A slight off in the closing stages by Viktor Shaitar almost put paid to what was otherwise a comfortable victory for him and SMP Racing Ferrari team-mate Alexsey Basov in Saturday evening’s two-hour Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup race at the Red Bull Ring. The Le Mans LMP2 podium finisher and his fellow Russian finished ahead of the #88 Egidio Perfetti/Klaus Bachler Porsche 911 and TF Sport’s Aston Martin Vantage, crewed by Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey.
At the start, the 10-car grid was immediately and unfortunately reduced in dramatic fashion. Having qualified on the third row, Nicolas Misslin in the #26 Classic & Modern Racing Ferrari appeared to suffer brake trouble at the end of the straight, bumping into third-place qualifier Egidio Perfetti in the Mentos Porsche ahead. Perfetti was already on the brakes for the corner, and the impact pushed him into second-place qualifier Hiroshi Hamaguchi’s FFF Racing McLaren, who was himself already halfway around T1.
“I got hit from behind and had to lean on the McLaren, I’m sorry about this,” said Perfetti afterwards.
The McLaren spun around, and was hit first by Misslin’s car, then just glanced by the unsighted FF Corse Ferrari of Jonny Mowlem. Sadly for Hamaguchi, the angle of the second impact was such that the McLaren’s front-left wheel and suspension were ripped out, leaving the car an instant retirement. The #26 Ferrari pitted under the resulting safety car and didn’t re-emerge, taking the field down to eight cars after just a few minutes of racing.
Up front, polesitter Basov had been serenely unaffected by the chaos and had a five-second cushion after 15 seconds of racing. Battle was joined further back, however, as Perfetti and fourth-place qualifier Salih Yoluc hotly disputed second. After some great side-by-side moments, Perfetti took the position on lap 12, while at the other end of the field, a recovering Mowlem found a way past Pierre de Leener in the #14 AF Corse Ferrari.
In the midfield, Thomas Flohr in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari sat fourth, ahead of Phillip Hanson in the Tockwith Audi, which was reported to the stewards for failing to follow the safety car through the pitlane as instructed during the recovery of Hamaguchi’s McLaren. Taiyou Iida ran sixth at this point, with Mowlem closing in, while De Leener made an unscheduled stop early in the first hour due to a gearbox issue.
A spin at T8 for Perfetti with 30 minutes gone let Yoluc back into second, while not long afterwards Iida found himself in the gravel at T6, having lost the #5 Lamborghini under braking. It was recovered under the second safety car of the race, and rejoined the action following a precautionary pit stop.
Iida and De Leener’s issues dropped them to seventh and eigth respectively – the last two runners on track, with Mowlem now in sixth. The latter didn’t hang about on the safety-car restart, picking off Hanson’s Audi, while up front, Yoluc and Perfetti resumed their duel from earlier, with Perfetti retaking the second place he’d earlier spun away.
The #14 Ferrari, now trailing the field by several laps, was the first car to make a scheduled driver-change pit stop, with Adrien de Leener taking over from his father. Meanwhile, having also got past Flohr, a fired-up Mowlem arrived in the vicinty of the Perfetti-Yoluc train as the half-way mark approached.
The leading trio all pitted around the hour mark, with Shaitar taking over from Basov, Klaus Bachler relieving Perfetti and Euan Hankey taking over from Yoluc. Disaster struck for the #5 Lamborghini at pit stop time, however, when Andrea Caldarelli bizarrely understeered into the barrier on pit exit, damaging the front-left corner of the Huracan and making it a crushing double retirement for the FFF squad.
Up front, consistent lappery from the top three saw the gaps stabilise with Bachler about five seconds behind Shaitar and Hankey (above) about two seconds behind Bachler. Fourth after the stops was Francesco Castellacci, who’d taken over the #51 Ferrari from Flohr, ahead of Nigel Moore in the Tockwith Audi and Ivor Dunbar in the FF Corse Ferrari started by Mowlem – who reported bent steering and a vibration throughout his stint following the first-corner contact.
While Bachler wasn’t able to make a major dent in Shaitar’s lead, Hankey in third was soon threatening the Porsche for second. Shaitar had a heart-in-mouth moment at T2 with 13 minutes to go, running wide but managing to get back on track. That brought the gap to Bachler down to just three seconds, with Hankey still in touch behind the Porsche. Despite the Briton closing right up to Bachler’s rear wing and having a couple of looks at the entry to corners, the positions didn’t change before the flag fell after 120 minutes. Castellaci, Moore, Dunbar and de Leener completed the field.
After the race, it transpired the TF Sport car had been marginal on fuel during Hankey’s stint. “I was fuel-saving throughout my stint even though I had no problem following Bachler,” he said. “The team asked me to save fuel from about 20 minutes into my stint, so it was a bit frustrating in the end.”
Nonetheless, the podium was enough to preserve his and Yoluc’s championship lead going into the next round of the championship at Paul Ricard in August.