Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli secured a first win on European soil for Orange1 FFF Racing with a masterful showing under the lights at Misano.
In doing so, the all-Italian duo also secured local brand Lamborghini top honours on home turf in the weekends’ opening Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe contest.
FFF’s victory continues a remarkable run of success for the Chinese-flagged squad, which has secured a string of podium finishes since graduating from a title-winning Blancpain GT Series Asia campaign. Now, at only the fifth event of the season, it has earned its maiden win.
The path to the top step was not simple, though neither driver looked likely to lose their composure once Saturday evening’s race was underway. Caldarelli took the start from second on the grid and immediately applied pressure to Charles Weerts (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT), who had earlier taken his maiden pole in the #2 Audi.
The teenager was equal to the experienced Italian for the opening two laps but, when the Lamborghini got alongside the Audi, Caldarelli was able to complete a clean pass. The FFF machine edged away at the head of the field, while Weerts maintained a consistent pace in second. Unfortunately, the youngster’s day ended early when he lost the rear of his car and spun into the gravel, calling time on what had been an impressive showing.
A safety car period followed as the stranded Audi was removed from the gravel, after which Caldarelli once again pulled clear. The Lamborghini was now followed by the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG of Luca Stolz and the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin driven by Ricky Collard.
Caldarelli elected to stop early in the pit window, handing over to Mapelli in a strong position at the head of the field. When the driver changes had played out the #563 Lamborghini remained in control, though it now had a new challenger.
The #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG had dropped as low as eighth on the opening lap, but Vince Abril quietly moved back up the order to run fourth by the time he made his stop. A rapid turnaround from the French squad ensured that the car was P2 when the second half of the race began, with a determined Raffaele Marciello now at the wheel.
The reigning Blancpain GT Series champion was some three seconds in arrears of Mapelli, but quickly showed his intent by setting purple sectors in the freshly-liveried red Mercedes-AMG. The race was then neutralised once again after the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi lost a rear wheel, leaving Markus Winkelhock stranded. Mapelli would surrender his advantage as the field bunched up, placing Marciello on his tail for the restart.
There was a little under 15 minutes of running left when the race went green again, ample time for Marciello to launch an attack. The AKKA ASP driver did so almost immediately, forcing Mapelli to apply defensive tactics at a number of corners.
But the Lamborghini ace was not flustered. He resisted Marciello’s efforts and then managed to build a small advantage, edging almost a second clear at the head of the field. The Mercedes-AMG closed up again over the closing two laps but was not close enough to make a move, allowing Mapelli to capture a popular home victory.
Behind the leading duo, the #4 Mercedes-AMG completed the podium with Maro Engel at the wheel. The German kept Mapelli and Marciello in his sights throughout the second stint and ultimately secured further points for the championship-chasing crew. The #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin took fourth after Collard had handed over to Marvin Kirchoefer, while the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG came home fifth.
The #90 crew of Timur Boguslavskiy and Fabian Schiller also took top honours in an ultra-competitive Silver Cup battle. The sister #89 Mercedes-AMG had initially looked set for victory in the hands of Nico Bastian, but Schiller moved into the lead during the second stint and secured a hard-fought class win.
The Pro-Am category was just as competitive. The pole-sitting #24 Sainteloc Racing Audi led the opening stint thanks to Nyls Stievenart, while the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari moved into P1 after the pit stop phase with David Perel at the wheel.
The South African had enjoyed a useful advantage, but this was wiped out by the arrival of the safety car. This allowed Andrea Bertolini to take the #52 AF Corse Ferrari that he shares with Louis Machiels into the lead, after which the Italian ace held firm until the chequered flag.
The Am Cup battle was the most straightforward as the #444 HB Racing Ferrari of Florian Scholze and Wolfgang Thriller continued a dominant weekend with a class victory. The squad took an excellent 18th overall to finish some way clear of the #13 GetSpeed Performance Mercedes-AMG.
Marco Mapelli, #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracan: “Most of the job was done by Andrea and the team. We knew that we were struggling in the high temperatures during qualifying, but as it cooled down the car got better and I just had to do my job. At the end, I didn’t want to push too hard because it’s easy to get a puncture here, so I took it easy for the first two laps after the restart. After that, I tried to make a little gap and not do anything crazy.”
Raffaele Marciello, #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG: “I thought I could pass Marco at the restart but I didn’t want to risk too much as we’ve not had a great season so far. We’ve taken enough damage already and there isn’t a big difference in points between first and second. We will have a good chance tomorrow. Starting from pole, we have to win.”
Maro Engel, #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG: “Luca did a brilliant job in the first stint, moving the car up to second. We lost out a little bit during the pit window, but it was a good stop from the guys. At the end, we just didn’t quite have the pace to pressure the guys ahead. We’ll take a third-place today and be happy with the result. On days like these, we need to try to get the maximum and that’s what we did.”
Fabian Schiller, #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG: “Today was pretty fun. The sun was really low, so that made conditions very difficult. Nevertheless, we had some great racing. Finishing P5 overall from tenth on the grid and winning in the Silver Cup is a great result. Tomorrow we start from P4 overall so we’ll go for the same kind of result.”
Andrea Bertolini, #52 AF Corse Ferrari: “As usual this was a fun race with some tough fights. Louis did a really good start, passing one car, and then ran really close to the Lamborghini. We had a good restart after the safety car and then a perfect pit stop. The team did a magnificent job. I managed to avoid the Audi going off in front of me, I went to the right, the opposite of what I did at Brands Hatch, and this time it worked! I’m very happy for myself and for Louis. It’s great to win again.”
Florian Scholze, #444 HB Racing Ferrari: “Our race was pretty good. I had a good start and I was among the faster cars, but it was okay for me to manage. The big problem was the sun, which was so low, but I think the other drivers also had that problem. Apart from that, the rest of the race was very cool.”
Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts triumphed in the weekend’s second Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe race at Misano to secure a first victory for the 2019 campaign for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT.
This was a momentous result, with 18-year-old Weerts becoming the youngest overall race winner in Blancpain GT Series history – beating the record set by crew-mate Vanthoor at the Hungaroring in 2017.
It comes after Weerts scored pole for Saturday’s opening contest, only to spin out of contention while running in second position. Taking victory less than 24 hours later required an impressive level of maturity from the Belgian.
Vanthoor started the race second to the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello and, despite an early attack from the Audi driver, it was the Italian who controlled the opening stint. This was a close contest between two of the fastest competitors on the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe grid, but Marciello was able to gradually build a gap of just over two seconds.
This was wiped out when the safety car was deployed to allow marshals to clear debris from the circuit. Marciello held his advantage at the restart and, as the pit stop phase approached, the #88 Mercedes-AMG seemed to be in a commanding position.
But, as is so often the case in one-hour contests, the race would turn in the pits. The two leaders stopped at the same time, but while there were no problems for the WRT squad something was clearly amiss for AKKA ASP. The team was not ready for Marciello, which caused a significant delay as he handed over to Vincent Abril. By the time the Monegasque was able to exit the pits, the #88 had plummeted to 23rd.
This put Weerts in a strong position, but his task was by no means simple. Behind him, the #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi had moved into the second spot, with Christopher Haase having run a close third throughout the first stint before handing over to Simon Gachet.
The gap between the leading pair remained around the two-second mark, with Weerts able to manage his position at the head of the field. Indeed, as the race reached its deciding 15 minutes, third-placed Andrea Caldarelli emerged as the Belgian’s biggest threat in the #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini he shares with Marco Mapelli.
Having taken victory in Saturday evening’s race the Italian was in confident mood and rapidly closed on to the tail of Gachet in the Sainteloc Audi. He made a move for second with nine minutes left on the clock and, as the fastest of the top-three at this stage, was the cause of concerned faces in the WRT garages.
But while Caldarelli was able to edge closer to Weerts the Lamborghini was never within striking distance and the youngster kept his cool to win by 2.8s. Gachet brought the Sainteloc Audi third, securing the French squad its first overall podium of the 2019 campaign.
Behind the leading trio, the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG took fourth to conclude a solid weekend for Luca Stolz and Maro Engel. The all-German line-up vaulted up the order during the pit stop phase and ultimately took important points for the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe title battle. The #11 Phoenix Racing Audi completed the top-five, securing a best result of the season for Finlay Hutchinson and Frederic Vervisch.
Sixth overall went to the Silver Cup winner. The battle for class honours raged throughout the second half of the race as Nico Bastian (#89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG) fought to overhaul the #10 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT machine of Rik Breukers. There were just four minutes left on the clock when the Mercedes-AMG ace forced his way past after a robust contest, with Breukers ultimately slipping back to third behind the #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin.
Pro-Am honours went the way of Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Phil Keen in the #519 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini, who finished second on the road but were promoted to first spot when the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari was hit with a 30-second post-race penalty. The #519 had led early on before David Perel took the Ferrari into the lead, but when Rinat Salikhov was punished for an on-track collision during the second stint it was the Lamborghini pair that ultimately took the win.
In the Am Cup class, HB Racing completed a perfect weekend that has seen the Austrian squad top every session with its #444 Ferrari. Having led the way in both free practice runs the team then secured a brace of Am Cup poles before taking victory in both races. Sunday’s contest saw Wolfgang Triller handle the first stint before handing over to Florian Scholze, who came home well ahead of the competition.
Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe will return to action in two weeks when Dutch circuit Zandvoort makes its return to the calendar.
Charles Weerts, #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi: “It wasn’t easy, especially in this heat, and at the end, the #563 Lamborghini was pushing to catch us. I did my best out there and the guys did an amazing job in the pits. It’s an unbelievable result.”
Andrea Caldarelli, #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini: “The podium was our target today. We had a mega pit stop and the car was good towards the end. It’s great to score another podium and collect points for the championship. In the end, we just ran out of time to fight for the win.”
Christopher Haase, #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi: “In this heat, it is really cool for us to be on the podium! Simon did a great job at the end. In these hot conditions, there’s big tyre drop-off and you have to handle that. I think we can be very happy with what we did today.”
Thomas Neubauer, #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG: “We started 19th and the best Silver Cup car was fourth on the gird, so this was a big comeback from us. We came out of the pits seventh overall and second in class, then Nico was able to make the final overtake. After a difficult race yesterday it’s nice to finish the weekend like this.”
Hiroshi Hamaguchi, #519 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini: “To be honest, this was a very tough weekend as we have been suffering from our set-up. That carried on through all of the sessions, which was really difficult, but we managed to keep out of trouble and reach the finish.”
Wolfgang Triller, #444 HB Racing Ferrari: “I did not get a perfect start, but I was able to keep a close gap to the Silver and Pro-Am cars running in front of me. The car was very good, so thanks to the team for that. Before the safety car, there was a big gap between me and the next Am Cup driver, but that was closed and I had to control the situation for a few laps. It was a nice race, and I felt good in the car today.”