Belgian WRT retained its Blancpain GT title in a dramatic series finale
Audi factory driver Robin Frijns and Briton Stuart Leonard came out on top after an intra-team scrap between three R8 LMS GT3s as the second of the two one-hour races drew to a conclusion at the Nürburgring in mid-September.
Three-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Marcel Fässler and Dries Vanthoor were leading the full-points main race, and on course for the title, when the car was awarded a drive-through penalty for a pitstop infringement. That handed the advantage to former Grand Prix drivers Will Stevens and Markus Winkelhock, but the German driver was struggling with a brake issue as he strived to hold off Frijns.
The Dutchman, who had been given a fresh set of Pirellis at the pitstop, was able to pass the sister Audi R8 LMS with 13 minutes of the one-hour race to go. That gave him and Leonard the title by an eight-point margin.
“At the beginning of the race, with Dries and the Mercedes [the HTP entry driven by Franck Perera] ahead, I thought it was done for us,” said Frijns. “But it is never finished as long as you have a chance.
“When everything changed, I decided to go for it. On the radio, they were telling me not to do anything risky, and I think I did well: the move on Markus was very clean.”
Perera and Maximilian Buhk appeared to be on course for the title during the first half of the race. Perera led, but Vanthoor was able to get out ahead of the HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 during the mid-race pitstop cycle.
A win for Fässler and Vanthoor and second for the Merc crew would have left the two pairings tied on points at the top of the table, but the Audi duo would have taken the title on countback. Any chance of the Mercedes drivers taking the title disappeared when Buhk went off track, sustained a puncture and was forced to retire.
No fewer than seven driver pairings went to the Nürburgring event with a mathematical chance of taking the title. That was reduced to five after Buhk and Perera triumphed in the qualification race.
WRT retained the title for drivers, won by Belgian Enzo Ide in 2016. WRT also sealed a fifth consecutive crown for teams, extending a run that began when the championship was known as the FIA GT Series in 2013.
ROSBERG’S GT RETURN
The team that bears the name of 1982 F1 world champion Keke Rosberg will return to the ADAC GT Masters series in 2018.
Team Rosberg, which has represented Audi in the DTM since 2006, will field a pair of Lamborghini Huracán GT3s in the German series next year. The move marks the team’s first ADAC Masters programme since 2009 and comes against a backdrop of uncertainty for the DTM, in the wake of the announcement by Mercedes that it will quit the German tin-top series at the end of 2018.
“We want to have a broader base,” said team principal Arno Zensen. “We were already thinking about expanding towards the end of 2016 and subsequently had some discussions with Lamborghini.
“Because we race with Audi in the DTM, it was important for us to remain loyal to the Volkswagen Group. We are looking forward to a fresh challenge.”
The team, which is based near Hockenheim, has already taken delivery of its first Huracán and will begin testing in the autumn. Drivers have yet to be announced.
Team Rosberg was set up for an assault on the 1995 DTM, its founder racing one of a pair of Opel Calibra V6 4x4s alongside Klaus Ludwig. The team subsequently represented Nissan in the German Super Touring Cup in 1997 and 1998, before returning to the DTM with Mercedes on its relaunch in 2000.
SUPPORT FOR SUZUKA
Honda, Nissan and Toyota have committed to fielding factory cars in the inaugural Suzuka 10 Hours round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge next year.
The three Japanese manufacturers made the pledge at the official launch of the race in August. They have yet to reveal how many cars and which teams will represent them in the new Asian round of the IGTC for GT3 machinery, which is scheduled for August 26 next year.
Stéphane Ratel, boss of the IGTC and the architect of the GT3 category, said: “Cars and drivers travelling from all over the world to race against Super GT teams for the first time, and at a circuit as respected as Suzuka, makes for a mouth-watering prospect. It will be a truly special occasion.”
Nissan will field the new-for-2018 version of its GT-R NISMO GT3 and Honda the NSX GT3, which will race for the first time outside North America next year. Toyota is likely to be represented by the GT300-spec Prius GT V8-powered hybrid.
A ¥100 million (£700,000) prize fund has also been announced for the event.
BENTLEY WINS AGAIN
Bentley continued what its motor sport boss Brian Gush is calling a “summer of success” in the GT Open International series at Silverstone.
The Jordan Racing team, based in Crewe near the British manufacturer’s headquarters, claimed its second GT Open class win of the season on home ground at the start of September. Michael Meadows and Jordan Witt followed up on third in the pro-am class in the first of two races with victory in the second.
“After winning the British-based GT Cup championship in 2016, Jordan Racing stepped up to GT Open, which is one of the top GT3 series in the world,” said Gush. “To be taking race wins in their first season of GT Open is testament to the strength of the team, the drivers and the Continental GT3.
“This latest win continues the Continental GT3’s summer of success, which includes victories for Bentley Team Absolute in both Asia and America, Team Parker Racing in British GT and Bentley Team M-Sport in the Blancpain GT Series.”
Absolute, a regular in the China GT Series, has announced that it will contest the final two rounds of the Blancpain GT Series Asia.