race. It wasn’t quite enough, but the team have shown they are capable of challenging for a win. They’ll be hoping to deny Vanthoor from winning the Main Race at his home circuit for the third consecutive year tomorrow afternoon.
“We were catching up at the beginning of my stint, it kept me fighting, but it was tiny steps, not enough to properly catch up,” Seefried said. “As we have proven at Brands and Nogaro, we have good race pace, we just had to sort out our qualifying, which we have. It was a marvellous job in the pits to get past the Bentley, that was the key.”
Fourth place was taken by the #6 Phoenix Audi following a remarkably quiet outing; the #77 Brasil BMW rounded out the top five. Just as the race began to die down before the end however, the battle for sixth hotted up, and provided a grandstand finish for the fans.
Sean Walkinshaw took over the MRS Nissan at the stops and was slowly reeled in by the #0 Brasil BMW of Caca Bueno over the course of the second half. With a few laps to go they ran bumper-to-bumper with Walkinshaw barely able to hold on.
The run down to the final chicane on the last lap saw Bueno try to make a move, tapping the GT-R and sending it sideways. The pair ran side-by-side to the line, with the sheer power of the Nissan edging out the Z4 to secure the position.
The Main Race tomorrow starts at 15:15 local time.