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Stevens & Winkelhock Win Zolder Main Race

First Blancpain victory for Stevens

Will Stevens took victory in the main race at Zolder in a final lap sprint to the finish line in the #2 Team WRT Audi with teammate Markus Winkelhock, scoring his first win in the Blancpain GT Series.

During the morning warm-up the #3 Team WRT Audi, #63 GRT Grasser Audi and #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes posted the quickest times. The #75 ISR Audi had smoke coming from the front right and there was a rush from the pit crew to identify the problem and get the car ready for the main race. Bentley and BMW admitted that they had been suffering with power issues during the weekend and they were not expected to be among the front runners for the main race.

Stuart Leonard in the #17 Team WRT Audi and Michael Meadows in the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes would make up the front row of the grid with the highest placed Silver class of #42 Strakka Racing McLaren in 11th and the top Pro-Am of the #39 Kessel Racing TP12 Ferrari in 17th.

Even before the cars reached the line for the rolling start the team managers for the #90 Mercedes and #58 Strakka Racing McLaren were being summonsed to race control for a start procedure infringement and as the cars crossed the line there would be more misery for the #90 car of Michael Meadows as it was deemed he had a jump start.

This appeared evident as he leap-frogged Stuart Leonard and raced off into the lead with the #17 Team WRT Audi of Leonard dropping back to 4th as the cars swamped him in the run to turn one. Meadows headed the field followed by the #75 ISR Audi of Clemens Schmid and #2 of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car driven by Markus Winkelhock. Their other car, the #5 driven by Marcel Fassler would get a tap in the rear from the #86 of Dominik Baumann but managed to stay on track. The #43 McLaren of Jonny Kane came into the pits and this was even before the first lap had been completed.

Gustavo Yacaman in the #27 Orange 1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini went off at turn five whilst the #58 Strakka Racing McLaren would pit with a front left puncture. The #99 Rowe Racing BMW was tapped at turn fifteen and spun, the culprit appeared to be Marcel Fassler.

Markus Winkelhock was swarming all over the back of Clemens Schmid in the Audi and was looking at every opportunity to pass but Schmid held on valiantly. The news which AKKA ASP was dreading became reality when Michael Meadows received two drive through penalties for the start procedure infringement and jumping the start, that was effectively their hopes of a race win over with.

Fabian Schiller led the silver class in the #85 HTP Mercedes and was 12th overall whilst in the Pro-Am class Michael Broniszewski headed that particular category and was racing overall in 16th.

It was not only AKKA ASP who received a start procedure drive through, the #58 Strakka Racing McLaren was also ordered for a drive through for being on the jacks when the three minute board was shown.

Christian Engelhart in the #63 Grasser Lamborghini and Piti Bhirombhakdi took advantage of Phil Quaife and blitzed by the #55 Spirit Of Race Ferrari. Enzo Ide in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car ran wide and lost two places for his troubles, Perera in the #84 and Vincent Abril in the #7 took advantage of this as did Schiller in the #85 which caused Ide to drop back even further.

Jake Dennis in the #3 Team WRT Audi was on a charge and passed Companc in the #19 Grasser Racing Team Audi to move up one spot. Yacaman had another moment, spinning at the chicane, this was not proving to be a productive day for the Team Lazarus driver.

Ide was still dropping down the order as Rob Bell in the #59 McLaren passed him with Markus Palttala in the #98 Rowe Racing BMW also passing Ide into turn one.

Yellow flags were shown in sector two due to Yacaman’s spin and casting an eye over the timing screens showed there was under a second separating the top seven cars.

With thirty-five minutes remaining on the clock, Winkelhock was still looking at a way by Schmid but the Audi driver was still defending with all his might to keep Winkelhock at bay. The pit lane was now open and the top two cars would pit with Will Stevens and Filip Salaquarda waiting impatiently to take over the duty for their stints.

Felix Serralles was left to take the lead of the race in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes as car after car entered the pits for the driver changes, but Serralles was next to come in from the lead and once the pit stop order was sorted out it was Will Stevens who took the lead. The #66 Lamborghini of Attempto Racing and the #85 Mercedes of HTP were both warned for track limits whilst Christoper Haase in the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi posted the fastest lap of the race. Salaquarda was sitting second behind Stevens who now had a three second gap, behind Salaquarda was Robin Frijns a further two seconds back. With Dries Vanthoor sitting fourth in the #5 car, having taken over from Fassler, it made the top four places all taken by Audi cars.

The #58 McLaren, #63 Lamborghini and #11 Ferrari were all warned about track limits at turn nine and elsewhere on the circuit Christopher Mies in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT was pushing Jesse Krohn in the #98 Rowe Racing BMW, he pushed that hard he made contact to the rear of the BMW as they came through the chicane.

Will Stevens was pushing very hard at the front and improved by a further six tenths, the gap was now up to four seconds.

Jules Szymokowiak in the HTP Mercedes led the silver class and was 10th overall, back in 18th the Pro-Am lead was with the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari which now had Giacomo Piccini behind the wheel.

There was drama to come at turn fifteen as Daniel Keilwitz in the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari made contact with Frank Stippler in the #74 ISR Audi which caused the German to spin and then stop briefly in the gravel trap. He finally got going but found himself at the back of the field. The penalty for Keilwitz was a drive-through penalty for causing a collision. Mies and Krohn were still fighting hard and #1 Audi of Mies made contact yet again with the BMW, but still Krohn would not give up his place. Frank Stippler limped back to the pits and the ISR team wheeled the Audi into the garage. The race was over for the #74 car.

With the race coming to its conclusion and Stevens consistently opening the lead lap after lap there was one last drama to play out which would cause a frantic end to the race.

The #86 HTP Mercedes driven by Swede Jimmy Eriksson was approaching the last corner with the #88 Mercedes of Daniel Juncadella behind. Juncadella weaved to the right and then swung out to the left to put himself into an overtaking position but the movement was too swift and too hasty. Juncadella smashed into the rear of Eriksson’s Mercedes which caused the car to spin and face the wrong way in the pit lane entrance. Eriksson managed to get the car going but as he entered the start/finish straight he came to a halt just by the pit wall.

Race direction immediately ordered a full course yellow, which helped Will Stevens out front as the cars would still keep the same distance, but it soon became apparent the marshals were going to have trouble manoeuvring the car through the gap in the wall due to the damage at the rear. The recovery truck was called upon and the safety car deployed.

It took six minutes to clear the stricken #86 Mercedes and by the time the safety car was called in there was just time for one lap to end the race, a final sprint to the line with all the cars bunched up.

The safety car peeled off and as they filed round the final bend and down the straight Will Stevens accelerated away leaving Filip Salaquarda to defend from Robin Frijns in the #17 Team WRT Audi, the sister car to Stevens. The battle for second helped Stevens as he opened up a half a second gap for this final lap showdown. For his part in the collision with the #86 Mercedes, Juncadella would receive a 90 second time penalty. Frijns was looking desperately for a way through on Salaquarda but the Czech driver held on for second as Will Stevens crossed the line to win the main race here in Zolder.

That maiden win for Stevens puts him and Winkelhock ninth in the championship which is still led by Engelhart and Bortolotti.

Next up on the 23rd-24th June is the 1000kms of Paul Ricard, a race and circuit which always produces action and drama of some kind.