A frantic final race of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup saw #17 Team WRT Audi duo Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard take the win and the title. The Franck Perera, Maxi Buhk #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes and Dries Vanthoor, Marcel Fässler #5 WRT Audi both had their hands on the title for a couple of laps, but a mechanical failure and a drive-through penalty respectively ruined their chances. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT takes the Sprint Team title. The Pro-Am Cup goes to the Rinaldi Racing duo of Alexander Mattschull and Daniel Keilwitz, after a fourth win of the season, with Rinaldi Racing taking the Pro-Am teams’ title.
Buhk-Perera vs. Vanthoor-Fässler. After Saturday’s Qualifying Race everybody was convinced that the outcome of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup would be decided by the duel between these two Mercedes-AMG and Audi duos. Franck Perera (#84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport) took the lead from the start, with Marcel Fässler (#5 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8) in third.
After the second-placed Bentley of Maxime Soulet disappeared from the front (due to a drive-through penalty after pushing the #19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini off the track), the expected confrontation started to take shape. Whoever would win this race, would become the 2017 Sprint Cup winner.
After a safety car intervention Fässler was able to close the gap towards leader Perera, and thanks to a superfast pitstop – and a less than perfect one in the Mercedes-AMG camp – the Audi-duo took the virtual lead of the race. But that driver change was also the moment when everything started to go pear-shaped for the title favourites. When accelerating after the pitstop, one of the airhoses became entangled around the rear wing of Vanthoor’s Audi. The mechanic holding the hose fell into the working lane holding the wheel gun, which is an infringement of the rules.
Before the stewards could make a decision on the incident, Maxi Buhk had to park his Mercedes-AMG with damage to the left front. When shortly after that Vanthoor was penalised with a drive-through for the pitstop incident, the stakes of the duel between Markus Winkelhock (#2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8) and Robin Frijns (#17 Team WRT Audi) suddenly became a lot higher. The drivers that were in fifth and fourth in the standings before the start of the final main race of the season now could become the 2017 Sprint Cup champions.
Frijns decided the 2017 season with a brilliant overtaking manoeuvre and eventually crossed the line with almost four seconds in hand. Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard thus become the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup champions, with Markus Winkelhock and Will Stevens finishing as runners-up. The disappointed Franck Perera and Maxi Buhk found little consolation in third.
“I think I realized that I was up for the title halfway through my stint,” Frijns said after the race. “Markus was leading and then I knew it was about the championship. It is always quite stressful when you’re battling against your teammates. This is one of the most stressful titles I think, not really being in a position to fight for the championship and then eventually we were battling for the championship. It was more stressful because I usually never fight for a title against a teammate.
“It was not easier or harder, just a different kind of emotion within the team. I hope we will still be friends.”
For the fifth consecutive year the Sprint Cup teams’ title has gone to Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, beating sister squad Team WRT. GRT Grasser Racing Team, claiming the points of third thanks to another excellent race of Andrea Caldarelli and Ezequiel Perez-Companc in the #19 Lamborghini, finishes in third.
In the Pro-Am Cup Daniel Keilwitz and Alexander Mattschull dominated the weekend at the wheel of their #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari. The pairing took their fourth main race win of the season, deservingly claiming the 2017 Sprint Pro-Am Cup. Rinaldi Racing beats fellow Ferrari-team Kessel Racing in the Sprint teams’ standings. The chances are that in two weeks’ time Mattschull can celebrate the overall Blancpain GT Series Pro-Am Cup title as well, for now only his teammate Daniel Keilwitz could beat him.
In the Silver Cup the freshly crowned champions Fabian Schiller and Jules Szymkowiak (#85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG) received a five place grid penalty after an infringement during warm-up, but that did not hinder the German-Dutch youngsters in producing another impressive race, ending up just outside the top five, in sixth overall. They obviously claimed another Silver Cup win, their fourth of the season. And for the third time this season Stephen Earle and David Perel (#888 Kessel Racing Ferrari) enjoyed their race to the win in the Am Cup.
The final round of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series is the three-hour endurance race in Barcelona, in two weeks’ time.
Photo courtesy of Blancpain GT