Bortolotti, Engelhart return to victory
GRT Grasser Racing returned to winning at the Hungaroring as Christian Engelhart and Mirko Bortolotti secured the victory from fifth on the grid with their Lamborghini Huracán GT3 car.
With the sun quickly drying the track after a thunderstorm and the majority of the teams choosing to start on Pirelli slick tyres, Nico Bastian led the pack around on the formation lap in his AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3, but Engelhart got the jump on the front two rows to dive up the inside and snatch top spot on the run down to turn one.
A trio of AKKA-Mercedes entries were squabbling for position in his mirrors, with Bastian fighting Nicolas Jamin and Sprint Cup title contender Michael Meadows. Engelhart was able to pull away, but there was a surprise addition to the leading pack when Andrew Watson, who had taken the start from 11th place in his 3Y Technology BMW M6 GT3, surged past the three Mercedes cars.
Watson was one of only two drivers to start the race on Pirelli’s wet weather compound. It paid dividends early on, but as the track dried Watson began to struggle. The Northern Irish racer tried to defend, but the trio of AKKA-Mercedes cars had soon moved ahead with Jamin second, Bastian third and Meadows fourth.
There was drama behind them when Alex Riberas spun his Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car on the start-finish straight while trying to pass the fading Watson. Riberas made contact with the pit wall and his race was run. It was a significant moment, as the WRT-Audi crew led both the Sprint Cup and overall standings heading to Budapest.
Out front Engelhart was being caught by Jamin, though the German driver was not threatened for position during his stint. He eventually handed over to Bortolotti with a healthy lead.
Denis Bulatov took the controls of the Mercedes from Jamin and emerged ahead of Raffaele Marciello, who replaced Meadows. Both Mercedes drivers had a small pace advantage over the Lamborghini, though Bortolotti remained at the head of the field.
Marciello edged closer to Bulatov, but the Russian appeared to have second position sewn up. Then, late on the penultimate lap, Bulatov spun and handed the position to the Italian driver. Fortunately he recovered and had built a sufficient gap over P4 to retain his spot on the podium.
Bortolotti was therefore able to bring his Lamborghini home in first spot to secure the Grasser squad’s first Blancpain GT Series victory since the season-opening race at Zolder. Marciello took second while Bulatov was third and clinched Silver Cup honours.
The Pro/Am category was won by Kenny Habul and Tristan Vautier, who were making their first appearance of the season in the Sun Energy 1 by AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3. Habul managed the tricky opening laps well and was able to hand over to Vautier with a comfortable class advantage.
Tomorrow’s second race will present Marciello and Meadows with an excellent opportunity to further close the gap at the top of the Sprint Cup standings, with the AKKA-Mercedes pair starting from pole position as they go in search of a first Blancpain GT Series win of 2018.
“I think the weather was the key today because even with a good start it would have been difficult in the dry”, Engelhart said, “The Mercedes has been really fast all weekend and the same was true for the race in dry conditions. But, in drying conditions, we were quite fast and could pull a gap, so I think that was the key. The second stint was just about staying in front. I’m really happy about the start and the result, especially after some tough times during the season. I’m glad for the whole team that we’re back on top.”