The Equipe Verschuur team kicked off their 2019 GT4 European Series campaign in perfect fashion last weekend with wins in both race, at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. Daniel McKay and Benjamin Lessennes proved to be the stars of the show in the team’s McLaren 570S GT4.
Ahead of Race 1, McLaren teams had claimed a clean sweep of the front row in qualifying thanks to McLaren junior Programme driver Charlie Fagg and Daniel McKay. The #55 Team GT McLaren started from pole, but it was McKay in the #14 Equipe Verschuur McLaren who took the lead of the race out of the first chicane.
Contact between Alec Udell and Gabriele Piana sent the RN Vision STS BMW through the grass on the opening lap, but by lap six the #111 BMW M4 GT4 was back in third place, ahead of the #25 MDM Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 and a fast approaching #69 V8 Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.
A safety car after the #24 Valvoline-True Racing KTM X-Bow GT4 came to a stop bunched up the field, which allowed the BMW drivers to close in on the leading McLarens. At the restart, however, McKay and Fagg had a big enough margin to keep them behind.
Fagg, Piana, Udell came into the pits at the end of the lap, while McKay continued for another lap. Olivier Hart in V8 Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R left the pits leading the race, but he was unable to pull away as soon after the pit window closed the safety car was deployed again, as a result of contact between the #99 razoon, more than racing KTM and the #7 Street Art Racing Aston Martin.
At the restart, Hart was leading Benjamin Lessennes, Michael Benyahia, Marius Zug and Simon Knap, Cedric Freiburghaus and Jan Kasperlik. Lessennes took the lead from Hart at the Lesmo corner, with Benyahia moving into second. The McLaren drivers swapped places at the first chicane and when Lessennes was pushed wide it looked all over as he dropped behind Hart.
The Camaro driver then received a stop-and-go penalty for a too short pit stop and when Hart came into the pits, Lessennes moved back into third and soon after he overtook Knap to take second again. Before he was able to challenge Benyahia the safety car was deployed once more, this time to recover the #33 Bullitt Racing Mercedes.
With just over five minutes remaining, the race was restarted again and Lessennes immediately started his attack, taking the lead at the second chicane. The Team GT driver was not in a position to challenge the Equipe Verschuur driver anymore and after one hour Lessennes was the first to cross the line, followed home by Benyahia at 0.282s. MDM Motorsport’s Simon Knap finished in third place at 1.479s from the race winner.
“This was good!” Said McKay after the race. “We had a good tire from qualifying, which was nice and that made the race a little bit easier. Ben did a great job when he took over the car to come past the Camaro. Obviously then getting shuffled at turn 1 wasn’t very nice for him, but he did a great job to come back and win!”
Cedric Freiburghaus claimed fourth place for Phoenix Racing in a spectacular race to the line with Leipert Motorsport’s Jan Kisiel. The Audi and Mercedes were side by side on the final straight and it was Freiburghaus who finished just 0.002s ahead of his rival.
In Pro-Am, Marius Zug and Gabriele Piana won the first race of the 2019 GT4 European Series campaign with a sixth-place finish overall. The RN Vision STS drivers beat Allied Racing’s Nicolas Schöll and Jan Kasperlik.
Selleslagh Racing Team’s Jean-Luc Behets and Johan Vannerum won the Am class.
Then on Sunday, Daniel McKay and Benjamin Lessennes claimed their second win of the, completing the sweep for Equipe Verschuur. The win came in a rain-soaked race, while Leipert Motorsport and Selleslagh Racing Team claimed class victories in Pro-Am and Am.
Tricky conditions meant the decision was taken to complete the first three laps behind the safety car. When the safety car pulled in Olivier Hart in the #69 V8 Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R led the field into turn 1, but soon after both Benjamin Lessennes in the #14 Equipe Verschuur McLaren 570S GT4 and Bas Schouten in the #31 Selleslagh Racing Team Mercedes AMG GT4 passed Hart.
Within a few laps Lessennes had pulled out a reasonable gap over the Dutchman and even a brief safety car procedure couldn’t stop the young Belgian driver from leading the race. Behind the first two cars, Simon Knap and Olivier Hart fought hard for third place until the pit window opened.
Lessennes only handed over the lead to Schouten when he came into the pits for the mandatory driver change at the end of lap 11. The Dutchman stayed out a bit longer and his Selleslagh Racing Team teammate Junior Strous rejoined ahead of Daniel McKay in the Equipe Verschuur McLaren.
Strous, however, was unable to keep McKay and his McLaren behind him and on lap 14 the Equipe Verschuur team was back in the lead of the race. By the end of the lap, McKay was already two seconds clear of Strous.
Nicolaj Møller-Madsen gained a position shortly after the restart when he passed Duncan Huisman and moved up into third overall. Huisman’s day got even worse when he spun the Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R into the first chicane. The Dutchman dropped out of the top eight as a result.
In the final minutes, McKay made no mistakes and after 24 laps the Equipe Verschuur McLaren crossed the line to take its second win of the weekend. Selleslagh Racing Team’s Junior Strous finished in second place at 9.142s, while Nicolaj Møller-Madsen secured the first podium finish of the season for Phoenix Racing, 1.529s behind the Mercedes driver.
“I think we’ve done a really great job today. These were for sure the 30 longest minutes of my life. It was really intense. Daniel did an awesome job to keep the pace. A perfect weekend to start!” Lessennes said.
In Pro-Am the race was decided with just three minutes left on the clock. RN Vision STS driver Gabriele Piana had been reeling in the #2 Leipert Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT4 of Marcus Paverud, but just after he had taken the lead the Italian made a mistake.
Piana hit the curbstone and his #111 BMW M4 GT4 veered across the track. After a trip through the gravel trap, Piana rejoined behind Paverud. Despite his best efforts to close the gap, Piana was unable to catch the Norwegian. Paverud crossed the line in fifth overall, followed home by Piana at 1.951s. Dominik Schraml claimed third place in the #777 Schwede Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT4.
Johan Vannerum and Jean-Luc Behets claimed their second win in the Am class, finishing 22nd overall.
The next race of the GT4 European Series will take place at the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in the United Kingdom on May 4-5, 2019.