Marciello, Meadows clinch Sprint Cup title
Raffaele Marciello and Michael Meadows claimed the 2018 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup drivers’ title by taking victory last weekend in a dramatic season-closing race at the Nürburgring.
Driving a Mercedes-AMG, the AKKA ASP duo overcame a 9.5-point gap to Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT drivers’ advantage meant that a fourth-place finish would ensure them the title regardless of what Marciello and Meadows achieved and cap a perfect Sprint Cup season for the Belgian squad, which clinched the teams’ championship following Saturday’s race.
The 60-minute Sunday’s race two began with polesitter Luca Stolz leading the way in his Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG. The Silver Cup runner held his advantage into the opening turn, while Marciello slotted into P2 after going wheel-to-wheel with Dries Vanthoor’s Audi. Vanthoor went wide and suffered a puncture, effectively ending his chances, while Christopher Haase assumed third spot in his Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS.
The lead battle soon settled down, with Stolz running around one second clear of Marciello for the opening stint and Haase gradually falling behind the two Mercedes-AMGs. But while the leaders edged away the attention was focussed on Mies in the #1 WRT-Audi. The German driver started from 13th position following an accident in qualifying, but made instant progress by leaping to ninth on the first lap. He then found himself behind the other AKKA-Mercedes of Adam Christodoulou, but was eventually able to make a pass into the opening corner after the British driver was slowed by Robin Frijns‘ Audi.
Mies lapped well in clean air and was the first of the leading contenders to stop, diving into the pits before the 30-minute mark to hand over to Riberas. As the pit stop phase progressed the title battle seemed to be shifting in favour of the WRT squad. Crucially, Riberas was able to overhaul the Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán of Ezequiel Perez Companc.
The momentum then swung back to the AKKA ASP crew as Marciello and Stolz stopped at the same time. The Mercedes-AMG was able to exit the pits just ahead of the German’s car, with Meadows taking the race lead and Hubert Haupt now second. When the pit window closed Simon Gachet was next across the line in the Sainteloc Audi, while Steijn Schothorst was fourth in the Attempto Racing Audi. But, with Riberas rapidly closing on to the rear of the #66 machine, it looked as though the Spanish driver would be able to make the pass to take fourth – and with it the Sprint Cup title.
What followed was a tense duel between Schothorst and Riberas, with the young Dutchman fighting for every inch of track to keep the WRT-Audi behind. Out front Meadows was doing his job perfectly, leading in the AKKA-Mercedes, but the destination of the title was now out of his hands. Finally, with just four minutes left on the clock, Riberas launched an attack into turn 1. Both drivers ran wide and then went door-to-door for the next turn, but Riberas made another move that looked to have sealed the position and perhaps the championship.
Schothorst fought back, and as the two Audi cars tussled the Lamborghini joined the battle. The #1 WRT-Audi came off worst, sliding into the gravel and dropping behind both the #66 and the #19 Lamborghini. Riberas made it back on to the circuit, but had suffered a puncture that was enough to force him into the pits. Having briefly held the position that would have made them champions, the #1 car was suddenly out of contention.
That meant the AKKA-Mercedes only needed to finish third to secure enough points for the championship. In fact, Meadows had held the lead for the entirety of the second stint and crossed the line as the race winner and the new Sprint Cup champion. In the pits, a jubilant Marciello celebrated their success with the AKKA ASP crew. Haupt crossed the line in second place and as Silver Cup winner after a superb performance in the #6 Mercedes-AMG. The German kept Meadows honest for the second half of the race and closed to within a second of the British driver during the closing stages. The podium was completed by Gachet, who recorded a third top-three finish from as many Sprint Cup weekends for the #25 Sainteloc-Audi crew. Schothorst held fourth – a crucial result, as it secured third in the standings for him and Kelvin van der Linde – while Perez Companc completed the top-five.
The Pro-Am category was won by the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488, which made up 10 places during the opening lap in the hands of David Perel. The South African driver then handed over to Rinat Salikhov, who completed a strong comeback following a race-ending collision in Saturday’s contest. The Pro-Am title, meanwhile, was secured by Markus Winkelhock and Nyls Stievenart in the Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS, who completed the job with third in class. The Sainteloc crew also wrapped up the Pro-Am teams’ championship in the process, ahead of the Kessel Racing squad. The Silver Cup title was sealed last time out at the Hungaroring, woth Jack Manchester and Nico Bastian taking class honours in their AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG.
Title contenders Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart have been disqualified from the entire event and didn’t take part in race two with their Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini.