The spectator banks were bustling rather than brimming, but the sense of occasion was tangible as Brands Hatch played host to the Blancpain Sprint Series, its first major sports car international for 18 years.
The fall-out from recent races restricted the field to just 20 cars – and that was reduced by one when Philipp Frommenwiler crashed Farnbacher’s Porsche 911 at Stirlings during the first free practice session. The chassis was too badly damaged to be repaired on site and that meant no further action for the Swiss’s co-driver Nick Tandy, the factory Porsche racer who would have added local interest.
There were no such problems for Grasser Racing, whose Lamborghini Gallardo won both qualifying and feature races in the hands of Hari Proczyk and Jeroen Bleekemolen.
The Austro-Dutch pair initially followed the pole-sitting Audi R8 of Laurens Vanthoor/Cesar Ramos in race one, but jumped ahead after the pit stops. The R8 faded in Ramos’s hands and Maximilians Buhk and Götz (HTP Mercedes) became the Lambo’s closest challenger, but there was no way through and Proczyk won by half a second. The Team Brazil BMW Z4 of Sergio Jimenez/Caca Bueno took an increasingly distant third.
The field had been compressed during the second half of the race, following a safety car period to permit retrieval of Alex Zanardi’s BMW from the Clearways gravel. “I was close behind a Lamborghini and thought the corner was over,” the Italian said, “but I understeered on the marbles and all hell broke loose.”
The Lamborghini led from the start in the main race – but both drivers paid tribute to Grasser’s pit work. They lined up on pole position only after squeaking out of the pits with seconds to spare, following last-minute hub repairs. A swift mid-race stop enabled them to increase their lead over the field and they finished 4.042sec clear of Buhk/Götz, with Jimenez/Bueno again completing the top three after team-mates Matheus Stumpf/Valdeno Brito served a drive-through for a pit infraction. Vanthoor/Ramos took fourth ahead of Zanardi, who recovered wonderfully from the back of the field despite baking in the wake of a cool-suit failure.
Vincent Abril/Mateusz Lisowski (WRT Audi) won the Silver Cup class, in sixth overall, while Marc Basseng and Anglo-Italian Alessandro Latif (Phoenix Audi) finished 11th to win the Pro-Am division. Simon Arron