WRT Audi drivers Stuart Leonard and Robin Frijns won the Blancpain GT Qualifying in Zolder driving the #17 R8 LMS GT3, that is the headline but the story played out was the most dramatic race of the season, which bubbled from the three qualifying sessions.
It was the closest race in the Sprint Cup to this point, with Leonard having to hold off four other determined drivers in the closing stages of the race which saw the top five separated by only one second. That is how close this race was.
The conditions were excellent, a sunny day in Zolder but there had been overnight rain and a heavy shower at lunctime.
Sitting on pole, Robin Frijns got away from the line with a great start, the drivers behind bobbed and weaved and got themselves set for the first corner. Mirko Bortolotti, championship leader, was one of the drivers who set about chasing Frijns. He made his way forward and sliced between the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG of Marciello and the #74 ISR of Frank Stippler, who had performed well but late in qualifying.
The #43 Strakka McLaren of Ledogar passed the Audi on the other side and as they entered the first turn Bortolotti and Ledogar made contact. Both cars retired and the Safety Car was called upon due to oil on the circuit.
“Some fifty metres before the accident at the start happened, I knew there would be trouble,” #3 WRT driver Will Stevens, who started ninth and avoided the melee. “I braked a bit early to avoid the mayhem and that paid off.”
As the safety car came in it was Frijns who was able to open up a gap of just under two seconds. A drive through penalty was given to the #74 ISR Audi and the #59 McLaren for being out of position at the start as Frijns led the #90 and #85 Mercedes but his lead had been cut down to 1.194 seconds.
The pit window opened and the #17 remained in the lead and Stuart Leonard took to the wheel, pushing on to hopefully extend the lead his co-driver had attained. Michael Meadows in the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes, his former team mate, was closing him down and the closing laps of the race would prove both tense and exciting.
In the Pro-Am class Alexander Mattschull was leading the way in the #333 Rinaldi Ferrari, silver class leader was Fabian Schiller in the HTP Mercedes in 17th. A stop/go penalty was awarded to the #27 Orange 1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini driven by Yacaman Gustavo for causing a collision and a drive through penalty awarded to the #84 of Franck Perera in the Mercedes for a pit lane interference.
With ten minutes of the race remaining the top four were separated by just under a second, that is how close this race was in Zolder. A further drive through penalty was awarded to the #55 of Phil Quaife in the AF Corse Ferrari for a pit lane infringement but the real action was happening on circuit.
Enzo Ide in the #11 Team WRT Audi was catching the top five cars, he was making progress but ahead of him the #90 of Michael Meadows was putting pressure on Stuart Leonard in the lead as he posted quickest times in sectors one and two. Clemens Schmid was in fourth with his #75 ISR Audi putting extreme pressure on the last podium place of Markus Winkelhock in the Team WRT Audi, looking for a way to pass. Winkelhock had other plans and defended bravely but this allowed Meadows to scamper off and chase Leonard for the lead.
Felix Serrales in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes chased and harried, he was catching the top five as they battled between themselves and he had the bit between his teeth, yet the time was running down.
Stuart Leonard pushed on in the lead and increased his gap over Meadows’s AKKA AMG GT3.
In the Silver Cup class, the #42 of David Fumanelli in the Strakka Motorsport McLaren led the class and sat 11th overall, whilst leading in the Pro-Am class Fabian Schiller was 17th overall in is HTP Mercedes.
“The McLaren is quite competitive here in Zolder,” Fumanelli said. “We are now just outside the top-10 overall, maybe we can gain some postions tomorrow and score some overall points as well. It would be a great reward for the team.”
Schmid ducked and dived as he tried to find a way through on Winkelhock who defended valiantly but this made him drop off from the back of Meadows who was in turn chasing the leader (Leonard). Serralles was still closing in on the fight for that podium position and this was turning into an almighty fight for a place on the steps.
Leonard had pushed hard to open a lead but Meadows, who had come under pressure from Winkelhock in the sister #2 WRT Audi, began to close again but the #17 Audi of Stuart Leonard just had too much in hand and although Meadows had shut the lead down to just three tenths, it was too little too late and Team WRT took the win in Zolder.
“This is definitely one of the nicest wins of my career,” Leonard said. “I was constantly aware that there were cars behind me, but I knew that if I did not make any mistakes and got the exits of the corners right, it would be difficult for the guys behind me to pass me.”
Image courtesy of Blancpain GT