Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens, driving the #2 Team Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS took the victory in Race 1 of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup double-header at Brands Hatch, after starting from pole, with Alex Riberas and Christopher Mies bringing the sister #1 Team WRT Audi entry home in second, 1.192 seconds behind.
Taking the final overall podium position was the #88 Akka ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3, piloted by Michael Meadows and, taking the second stint, Raffaele Marciello.
Victorious in the Pro-Am class was the #39 TP12, Kessel Racing Ferrari F488 GT3 with the driver line-up of Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo Van Dam.
Andrew Watson and Lukas Moraes, driving the #37 3Y Technology BMW M6 GT3 won on the track in the Silver class after a spin into the gravel on the penultimate lap cost the #90 Akka ASP Team Mercedes of Nico Bastian and Jack Manchester certain victory. After the race, however, the #37 crew was disqualified for ignoring a black flag with an orange disc, indicating a serious mechanical issue with the car.
As a result, the class victory was awarded to the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 driven by Josh Caygill and Aron Taylor Smith with the #35 SMP Racing by Akka ASP Mercedes of Vladimir Atoev and Alexey Korneev in second place.
Dries Vanthoor, in the #2 Team WRT car, led the field away from the grid ahead of Steijn Schothorst in the #66 Attempto Racing entry but the race was neutralised behind the Safety Car after less than two minutes when Vladimir Atoev, at the wheel of the #35 SMP Racing by Akka ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3, went off into the gravel at Druids. The field was bunched up for a little over five minutes before green flag running resumed.
As the first half of the 60-minute race progressed, Vanthoor was clearly on a charge as he pulled out a gap of over 2.3 seconds on Schothorst at the 20-minute mark.
Attention was also on the hard-charging Christian Engelhart in the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 after the German driver was forced to start from the back of the grid. Engelhart was soon moving up the field and ahead of the two sister cars.
Vanthoor, leading by over 3.5 seconds as the driver changes approached, was one of the first to pit, handing the car over to Will Stevens.
After the driver changes had cycled through, Stevens, in the #2 car, struggled to increase the gap to the #66 Attempto Racing entry, now with Kelvin van der Linde at the wheel, beyond .435 of a second. At the same time, Christopher Mies, now driving the #1 Team WRT entry and in third place, was pushing hard and brought the gap down to the #66 car from nearly three seconds to under half a second.
The pressure on Van der Linde helped Stevens pull out a small margin but never more than around half a second. The 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner drew on all his experience to focus on driving a perfect stint with no errors to defend the lead.
Drama, however, was about to unfold in the closing seconds when Van der Linde, in the #66 Attempto Racing entry, started to slow, allowing Mies and Marciello through for second and third places respectively. The issue was diagnosed as a puncture which could be clearly seen as Van der Linde took the chequered flag in a disappointing eighth place.
Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens were delighted at the win.
“I had a good start and created a gap,” said Vanthoor. ‘My in-lap was quite good and, of course, at the pit-stop, the team was amazing. We had a good driver change and Will, although he did not have the easiest stint of his life, didn’t make any mistakes. That is what you have to do when you have people behind you – just look forward. I’m really happy’”
“At a track like this you just need to focus on what you’re doing,” said Will Stevens. “It’s always difficult to overtake (on this circuit). We were strong on the Indy circuit and struggling more with the car round the back so I always knew we would pull away a little and they would catch us back. Where I feel strongest is out front making no mistakes and I didn’t make one so, yes, it was a good result.”
The 1–2 result for Team WRT pleased Alex Riberas, who drove the opening stint in the #1 car.
“I think we can be very pleased with the result,” said Riberas. “We were always strong pace-wise. We had a good car for the race. My stint was not as eventful as the second stint, that’s for sure! I was starting on the outside of the track which is always tricky going into Turn 1 but I got it into P3 and from there it was about giving it to Christopher in the best condition possible and he did a fantastic job. He drove like a legend and gained one more position so I’m really happy”
In the Pro-Am class the #39 TP12, Kessel Racing Ferrari F488 GT3, piloted by Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo Van Dam led the class from the grid and was rarely threatened, finishing in fourteenth position overall, three places ahead of the #32 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 of Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod.
Victory in the Silver category looked to be locked up by the #90 Akka ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Nico Bastian and Jack Manchester. Bastian led the class from the grid and briefly held the overall lead during the pit-stop window. Manchester took the car over and seemed set for a class victory until a spin in the closing seconds left the Mercedes in the gravel and out of the race.
The second 60-minute Sprint Cup race takes place at 16:30 local time.