R-Motorsport took its first victory in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup after Nicki Thiim took the chequered flag in the #76 Aston Martin V12 Vantage he shared with Matthieu Vaxivière and Jake Dennis, 10.947 seconds ahead of the #88 Mercedes-AMG Team Akka ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Tristan Vautier, Adam Christodoulou and, taking the final stint, Raffaele Marciello.
Competing the podium positions was the #114 Emil Frey Lexus Racing Lexus RC F GT3, with the driver line-up of Markus Paltala, Stéphane Ortelli and Norbert Siedler. The #114 entry, however, was pushed hard to the line flag by Dries Vanthoor, at the wheel of the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS, who finished just over half a second behind Siedler in the #114 car.
The race result is very much a provisional one, however, as the #76 R-Motorsport entry was found to have breached regulations concerning data-loggers following qualifying and ordered to start from the back of the grid. After appealing the decision, the team decided to start from pole and will wait for the result of the appeals process in the days ahead.
Vaxivière in the #76 car led the field from pole at the start and soon opened up a 2.3 second gap to Adam Christodoulou in the #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP entry. There was drama, however, after six minutes when Jack Manchester, at the wheel of the #90 Akka ASP Team Mercedes, went off at Copse after a puncture. The #87 Akka ASP Team entry, driven for the opening stint by Mauro Ricci, also went off into the gravel at Turn 11.
Christodoulou pushed Vaxivière hard in the opening stint, getting the gap down to just over one second when the first round of driver changes took place.
After the pit-stops had cycled through, Jake Dennis, now at the wheel of the #76 car, found himself behind Tristan Vautier in the #88 car. Dennis, however, soon caught Vautier and, with clearly the quicker car, passed the Frenchman to re-take the lead. Once in front, Dennis started to pull away from Vautier and had increased the gap to the second-placed car to over 12 seconds when he handed over to Nicki Thiim. Thiim then controlled the race from the front, allowing a nearly 20-second gap to Raffaele Marciello in the #88 car to come down to 11 seconds by the finish.
While the battle at the front seemed to be well controlled by the #76 R-Motorsport car, the battle for the final podium position was intense. When the second driver changes had cycled through, the #113 Emil Frey Lexus Racing Lexus RC F GT3, now with Norbert Siedler at the wheel, held on to third place, but Dries Vanthoor, driving the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS pushed him hard, finishing just over half a second behind the #114 entry. The third place finish, the first podium for the Lexus brand, was greeted with relief and celebration in the Emil Frey Lexus Racing garage.
Despite the cloud of the disqualification from qualifying, the #76 R-Motorsport crew were very happy to have taken the maiden win for the team.
“We had a really strong day,” said Matthieu Vaxivière. “We started from pole and we finished first. Thanks to all the team at R-Motorsport, at Aston Martin and to my amazing team-mates.”
Jake Dennis was delighted with the pace of the R-Motorsport Aston Martin.
“I looked to my left coming out of the pits and I could see the Mercedes overtaking me,” said Dennis. “I pushed as hard as I could for a few laps to try and out some pressure on Tristan and the move paid off. We left each other enough space so there was good respect between us. From them on I just wanted to run a clean stint. The car was incredible all weekend. We’ve had a really strong package and my teammates have done an outstanding job.”
“It was good for the old guy in the team to have a relaxing time!’” joked Nicki Thiim, referring to the lead that Dennis handed over to him. “I controlled the gap to the guys behind me but we had a really good pace. I couldn’t do more.”
Stéphane Ortelli was proud to have achieved the Lexus brand’s first podium in the Blancpain GT Series.
“Taking the first podium for Lexus in the Blancpain GT Series feels really good,” said the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans winner. “This is a great achievement for Emil Frey Racing too as we have been improving a lot since the beginning of the season. Norbert did an amazing job to by keeping Dries Vanthoor behind during the last stint, while Markus made a great move on the Aston Martin. We are still fighting to catch up and we’re on a very steep learning curve but a big thank you to Emil Frey Racing today.”
The Pro-Am class was won by the #49 Ram Racing Mercedes piloted by Darren Burke, Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey, ahead of the #42 Strakka Racing Mercedes, driven by Chris Buncombe, Nick Leventis and, at the wheel for the final stint, Lewis Williamson.
An incident on the first lap ended the chances of the class pole-sitting #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari F488 GT3. The #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 then found itself in the garage with a persistent oil leak, leaving the #49 Ram Racing entry, with Darren Burke at the wheel for the opening stint, to take control of the class. Salih Yoluc continued the car’s event-free run before handing over to Euan Hankey who brought the Mercedes home for the class victory.
“I managed to do a few clear laps in during my stint but there were still some challenges with all of the traffic,” said Salih Yoluc. “Besides this it was a good race. Our car was fast and the team did a great job today.”
Victory in the Silver Cup category looked to be in the hands of the #54 Emil Frey Jaguar Racing G3 Jaguar before a problem in the final hour allowed the #6 BLACK FALCON Mercedes, driven for the final stint by Gabriele Piana in the car he shared with Abdulaziz Al Faisal and Hubert Haupt, to take the lead in the class. The #51 AF Corse, with the two-driver line-up of Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron, finished second.
The Am category saw a win for the fan-favourite #188 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 driven by Chris Harris, Alexander West and McLaren road-car development driver Chris Goodwin. Harris drove a solid opening stint but it was car-owner Alexander West who took the class lead after the first round of driver changes with Chris Goodwin bringing the car home for the victory.
Chris Harris, a presenter on the BBC’s Top Gear show, enjoyed the win.
“The team really prepared a solid machine for the weekend and the start was mega,” said Harris. “We had a good first stint, the car was really strongly balanced and I could do some overtaking. I think I over-did the tyres a bit, maybe being greedy but I’m very happy.”
With the appeal pending for the #76 R-Motorsport entry, the race result is currently provisional.
The Blancpain GT Series now moves to Circuit Paul Ricard France on June 1 – 2 for Round Five and the third round of the Endurance Cup.
Featured image courtesy of Blancpain GT
Full race report to follow…