UPDATE: After the race the Ram Racing Mercedes received a penalty which docked the team of its Pro-Am class win. As a result the #52 AF Corse Ferrari inherited the class victory. Read about it HERE.
The SMP Racing Ferrari team of Davide Rigon, Mikhail Aleshin and Miguel Molina took victory in a close-fought race at Silverstone, which looked likely to be a Lamborghini win for much of the afternoon. This achievement marks the first Ferrari victory in Blancpain Endurance competition since Monza 2013, when Kessel Racing scored the win with Rigon as a part of their driver line-up.
At the start of the three-hour race it was a Huracan 1-2-3 off the line, with Christian Engelhart (#63 Huracan) holding the lead ahead of Franck Perera and Dennis Lind in the #519 and #563 Orange 1 FFF entries. Further back in the pack, chaos ensued as the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi of Ivan Pareras looped coming out of Becketts, causing numerous others to take evasive action off-line and on the grass.
Nyls Stievenart (#26 Sainteloc Racing Audi) went wide out of Becketts and found himself in a spin on the Hangar Straight. Others were collected as some slowed down or moved aside; ultimately, Pierre Ehret (#488 Rinaldi Ferrari), Come Ledogar (#59 Garage 59 Aston Martin) and Michael Meadows all damaged their cars beyond the point of continuing, the latter two collecting Stievenart’s Audi.
With 22 minutes elapsed, the race returned to green flag action. The three Lamborghinis held their places, followed by Pieter Schothorst (#55 Attempto Audi) and Jordan Pepper (#107 Bentley Team M-Sport).
Elsewhere, the sister #108 Bentley of Alex Buncombe suffered a puncture after contact with Shae Davies (#17 Team WRT Audi) putting Buncombe and his teammates on the backfoot for the remainder of the race. Davies would ultimately receive a drive-through for his role in the clash.
With 35 minutes complete on Lap 12, Jordan Pepper (#107 Bentley) finally found a way by Pieter Schothorst, who had been performing a stellar defensive drive to that point. Pepper held the outside at Brooklands for the inside at Luffield, and had fourth position in his hands by Woodcote.
With 53 minutes complete and the first pitstops ongoing, the #63 Grasser Lamborghini slowed with a rather spectacular left-rear puncture on the approach to Copse (T1). This meant that Christian Engelhart had to complete a full lap on delaminated rubber, and the car came back out over a lap down, now with Rolf Ineichen at the wheel.
This handed the lead to Dennis Lind in the #563 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini, with teammate Franck Perera (#519) 6.1 seconds further back in second. The #563 would be the first to pit, which would ultimately be detrimental to Lind and his teammates, as a Full Course Yellow soon waved thanks to a beached Jens Liebhauser in the #444 HB Racing Ferrari.
During this pause, the last cars that had yet to make a stop entered pitlane, including Perera, who handed over the #519 and the lead to Phil Keen.
After approximately five minutes under Full Course Yellow conditions, the safety car came out, though this would be short-lived, and racing resumed once more with just over an hour and 44 minutes left to run.
The battle for second came to a head at Club shortly after the green flag, with Miguel Molina (#72 SMP Racing Ferrari) making a decisive move on Ezequiel Perez Companc in the #2 Team WRT Audi, who subsequently fell to fifth as the #19 Grasser Lamborghini and the #563 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini both made it by in subsequent corners.
With 90 minutes in the books, the #555 Orange 1 FFF Racing exited the pitlane as the #97 Oman Racing Aston Martin of Salih Yoluc passed by. Yoluc did not see the #555 of Taylor Proto, and the pair touched, sending the Lamborghini into the inside barriers on the approach to Maggotts.
This forced another Full Course Yellow, but more importantly, Proto walked away unharmed.
The race would bunch up once more under safety car conditions, and the green flags would finally wave with an hour and 12 minutes left to run. Moments later, Andrea Caldarelli (#563 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini) made a superb move for second place at the expense of Miguel Molina (#72 SMP Racing Ferrari). This meant an Orange 1 FFF 1-2 at the head of the order as we went into the last round of scheduled stops.
With 50 minutes to go, and the pit stops among the leaders complete, it was Giovanni Venturini at the head of the field in the #519 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini. He was being reeled in by Davide Rigon (#72 SMP Racing Ferrari) at the rate of a second per lap, with just three seconds between them.
Within eight minutes, the gap would decrease to a mere 0.4 seconds between the pair, as it would then remain for lap after lap.
The remainder of the top five consisted of Jack Hawksworth (#42 Strakka Mercedes), Dries Vanthoor (#2 Team WRT Audi) and Marco Mapelli (#563 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini).
While the battle was tense up front, it was largely stagnant; meanwhile, in PRO-AM, the lead battle was much closer, and Tom Onslow-Cole (#74 Ram Racing Mercedes) made his way by previous class leader Chris Froggatt (#93 Tempesta Ferrari) with 38 minutes to go.
With 30 minutes left on the clock, Venturini was still holding off Rigon, meanwhile, Mapelli in the sister #563 Lamborghini found a way past the Vanthoor WRT Audi to claim fourth place. The Italian would have to make up three seconds over IndyCar convert Hawksworth in the #43 Strakka Mercedes in order to challenge for the final podium position.
Throughout the final stint, Rigon certainly looked to have more pace than Venturini. However, the 2017 GT Open champion would continue to defend very well, sometimes even kicking up dirt as he pushed his Huracan hard.
However, with 17 and a half minutes left to run, Venturini ran slightly wide into Luffield, allowing Rigon the inside line and the lead.
Rigon handily built a gap over the following laps, while both Jack Hawksworth and Marco Mapelli began to reel in Venturini. And, in the final three laps, the trio finally met on the same piece of tarmac in a sprint to the flag for second, third and fourth place.
However, things would soon get too close, as contact between Hawksworth and Mapelli would leave the British driver spinning and Mapelli battling a damaged car. Dries Vanthoor (#2 WRT Audi) claimed third in the ensuing drama.
There were no such dramas out front, however, as Davide Rigon crossed the line to take victory for SMP Racing, 2.6 seconds clear of Venturini in second. Dries Vanthoor retained his third place ahead of Rowe Racing’s Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche #98). Meanwhile, Hawksworth managed to pass the struggling Mapelli, who appeared to have rear suspension issues, to claim a provisional fifth overall.
The battle for Silver Cup honours came down to the wire, with a superb stint from Mattia Drudi not quite proving to be enough to secure a class win; the #19 Grasser Lamborghini of Gerhard Tweraser held off the #55 Attempto Racing Audi by just 0.013 seconds, capitalising on a class lead initially gained during the Full Course Yellow and pitstop shuffle at the close of the first hour. Felipe Fraga followed both home in 10th position, completing the class rostrum in the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes.
Tom Onslow-Cole drove a controlled final stint in the #74 Ram Racing Mercedes to take PRO-AM honours from Andrea Bertolini in the #52 AF Corse Ferrari, while Miguel Ramos crossed the line to take another commanding AM win for the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini outfit.
The Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup now enters the most challenging part of its season, with the Paul Ricard 1000KM next month, and the Spa 24 Hours in July.